Anita Ekberg-Actress, Goddess and kitten lover!
Yolanda and her Great Dane known as “DEVIL” ouch!!!!!!!!!!
Screen Play by Robert Blees Based on the book by pulp writer, Frederic Brown.
Frederic Brown- Mystery Pulp Novelist
Frank A.Tuttle is responsible for the ultra realism set direction (From Here To Eternity, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, Elmer Gantry ,The Caine Mutiny, Straight Jacket and Dead Heat on A Merry Go Round, Marooned and Thriller’s Dark Legacy episode ‘61) Not to be confused with director Frank W. Tuttle This Gun For Hire 1942, A Cry in The Night 1956. The musical score is conducted by Mischa Bakaleinikoff.
This film to me falls under my definition of the noir canon. It’s extremely stark use of counter black and white space. The distinctive style that uses prominent shadow and brightly contrasting whites. The crime theme, psycho-sexual component with several unsavory or damaged personality types. The coded gay characters, such as her step brother Weston and Gypsy Rose Lee’s character “Joann ‘Gypsy’ Masters and younger lover, who waits tables at El Madhouse. The Identity crisis. These are all methods of the film noir canon, especially the beautiful black-and-white noir cinematography of Burnett Guffey, And a shower scene that predates Hitchcock’s Psycho 1960 by 2 years!
It is said that Dario Argento’s iconic Giallo film Bird With The Crystal Plumage 1970 is loosely based on Brown’s book. The Screaming Mimi is a mystery novel by pulp writer Fredric Brown. It was first published in 1949.
- Describing a female individual who screams a lot.
- A nickname for the Nebelwerfer, a piece of German World War II rocket artillery.
A Quick Overview:
Exotic dancer Virginia Wilson almost dies at the hands of an escaped maniac with a big knife. He attacks her while she is in the outside shower stall on her step-brothers property. Brother Charlie Watson sees what’s happening and shoots the killer dead in front of the traumatized Virginia. She is put into an institution under the care of Dr. Greenwood a psychiatrist who tries at first to administer therapy until he becomes obsessed with his beautiful patient.
He falls in obsessive/love with her and begins to takes over her life, having a Svengali like hold over her consciousness. After changing her name to Yolanda, she insists on continuing her career and winds up as the newest rage at the El Madhouse nightclub. The club’s sassy owner is portrayed by Gypsy Rose Lee who plays ‘Gypsy’. The traumatized Virginia is suspected of a series of murders with one common theme. There is an element of fetish as, each victim had purchased a contorted sculpture of a woman called the Screaming Mimi. This sculpture happens to have been created by her step-brother Charlie, you know, the one who was also responsible for shooting her attacker. Now enter the picture handsome columnist Bill Sweeny who falls for Virginia/Yolanda, knowing that she is hiding a deep dark secret, and sets out to uncover the truth! And so the film goes, with all it’s fabulous cheap thrills and B-Movie appeal. And a Great Dane known as ‘Devil”….!
The Ocean crashes against the rocks, the foamy surf is narrated by satiny whispering flutes and French horn. A contorted statue of a highly stylized feminine form, overemphasizing her breasts and what Jung considered her anima, the inward subconscious primal essence, thrusts itself to the forefront of the screen! A bluesy jazz trail of horns bring the credits along. Directed by Gerd Oswald (The Outer Limits original series 1963, A Kiss Before Dying 1956 and Crime of Passion 1957) This is an interesting period in film making of the 50s that is fresh because Gerd Oswald allows the film’s direction to touch on several kinky items such as perversion, Fetish, bondage, homosexuality and a Lesbian subtext, amour fou and serial killers. The film creates several varying viewpoints, the Male Gaze, the female Gaze and the Collective Voyeur.
The waves break against shore, bringing with the tide, the figure of a beautiful blonde goddess, emerging from the water, as if being spit out of the primordial blue rapturous ocean’s mouth. Running up the sands to greet her little terrier who stands waiting patiently then running along side his girl, up the stone stairway from the sandy beach, now in the lead.
The mood is blissful, hazy, and untroubled. He leads her to the outdoor wooden shower stall. She is glistening, washed by the recent swim, her gorgeous white teeth bare a maiden’s smile. Her little dog in a pointer’s stance, becomes rigid in the brush, sensing something or someone rustling in the bushes. He starts to bark at the unseen presence. She laughs and tells Rusty not to get so excited, that it’s just a rabbit. But we can see far left of the screen a shadowing figure at first a black form, and then starting to emerge. As Rusty starts to confront the figure, the screen switches back to the girl. Off-screen the little dog cries out in distress, and her beautiful face begins to tighten.
The dark form, becomes a grimy, grubby, sweaty man, now straightening up from a crouch, a wildly disheveled fiend who stands up but makes no sound, apparently just having killed Rusty, now setting his burning stare upon naked Virginia with merely the beach worn wooden shower between her and her attacker. She screams in abject terror, framed by the shower, her black swimsuit, and lace panties hang over the edge, her underthings dangling there, letting us know that she is vulnerable. She is laid bare. He begins to move closer unaffected by her screams. In the foreground a shorter, older-looking gentleman is aroused by the screams, and walks out onto the front porch, realizing what is happening we see him run back into the house. As the attacker draws closer to Virginia, we see the back of his soiled shirt read HIGHLAND SANITARIUM. He is an escapee from the local lunatic asylum, and now he’s wielding a large butcher’s knife about to strike out at the defenseless girl.
The Screen shot shows us a hairy hand puddled with blood as he holds the knife as close to her face. The screams still escaping her beautiful lips, her blonde hair still salt curled from the ocean.Is the blood from her little dog Rusty? He again thrusts the large blade toward her, but we are shielded by the wooden shower stall. She tries to push herself out of the stall. Pushing toward her attacker still screaming, oblivious to the blood stained knife, pushing pushing the door, trying to flee.
This shower scene actually predates Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho by 2 years!
Suddenly the other man on the porch Charles Weston, Virginia’s half-brother, comes out holding a rifle. He aims his gun, but the fiend manages to plunge the knife into Virginia’s chest. We see her face conform to the pain, a little weakened and stunned by the actual blow.
Out in broad daylight this horrific slaughter box on the beach, under the sun’s rays, burning the blood from red to burnt sienna, we can only imagine in this black and white film noir of twisted psychosexual regression and utter senseless barbarity. With her white creamy face, and her beautiful full lips, she sinks downward inside the wooden stall like a coffin. The musical direction is dire. The horns cry out for release.
We hear a gunshot, the shot is framed from the man’s knees down to the wooden planking of the floor, as he falls into a huddled lump of institutional denim and crazed sweat. As his back remains to us, stiff and lifeless, we see the bare feet of Virginia standing next to him. She comes out of the stall wrapped in a white robe. Clutching her head, her fingers grasping in between strands of her fear-soaked hair. The man in white approaches her. Realizing that she is holding the bloodied knife now, she drops it onto the floor, hands open and up in the air, staring down at the weapon. The man in white stands there still holding the rifle. She holds her hands up to her face and then collapses into shock.
We are in front of the iron gates of Highland Sanitarium. The man in white is now discussing his half-sister. She had only been up for a few weeks this time. She was visiting from New Orleans. He seems gentle and meek, not very forward in his manner, after all his sister has just been brutally attacked by an escaped inmate, yet he talks of her so halfheartedly, almost unwilling to claim responsibility for the young girl who will now need help through the process of overcoming this traumatic experience. He is rather clammy and faded out in his white linen suit. Unemotional, and nondemonstrative. Is he a coded gay figure? He does not take a very masculine stance having just shot a man dead. Is the film telling us secretly, subtly that Charles Weston is gay? By way of 50s-coded superficial mannerisms and lightly veiled characteristics.
“As I say, she’d only been visiting me a couple of weeks this time, she came up from New Orleans” With this he smiles, then it evaporates suddenly as he looks down. “On her vacation.” We see now that he is sitting on a couch next to a man wearing glasses in a white lab coat. Most likely a psychiatrist at the institution. The doctor asks “ You and your step-sister were not too close then?” The scene frames him in a state of worry and somewhat panic. We see a nurse working behind the two seated men. It looks more like a police interview. He exudes a sense of troubled nervousness. Uncomfortable insecurity about his step-sister. After being asked if they were close his eyebrows arch even more in a fit of worry. There is something odd about this weak, clammy man who shot his step-sister’s attacker. “I don’t know what you mean doctor.” Now he turns to stare at the eyeglassed physician with an air of mistrust, and wondering what he could be insinuating.
“I mean she’d come and stay with me, a once a year or so…Virginia liked to get away from the city she said…Dr. Robinson… whatever the cost is for Virginia…anything. I’m only an artist but I could get it somehow whatever the cost.”
Dr. Robinson and Greenwood rise up from the couch, “Virginia will receive the best of care at Highland Sanitarium, Mr. Weston, the best of hospital care” He pats the older man in white on the back of the shoulder, assuring him. His weak and watery light eyes, the lids slanting downward like an old dog, looked back at the doctor strangely. Does he love his step-sister? It’s very cryptic at this odd moment. Dr Greenwood (Harry Townes) looks at Weston now and adds “And psychiatric care.”
Weston asks, with a little more assertion this time, a little more clarity of purpose “Dr Robinson, can’t you let me see Virginia?” Weston now turns to Harry Townes, but Dr Robinson answers “ In a few days perhaps…now it wouldn’t be good, for you…or for her.” Weston restless says “ I want to see her “ his German accent more apparent now. Dr. Robinson tells him that he had her placed in number 23, and then both doctors asked what his sister was doing back in New Orleans, He tells them that she had a kind of a ‘dancing job’, but that she really didn’t tell him very much about it. The three men continue to walk down the hospital hallway.
Weston, obviously a very mild-mannered man, asks “Why did it have to happen to her…the way she just stood there screaming…I’ll never forget it, the rest of my life.”
As the two doctors lead Weston down the hall into a small outer room, with a door that has a glass window, all three men look inward at Virginia who is behind the glass window, lying in bed. She has just survived a brutal attack, traumatic and life-threatening, and somehow, she has wound up an inmate at the same hospital that the fiend had escaped from. Being looked in on by 2 psychiatrists and her odd step-brother who doesn’t seem very emotionally tied to her. She has transitioned into a different kind of ‘object’ still for the male gaze, but more in order for mental dissection and evaluation. What’s at risk is her emotional freedom. She is at the mercy of these men who will decide her recovery, ultimately her fate. The sexual object of Virginia now becomes, the psychotherapeutic object of study.
I can’t help thinking at first when the maniac gazed upon her, she was inside a small wooden shower stall like a coffin, and here she appears once again, almost like a funeral photograph, as if these men are identifying a corpse. She is enclosed under glass like an insect. Caught first by a wild, aggressive beast. Now by probing intellectual men who will decide on her treatment.
As they look in on her, Dr. Robinson turns the sound on in the room, we hear Virginia talking in her stupor, “ I didn’t mean to…I don’t want to, I…“
Weston quickly responds “She never killed that maniac,” the other doctor says that she doesn’t know what she’s saying. She begins to get restless, “Don’t…I don’t want to” The nurse is by her bedside touching her arm, trying to calm her. The scene is white, sheets, a crisp nurse’s uniform, bedclothes, and nightgown. She is framed by the bed. She continues to cry out “Don’t Please!”
Weston looks away, very disturbed by his sister’s state of mind. “Extreme traumatic shock, she’s disassociated from reality,” Dr Robinson tells Weston. Weston answers “You’re right doctor, I shouldn’t have seen her like this” Harry Townes (doctor?) Stares through the little glass portal, looking in on Virginia, with an odd (cryptic ) expression on his face. Virginia becomes more agitated, she starts to speak again “The knife…” squirming in the white of the blankets. Weston tells both doctors that he better be going. He seems meek, beaten too easily like a little linen mouse who gives up on grabbing the cheese. There is no fight in him, or (passion) to try and help his sister through this horrific ordeal. The dynamic of this brother who sees his sister suffering terribly, but has no fire or fight to try and help. He accepts the situation almost as if he doesn’t really care for his sister. It’s an odd part of the film’s narrative.
Dr Robinson opens the door for Weston and tells him “Perhaps we’ll have some news for you by Thursday or Friday.” Weston turns to them both, “Friday I have a sculpture class in the village.” He flashes an odd quirky quick smile, looks down and puts his hat on, turns his back to the doctors, starts to walk away, tips his hat to a nurse, and leaves. An odd little man. Polite and proper on the outside yet concealing some kind of neurosis.
The scene fades into :
Virginia was surrounded by shadows in her hospital bed, dreaming, tossing around. The bars on the bed and the shadows they cast leave the impression of a jail. She is now imprisoned in her shock. Again Dr Greenwood (Harry Townes) is watching her from the little glass portal that looks at her from the outside world. Watching her like an ‘object’. The crime has objectified her, and now this spectator, this voyeur, has created a new role of ‘object’ for her to play. His gaze is pre-eminent now. He closes the widow and casts her back into darkness. Standing there his profile is thoughtful. This is a man showing signs of Obsession.
Dr. Greenwood is framed in by his Obsession with Virginia. The Noir window face.
Fade to black:
Dr Greenwood is talking to Virginia who is lying in bed, surrounded by the ambiance of white, she looks off to the side as if not listening, “Were going to try something a little different from the tests we made last month Virginia…tell me what you see in it” He holds up a Rorschach test card, an ink blot image that is meant to evoke an emotional response from the patient.
“An ink blot doctor” “Yes…well what figures or people or things” He sits down beside the bed holding the card closer to Virginia to study. She grabs the card and looks at it, unmoved by the splotch. Dr. Greenwood looks at her intently. Suddenly she begins to stir…” I see two men crawling…they’re crawling through with knives” She throws the card down and rises from the bed disturbed. “You just want me to speak about it again” Her voice is crackling under the stress. “ I don’t want to think about the knife”
Actually, I see a large Vagina!
He is firm with her “ Don’t think about the knife!…” he lowers his tone “You never had the knife…you mustn’t feel guilty…Virginia…listen to me…you need help and I want to help you, I want to do everything I can for you.” She moves to the other side of the room “I want to get out of this place” Her voice is weak, drained of energy, filled with a weary breath. “ How long have I been here?” “ You can leave soon when you’re well, I’m trying to help you be well…Virginia…” Dr. Greenwood’s tone is heavy with a preoccupation with this girl. He is obsessed with her, beyond wanting to help her as his patient. He has crossed over the boundaries of the doctor/patient relationship and is focusing on her as his project, his agenda, his object to fix, to possess. “Tell me you know, I’m trying to help you” he smiles at her a little, delicately so as not to push too hard. She reluctantly voices the words “I know…you’re trying to help me” He smiles a bit more, as if pleased with his power of persuasive influence over her. Too blinded by his own obsession to see, that she is no one’s possession. The attack has changed her psyche in ways, far beyond the reach of simple ink blot tests and soft talk. He tells her that he’ll do everything he can for her. She is framed there looking so vulnerable in white. A little to the right, not in the center, not quite in control. Suddenly she says almost hypnotically “You will do all you can for me.”
The screen shows Greenwood’s profile, with a curious look on his face. He realizes that she is mimicking his statement as if it held the power of suggestion. He turns to look at her. The idea flashes on his face, and on the screen, we see that he is reacting to the tone in her voice. Greenwood is startled as another doctor comes into the room, asking to take Virginia back to her room. But there is strong eye contact between Greenwood and Virginia, as now the psychic link-up has begun, and Greenwood realizes that he can now control Virginia by auto-suggestion.
“I know I shall have my rest now…in 23” She turns and walks out with the kindly older doctor. Greenwood remains behind looking stunned by what just transpired. He sits down at his desk and picks up a small white piece of paper and reads it. He proceeds to pick up the Dictaphone. “ Take a letter to Charles Chapman Weston, the address is in the files…Dear Mr. Weston I should like to give you a report on the progress of your step-sister while she’s undergoing therapy here at Highland”
The scene quickly fades to Weston, his back is to us. He is obviously reading the note from Greenwood. As Weston turns more toward us, we can see the letter he is reading. We hear Dr. Greenwood’s voiceover as Weston reads his letter. “In all frankness, I must state that any undo optimism at this point in time…would be most ill-advised.” Weston crumbles up the letter and throws it down, which reveals a small clay sculpture in progress on a small round wooden table. A few ominous horns start to conspire. Weston gets his hands wet with the clay and starts molding. Adding more clay to the armature, vaguely a female form. The horns still plucking at our ears.
Fade to Black
The Screen is still black we hear a phone ring. Now a nurse answers. “ Highland Sanitarium…I’m sorry I cannot call Dr. Greenwood in his bungalow after 8 pm, could you call in the morning?” the shadow of someone coming in through the glass-paned door breaks the moment. It’s Dr. Robinson and another Dr in the midst of a conversation. As Dr Robinson enters the office looking toward the hallway, he starts to comment “Dr Greenwood is spending plenty of time with his new patient” He closes the door. “He’s keeping office hours in his bungalow now” Both doctors walk off-screen.
The scene switches to a pair of black pumps scattered on the floor, next to a table set with a half-eaten meal. Jazz is playing in the background, and a sexy Latin rhythm like a samba is serenading the empty table and chair. The room is dimly lit.
Now on the screen are two bare feet framed only to above the knees, dancing to the beat. Feet moving rhythmically encircled in a simple black slit skirt of the dress. The empty table is still the predominant object in the room. An air of mystery to the scene. Is she alone? Is this Dr. Greenwood’s bungalow? Getting more of the picture now, we see the table is set for two. Candles lit, wine decanted. The effect of seeing her bare feet moving to the music, surrounded by shadow, the beat of the music moving them as the agent, creates a sexual moodiness to the scene. Her naked feet are employed in the scene to add yet another layer. The fetish symbol.
Finally, we see Virginia who walks over to the radio to turn off the music. She is looking elated, “Oh I feel so good…there’s nothing wrong with me… is there?”
Running her hands through her glorious shining blonde hair. She is looking over at someone. Wearing a starched short-sleeved white blouse, simple yet elegant. And a black skirt that hugs her gorgeous curves.
Now Greenwood is on the screen shouldered in darkness. A dark figure of a man with a secret purpose. “You’re much better than you were six months ago Virginia” He is drinking a glass of wine. The screen goes back to Virginia, she stands erect, as confident and as magnificent as a lioness, her golden hair a wild mane of blonde flourishes. (Anita Ekberg is perhaps one of the most beautiful women I’ve seen from that time period in movies. She has an authentic sensuality that isn’t manufactured or forced.)
“Will I leave here soon and go back to dancing?” She says with her lilting accent, her smile lightens up the room regardless of the candlelight. As if from her effervescence back to the shadowy presence of Greenwood, he asks her “Would that make you happy?” She is giddy with joy “ Yes…how can I ever thank you for all you’ve done for me?” She goes to him, placing her hands on his chest.
A modern-day Svengali with a certificate from Freud University!… Dr Greenwood passing out the illusion of freedom to vulnerable girls on the edge of a nervous breakdown!
Virginia- “For letting me have so much freedom.”
There is an imposing sense of irony to that statement as it doesn’t truly feel as if Virginia is ‘free.’ Not in the professional, clinical sense of the word. But she is unaware at this point, that Greenwood is manipulating her recovery. Doing it on his terms in order to control her, and the outcome of her mental flexibility and mobility. She thinks she is cured. But he has kept the strings closely tied to his maneuvering, like a puppet master.
“ And taking care of me so well” He answers her, “I’ll always take care of you Virginia…you need me and I need you..” Now a more intense tone underpins his voice. “ You need me…remember that!…to look after you.” She sinks into a little bit of a dream-like state and tells him, “Yes…I know I do” She turns away from him a bit now, and the dream-like tone turns more to sadness.
She has become his emotional and physical property and at the mercy of vulnerable gratitude for helping her through the crisis of her traumatic attack. Greenwood knows he has all the power. Another doctor would have kept the boundaries intact, followed protocol, and kept this patient/doctor relationship on the grounds of the hospital, in the therapeutic setting, and never allowing the transference to slip over the precipice of professional contact to a sexual/emotional connection.
In this way, Greenwood is just as much a perpetrator who is violating Virginia. Only it is masked in the guise of psychiatric and therapeutic treatment.
“But I get frightened sometimes and think about that night” She starts to slip a little into panic and anxiety again. He subtly demands from her “Don’t think about that!”
She is vaguely lit up from the candlelight, innocence veils her like a halo, Greenwood still emergent from a shadow place looms over her in total control…
He starts to lean into her. His face, was a mask of darkness. “It’s over…it never happened” He touches her. The juxtaposition of her still glowing presence, with his dark negative space creates a dichotomy of good vs evil, right vs wrong, light vs darkness. life vs death. For Dr Greenwood’s obsession is creating a new kind of trauma in Virginia. He has not healed her, yet allowed stress to fracture even more deeply in her psyche. She is too vulnerable to challenge him. The power differential is too enforced.
Greenwood’s face is pure shadow now…
“No…it never happened did it” She looks earnestly at him. He has managed to suppress her nightmare, so far back that she will eventually repress the fear and rage. Ultimately pushing it far enough back, that only something crucial and volatile can re-trigger its release.
Now she looks away, and thoughtful. “I had a dog once…did I ever tell you about my dog?” He tells her “
“When we leave here, you can have anything you want” She looks strangely at him, “But you’re not leaving” She looks up at him so curiously, but then the screen changes shots, and we see him in shadow facing her now.
We hear her voice, with the first bit of awareness, but we see him staring at her from his dark corner, “You’re a doctor”
Her statement breaks the mood. The screen lightens up, almost bringing back a sense of normalcy again., or reality. No shadows., no confusion. He looks entirely wounded by her. Her words have struck him. She has no authentic feelings for him, her reality is that of patient and doctor, victim and savior. The magical spell is momentarily split open.
As he walks back into the screen’s dark corner, Virginia still lit up, glowing, pure, she asks innocently, “Are you going to leave here too?” She stands up and decries “ Please don’t leave me!” And the look of hopefulness and control has returned to his face. He asks “ Do you trust me?” She moves towards him and silken words float, “ Yes.”
His power has been restored. The look of confidence washes over his face once again. Now seriously he asks “Will you do anything I say?” she gently says “Yes.”
He turns and faces her. She moves towards him. Falls into him and wraps her arms around him, “How will I get out of this place?” He kisses her neck his face is buried in her blonde as if he is inhaling her beauty. “Please don’t leave me.” She cries into his embrace.
Greenwood has systematically perpetuated the psychosis in Virginia. She was suffering from PTSD, but he has converted the incident into a deeply rooted fracture of her mental state of being. Her initial victimization was traumatic, but with the right therapy, a good doctor might have helped her ease back into a feeling of safety. Greenwood manipulates her so deeply that he reinforces her fear, ambivalence, repression, etc, and essentially became the 2nd person to victimize her. He molded Virginia the way her stepbrother Weston molded the clay figure of the Screaming Mimi.
Fade to Black:
Whether they officially left the hospital or went on the lamb, now seemingly having been released from the asylum under Dr. Greenwood’s care, both he and Virginia change their identities. She returns to the nightclub stage, under the name Yolanda Lange, with her jealous and overprotective doctor who is acting as her manager.
“The way he looks after her, you’d think a bosom was something unique,” says Yolanda’s new boss, the brassy lesbian club owner, and performer Joann ‘Gypsy’ Masters, played by famed stripteaser Gypsy Rose Lee, who does a rendition of “Put The Blame On Mame.”
Red Yost Norvo, is the house band leader and is real-life jazz vibraphonist Red Norvo, accompanied by his trio sporting his beatnik beard and wildly cool facial expression.
The next scene opens with a nighttime shot of a city lit up in gaiety. The darkness is adorned with neon signs and pleasure palaces lining the street. GAY ‘ n FRISKY one particular club is emphasized to the upper left of the screen. Then we’re offered The Toast of the Coast. Next, the neon sign spells out The Arabian Nights. Lastly, we’re brought to El Madhouse.
Sexuality = Exoticism = Foreign delights from ‘other’ cultures = wild= Sexuality
El Madhouse: The nightclub that caters to a diverse community including homosexuals and lesbians. Homosexuality=Madness
Jazz is emanating from inside the club. A happy xylophone is running the scales and chasing notes like mad, while the electric guitar and snare drum keep up, bouncing off the upright base. El Madhouse presents Red Yost Norvo The New Discovery Yolanda Your favorite Hostess Joann Gypsy Masters.
We see a close-up of pneumatic Yolanda, alias Virginia. She’s the new discovery, she has taken on a new identity. Yost’s 4 piece Jazz quartet is playing in a filled smoky room. Yost’s xylophone is plinking out little rhythmic melodic questions while the guitar plucks back answers. The bartender is shaking to the rhythm, of his martini mixer, while singing along like a tenor, vocalizing ‘bah bah balm bah’ and pouring the icy cold cocktails for his waiter to start passing around to the customers. It’s a gay atmosphere of night crawlers, drinkers, and good-time seekers. Even the wait staff come out with trays in hand doing a synchronized happy dance for the crowd.
Young sex kittens sit beside their older man sugar daddies, looking bored while the old man sleeps through the entertainment. She nudges him annoyed, the expression on her face is filled with vinegar, as he is awakened he stares straight ahead, sitting beside a girl who could be his daughter. The camera starts to scan the room a bit more for anonymous faces.
A woman in sequined dress and satin gloves up to her elbows rousts a customer saying “ Hey drink up Barney, you’re on your expense account and my rent is due” She laughs, and the surrounding tables of faces laugh as well. She begins to rub a bald man’s head joking “ Isn’t that a beautiful specimen?… I built a career on heads like that!” She continues to work the room. Red Yost’s band finishes up their improved number, with a sweeping joyous synchronized smash. She goes to center stage near a dangling rope, and raises her arm up to greet the next entertainment.
“And now boys and girls the moment you’ve all been waiting for…and this believe me gives me a great deal of pleasure, I’m introducing to El Madhouse, a newcomer…and I’m sure you’re gonna agree that once you’ve seen her, she’s gonna be around for a long time. I give you ….Yolanda…Miss Yolanda Lang!” A gong is hit and reverberates through the room. Red Yost plunks his xylophone, gentle tones ring out…a body in shadow lies in repose. A silhouette, lit from behind. A goddess sleeping perhaps. We see the outline of a figure, robust, curvy, and primal. In the darkness, you can still see her beauty, with anticipation we wait for her to awaken, to stir from the shadows.
She begins to move, the cool dissonant 3rds twinge and twinkle, and notes from the xylophone follow every inch of the curve. Her leg lifts upward. Her bosom heaves upward. Now the drum starts a low primal beat. Figure posed in sexual negative space. She is an exotic shapeshifter. She looks to be chained.
There is a focus on the relationship between the sexualization of violence and the objectification of the female body. The female body. Virginia/Yolanda is viewed as a sex object and as a submissive animal, to cage and control, to display and exploit. This state of being has also created psychosis/victimization as a role for her to inhabit.
Virginia/Yolanda has ensnared herself as the object which has been lured by BOTH, the male and female gaze. This is not a condemnation of stripping and exotic dancing at all. I think it’s an art form, and if I had the boobs, I would have made more money that way, than trying to be a recording artist.
This is a commentary on what the film is presenting to us. Screaming Mimi is presenting us with a question…Is her own dangerous sexuality, her downfall? Is she being punished for being too beautiful?This is not only an argument that arrives whenever a woman who is liberated from the sexual parameters of society becomes violated, such as in a rape victim who wears a short skirt and tight blouse being blamed for ‘asking for it’. Furthermore, beautiful woman or shall I say, The Beauty Myth, which is the expectation of what is to be upheld as an unattainable ideal, shackles women to become desirable for society and at the same time condemns them for trying to pursue that same ideal.
Is this why she was attacked? Is this the hidden moral of the story? To destroy that which makes her desirable? Men love beautiful women and yet at the same time, resent them for making them slaves to that gaze.
We’ve seen beautiful women punished before in Sam Fuller’s The Naked Kiss (1964) Women are dangerous when perceived to be beautiful. As if they are trying to ruin a clean and Christian society and men in particular with this ‘desirability.’ A man can sleep with a sexually free woman, but of course, he could not marry her.
It’s as if it is not Dr. Greenwood’s fault that he has fallen under Virginia’s spell. So in order to transfigure, subvert and redeem her power over him, he turns the tables and puts Virginia under his spell. She has ‘Asked For It’…. She is dangerous because she is desirable. So naturally…the narrative tells us…
She has asked to be attacked. She has also generated a fetish symbol in the statue, to be immortalized in clay as ‘The Screaming Mimi.”
Virginia’s brother was surprised at “The way she screamed” As if SHE did something wrong…perhaps he meant that he was horrified by her reaction, still I found his demeanor more queer than sympathetic.
Captive in silhouette
Making herself a victim, in this slow erotic dance she self enslaves herself in a woman in chains motif. Bound by iron armbands and chains, she emulates the bondage fetish, moving slowly and methodically up and down a set of dangling ropes. The xylophone coolly adopts a partner’s stride with Yolanda’s movements. A languid melody of flamboyant exoticism.
Gypsy: The Female Gaze: The Lesbian predator, the sexual handler of the object: Yolanda
The screen cuts away from Yolanda for a second, we see one of the cocktail waitresses watching as she slides along the ropes on stage. Couples in half-shadow profiles cling close to each other, as the eroticism of the dance fills the room with sensuality and cheap romantic thrills.
Yolanda then lies down on a table arms stretched over her head as if on the rack of a torture chamber, the chains visible around her wrists. Her nearly naked body splayed out, her bosom heaved upward, a look of pain and ecstasy on her face. As if she was about to be penetrated by an unseen lover. Now on her side slumping, hair tousled, it becomes more of a dance of submission to us the one who holds the gaze. The chains dangle heavily at the sides of the platform. As if she has been beaten or dead. The violent interplay with eroticism is the equation that merges sexuality and brutality which plays such a large part in this film.
Now swinging backward and forwards by holding onto the two parallel ropes creates yet another level of penetration. She is inserting herself into the audience, toward us, as we become part of her dance. Allowing herself to collapse onto the steps of the stage, her lips purse as if she is kissing us. She is offering herself to us. I am not a proponent of violence, or violent images that involve the enslavement or debasement of the female body, but that aside, Anita Ekberg could make me like chicks if I didn’t already love them! She is an exquisitely beautiful woman, made a little less so because of the role she is playing. A role that she was designated for because she fits the voluptuousness that it takes to create the idol of extreme femininity and extreme beauty. The fetish, fever, and focus of Western culture.
Her facial expression turns to orgasmic pleasure. Looking on from the side of the stage is ‘Gypsy’ Masters, beyond being pleased at her new dancer, there is a look of personal titillation, I think denoting that she is a coded gay character. A strong female presence in this film comes from a place of power as she is in charge of the girls. This power role easily could be believed as a male position. Her gaze is one of the sexualization of Yolanda as much as a male voyeur. Voyeurism is another large part of American culture, the quiet underbelly of fetish in our society. The fetish of the appearance of innocence in bondage.
Women are often posed in Fashion Magazines as being either victims of abuse or actually configured to appear as if dead. Again the conflation and correlation between sex and violence, as here the image of Yolanda lying rigidly in chains as flat as a corpse on a slab.
‘Gypsy’ looks on enjoying this girl who has subjugated herself in front of a sea of voyeurs. Yolanda is brought literally to her knees, while wearing chains, looking like a slave. Now Yolanda is swinging her hips and chains gyrating for the sea of shadowy heads, suddenly she is in the foreground, and enter Bill Sweeney ( Philip Carey) smoking a cigarette and looking away. Looking away, averting his gaze from her. He will not share his gaze with the audience of voyeurs. This is personal for him. He begins to look upon her again, as she gets more wild in her movements, she snaps the chains that bind her wrists in sync with the snare drum hit. Sounding like bones breaking, or like a whip snapping.
Anita Ekberg at this point has been doing a very good job of giving us an authentic erotic dance. The audience is gazing back at Yolanda, we see two female patrons, who are obviously lesbian in stereotype. The dark hair slicked back in a suit. Severe make-up, quasi butch chic, a look that goes with the 60s time period. They look on lustfully. Now a man with a military-type crew cut sitting next to a very young-looking man of 19 or 20, ogling Yolanda.
We The Voyeur
A bottle job blonde sits next to an old man, holding his arm, she is watching him watching Yolanda, a twinge of jealousy comes over her face, that he is so enrapt with this new half-dressed temptress, will he still be generous and buy her that gold bracelet she saw in the jewelry store window? Twirling and whirling in her rags, blonde hair whipping around, she falls back to the ground and thrusts her pelvis at us, in and out. This scene goes on for quite some time. Up off the floor, she heaves her shoulders forward, now looking more Amazon-like than a slave girl. Another lesbian couple looks on lustfully. El Madhouse is an interesting name for the club. Since the psychological community deemed homosexuality a mental disease, it’s not surprising that this would be a safe haven and a double entendre for gay-friendly patrons.
Back to the ropes, spinning, and twisting til she is back on her back, the rope resting on her knee like a hemp phallus. as the music climaxes to Yolanda, lying back on the top of the stairs. Her rags looked torn and draped across her shining skin. The guitar stretches out a strum “Zow” as the screen goes pitch black for a split second, then switched back on, the screen shows us the crowded tables with various people looking on, as if at us. We hear a gong, and then the lights come up on the audience, they are clapping, and the wait staff is standing still, also looking on…
Gypsy comes out, “Come on everybody on your feet…come on everybody up!”
Interesting Review by Dan Stumpf.
Screaming Mimi Part II coming soon! “The way he looks after her, you’d think a bosom was something unique.“