In Edward Dmytryk’s Walk on the Wild Side Barbara Stanwyck is no ordinary ‘Jo’
Stanwyck was the epitome of independence and determination. She had a streak of non-conformity, toughness, and resilience.
Stanwyck was born Ruby Stevens in Brooklyn, July 16th 1907. A New Yorker like me and a fellow Cancerian. Her mother died and her father disappeared when she was 4, leaving her and her brother in the care of her older sister Mildred and foster homes where she’d often run away. At age 9 Ruby toured with her dancer sister, a John Cort Showgirl practicing the routines back stage. Watching her idol Pearl White on the big screen inspired her to go into showbiz. She quitt school at age 14, followed her sister’s lead and became a Ziegfeld Follies girl.
In 1929 Stanwyck had the lead in the road company production of the Broadway hit ‘Burlesque’ which was a hit in theater. She shared the stage with Mary Tomlinson, a clergyman’s daughter who most likely ran away from home because she was a lesbian. Mary changed her name to Marjorie Main and become the quick talkin’ ‘Ma’ in the raucous Ma and Pa Kettle series from ’49-’57.
One of her good friends during those years was pianist Oscar Levant who said Stanwyck was “wary of sophisticates and phonies.”
Ruby became Barbara Stanwyck at age 19 while she had the lead in ‘The Noose’ on Broadway. At 21 she was introduce by Levant to Frank Fay star of Vaudeville and ten years older than she, a closet homosexual, alcoholic and abusive husband. They married and moved to Hollywood in 1929 when Stanwyck was on her way to becoming a star of the silver screen. They used her money and bought a mansion in Brentwood. That’s how she and Joan Crawford (married to Franchot Tone at the time) became neighbors and close friends.
At first Stanwyck starred in a few B movies but began getting attention for her roles in Ladies of Leisure ‘30, Illicit ’31, Night Nurse ’31, and Miracle Woman ’31.
While working with Frank Capra on Ladies of Leisure he taught her that much of acting was conveyed with the eyes, and that unless the audience was drawn in, the dialogue didn’t matter. This was her breakthrough movie. Edward Bernds who worked with Capra said “That first take with Stanwyck was sacred.”
Stanwyck’s first Academy Award nomination was for the down trodden mother Stella Dallas ’37 where her old friend Marjorie Main played her mother-in-law.
Three nominations followed for Ball of Fire ’42 with Gary Cooper, Double Indemnity ’44, and Sorry Wrong Number ’48 with Burt Lancaster. Stanwyck was now on her second marriage to another gay man, the handsome Robert Taylor. Their ’39 marriage was arranged by the studio. The couple had separate bedrooms.
Stanwyck had a life-long relationship with her publicist Helen Ferguson. In ’35 she played the rugged farm girl living in a man’s world– Annie Oakley, a masculine woman who was great with a gun.
She did a slew of romantic comedies with charismatic co-stars. Twice with Henry Fonda in the screw ball The Mad Miss Manton ’38, and Preston Sturges‘ The Lady Eve ’41. Remember The Night ’40 opposite Fred MacMurray was her first film with costume designer Edith Head.
Some of my favorite films of her’s were: playing opposite co-star William Holden in Rouben Mamoulian’s Golden Boy ’39. Then Meet John Doe 1941, Lady of Burlesque, and the immortal femme fatale Phyllis Dietrichson in 1944 Double Indemnity, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers ’46, The Two Mrs. Carrolls ’47, Cry Wolf ’47, B. F.’s Daughter ’48, Sorry, Wrong Number ’48, in 1950 The File on Thelma Jordan, No Man of Her Own & The Furies. Fritz Lang’s tumultuous Mae Doyle opposite Robert Ryan in Clash By Night ’52, Witness to Murder ’56, There’s Always Tomorrow ’56, Crime of Passion ’57 & Forty Guns ’57.
Clifton Webb who co-starred in Titanic 53 called her his “Favorite Hollywood Lesbian.” It’s pretty significant that Barbara had finally played her one and only screen lesbian in Walk on the Wild Side ’62. Barbara Stanwyck’s sexual orientation has been called ‘the best kept secret in the movies’ by Axel Madsen who wrote the very engaging The Sewing Circle. It’s a hell of a read!
Three years later she created a new image for herself as the gutsy matriarch Victoria Barkley in the television western The Big Valley. Stanwyck loved her character ‘an old broad who combines elegance with guts.’
Walk on the Wild Side was Barbara Stanwyck’s return to the big screen since playing Cattle Queen Jessica Drummond in Sam Fuller’s sexually charged western Forty Guns 1957 which had this fantastic line, `Can I touch it?’ asks Jessica referring to Griff Bonnell’s (Barry Sullivan) gun. Griff tells her, ‘It might go off in your face’ Stanwyck was in love with the Western genre.
She was thrilled to accept a good part in a film, that of Jo Courtney the iron-willed lesbian madame of a ritzy bordello named The Doll House in New Orleans. The film still maintains that clichéd whiff of mothballs from The Celluloid Closet holding the mystique and stereotypes of homosexuals and lesbians who are all either sad souls, psychopaths, or villains. Yet Stanwyck’s Jo Courtney poured from concrete and as dangerous as a steel trap conveys a pathos transcending the caricature of a predatory lesbian. It’s probably what made her such a beloved lesbian icon. Stanwyck proved she could go head to head with any man or woman who came her way. And although she never came out of the closet she went through two marriages to gay men without a hitch of scandal.
in 1962 the film sets this lurid lesbian melodrama and peek at the underbelly of bordello life, down in the midst of the underworld revisiting the archetypes of gays being part of the illicit subculture of society. Revisiting the ‘sexual ghetto’ in quite the same way the briefly liberated films of the early Thirties depicted them. As Vito Russo says in The Celluloid Closet, “The movies simply reflected what little they could identify of a hidden world and, in both pre-Code and post-Code times saw Homosexuals solely in sexual terms because that what had always been sold.”
For over thirty years the subject had not been talked about, so when the ban was lifted, filmmakers picked up where they had left off. The film was able to represent the whore house openly as just that, a house of prostitution.
Walk on the Wild Side is the story of a New Orleans brothel and the seductive melodrama surrounding an obsessed drifter in search of his lost love, the lugubrious courtesan who is ensnared in a tangled web of vice, decadence and the lesbian madame who desires to possess her.
The bordello is stocked with liquor, a bartender who never quits pouring, and a full jazz ensemble who play fabulous bluesy melodies that cater to their clients while the employees all seem to suffer from a collective languorous state of mind.
Stanwyck’s Jo Courtney villainous nature accepts her own lesbianism. Instead of killing herself like Shirley MacLaine’s Martha in The Children’s Hour ’61, Jo decides to declare her power by opening up a brothel, and selling sexuality on her own terms.
Jo lusts after and loves her object of desire Hallie, played by model actress Capucine. But the love that dare not speak it’s name finds itself disrupted once smooth talking Texas farmer Dove Linkhorn (Laurence Harvey) comes looking for Hallie. Three years prior Hallie and Dove swam and kissed each other and danced themselves silly til Dove was hopelessly hooked on the lovely divinity that he refers to as his ‘religion.’ Dove had to wait for his ailing father to die before he could come and claim his love.
The film was not the huge success they thought it would be despite the adult themes and stellar cast. Probably because of it’s screenplay which doesn’t allow Algren’s novel to freely express it’s most provocative and sociological themes. Nelson Algren’s book focused on the seedy underbelly of the New Orleans of Depression Era 30s. Screenwriters, Fante, Morris and Hecht while synthesizing the essence of the story, their observations gloss over the grittier descriptiveness and atmosphere of Algren’s murky brothels filled with even more vile and violent pimps. A world that showcased fetishistic patrons and sullen whores who wade around in the muck hoping for a better life. While the film has a way of self-moralizing the plot to death at times, Algren’s novel did not show contempt for his prostitutes. It had a real strain of class conscious angst and didn’t sermonize about the unpalatable people who lived on the fringe of society but rather focused on those in power who exploited them. In some ways the film hones in on the story making it a more intimate venture into melodrama.
The wayward Dove (Laurence Harvey) becomes the moral voice as he spouts bible passages about faithfulness and love while on his crusade to ‘save’ the object of his desire, a fallen woman whom he decides to ‘forgive’ for having lived a life of sin. The film does become clichéd in it’s denunciation of whores and ‘fallen women’ yet it allows us inside the Doll House close enough to clutch at the girl’s lazy alluring lifestyle, simultaneously censuring them.
Laurence Harvey stated in the New York Herald Tribute, “The compassion, the sense of personal waste that could make the film unusual and penetrating is crowded out by constant underlining and melodramatic cliches.”
The film doesn’t quite seem to attain the profoundly cerebral nor emotionally primal perspective of a Tennessee Williams story. Except for the incredible outburst and insight when Jo blasts her husband about the nature of real love.
Stanwyck had said, “Always thought it could have been a damn good movie, but it just didn’t work out.”
Stanwyck’s fellow actors had the utmost admiration for her and her working professionalism. Ann Baxter said “I had unburdened to Barbara, she’s that kind of person. You feel that you can trust her.”
Laurence Harvey who was said to have a huge ego spoke in glowing terms, “Miss Stanwyck is one of the most startling and professional women I have ever worked with. She had a great air of honesty and directness about her and her relationship with cast and crew was totally unpretentious. In fact I could never quite decide which side of the camera she was working on”
Capucine was an incredibly elegant and beautiful woman who had been a model in Paris and was herself a lesbian. There are rumors that she was actually a transsexual but that was never substantiated. She went on to act opposite Peter Sellers in The Pink Panther ’64 Sadly, increasingly isolated later on, she took her own life by jumping off the balcony of her eight floor apartment in Switzerland in 1990 at age 57. This is truly a tragic end. She died the same year as Barbara Stanwyck.
Laurence Harvey did not get along with either Jane Fonda or Capucine. The actors were arguing for supremacy over their scripts during retakes. Barbara Stanwyck was unhappy when they cut her best scene on the last day of shooting. Capucine’s friend, producer Charlie Feldman asked for nine days of retakes to try and improve the part of Capucine‘s Hallie.
Harvey was antagonistic toward Capucine’s performance in the film. Referring to one of her key scenes that was taking too long to shoot “You’d better shoot it in the dark!” –Bitter Off Screen Feud Likely to End in Court by Sheilah Graham
The movie would have been rejected out right a few years earlier by the Code enforcement officials, but now mainstream films like this one were somehow getting slipped through before it ultimately collapsed and the rating’s system took over.
Walk on the Wild Side is directed by Edward Dmytryk (Crossfire 1947,The Caine Mutiny 1954) with an eye on social realism, based on a novel by Nelson Algren (The Man With the Golden Arm ’55) and a screenplay by Joe Fante, Edmund Morris and an uncredited Ben Hecht. Cinematographer Joseph Macdonald (My Darling Clementine 1946, Viva Zapata! 1952 and The Sand Pebbles 1966) truly captures some captivating visual moments utilizing the French Quarter’s intricate ornamentalist Byzantine ironwork and use of shadow and light within the tortuous constructs of The Doll House. Not to mention the incredibly evocative score by the great Elmer Bernstein and the phenomenal costumes designed by Charles Le Maire.
The film co-stars Laurence Harvey (The Manchuria Candidate ’62) as love struck Texan Dove Linkhorn, Capucine as the object of Dove and Jo’s desire– Hallie Gerard. Jane Fonda as Kitty Twist, Anne Baxter as Teresina Vidaverri, Joanna Moore as the childlike Miss Precious, Richard Rust as the viciously psychopathic Oliver, Karl Swenson as Schmidt, Don ‘Red’ Barry as bartender Dockery, Juanita Moore as Mama, Ken Lynch as crook Frank Bonito and John Anderson as Preacher. There’s also Virginia Holden a prostitute and Lee Marvin is listed as ‘Slob’ and the wonderful Crahan Denton has a bit part as well.
By now, Barbara Stanwyck’s voice had grown a bit more rugged, deeper and seasoned like a fine wine, with every word rolling off her purposeful lips seeming to slide out with just a bit of salt. She looks stunning in her tailored suits and tightly coiffed hair style– a handsome woman, and I’m not being facetious.
I usually love Laurence Harvey’s queer intensity and his 70s sideburns…Yet somehow his being a Texan with biblical infused proportions of morality seems a little off to me. The part of the scheming and untamable Kitty Twist suits Fonda perfectly, she’s got a natural youthful sexiness that fits the role of a vagabond stray. Perhaps the best bit of casting is Joanna Moore who I adore, as Miss Precious. She was a beauty and brought a certain charm to every role she was cast in. Either on the big screen or playing Andy Griffith’s girl friend Peg or one of the women of David Janssen’s The Fugitive. Orphaned as a child, discovered by a producer at Universal, she later married Ryan O’ Neal in ’63 then divorced in ’67. She lost custody of her two kids Griffin and Tatum due to severe drug and alcohol abuse. Joanna Moore died of lung cancer in ’97 with daughter Tatum O’Neal by her side.
The film showcases great character actors who satellite around Stanwyck. Anne Baxter is usually fantastic in anything she does, here she plays the passionately kind Teresina, a Mexican cafe owner who hires Dove to work for her at her Cafe/Gas Station while he searches for Hallie. Inevitably Teresina falls madly in love with him though he cannot return the feelings. Baxter’s virtuous woman is a far ways away from the cunning Eve Harrington in All About Eve ’50. While I don’t see this as Anne Baxter’s fault, her performance as Teresina does boarder on being a stereotype, but it was a time in film when it was the norm for white actors to portray other ethnicities.
The film opens with Saul Bass’s incredible surreal title design equating a black cat with a woman’s predatory and dangerous nature, invoking the primal sexuality and fetish of the feline and the feminine. Provocative and sensually emotive horns start blaring under Bass’ title theme as the percussion echos a seductively dynamic cadence. The low camera angle follows the cat while it slinks across the screen as the titles roll and Elmer Bernstein’s provocatively beautiful blues are sexy as hell!
Saul Bass’ trademark was to contribute Avant-garde title sequences and symbolic posters to a timeless art form, resonant, vibrantly reverberant and memorable, even still. Symbols have been a powerful, motivating and inspiring tool as far back as the creation of Runes. One single image can evoke an entire ethos into the collective consciousness.
Elmer Bernstein’s score has prowling sexual power, decadent and forceful American jazz hints of big band meets strip tease, with the sway of an Overature to a musical. So simplistic and powerful, it goes right to the raw nerves of physical emotion just as the little black cat sleek and simple struts through the street with a regal dignity and sense of bare purpose.
Guitars strum and a drum stick lightly hits the rim of the cymbal bringing down the driving force of the horns to a more stripped down sultry rhythm. As the cadence of melodic arrangement winds down with the cat walking through obstructing stone walls, the music becomes a lilting clarinet leading the way.
Ending in a cat fight between the black cat and a white cat. No subtle symbolism here of female conflict between the trope of good vs bad. Of course it’s a cat’s nature to defend it’s territory and so this is a marvelous way to open the film and set the tone for the female confrontations that lie ahead. After the fight, a stark and pronounced cow bell clicks out the ending of the Bluesy rhythm.
Joseph MacDonald’s cinematography drops us into a tonality of gun metal gray sky and open road as the silhouette of Dove walks the long expanse of highway trying to hitch a ride.
It’s Texas, the Early Thirties. Laurence Harvey as Dove is trying to hitch a ride on the dirt road that lies wide open. The night crickets are singing, and as dusk takes over as he fails to catch a ride. He spots some old metal drains to shelter him for the night.
Banging on the top of the giant pipe a voice from inside calls out, “What’s that?” “Who’s that?” He answers “Who’s that?… Say get out of here, I said go on get out of here” Dove spins around to find a young woman wielding a stick at him. He says “What are you doing here?”
Kitty mocks, “My doctor recommended fresh air, what are you here for?”
“Looking for a place to sleep” Kitty tells him, “Yeah, well this room’s occupied.”
Doves says, ‘Well how bout this one next door?” She says “Ask the night clerk it don’t bother me.”
Dove asks her “What are you so mad about?” She answers “I’m cold and I’m hungry (she’s the first black feral cat) and a million miles from nowhere and in the middle of my dream, you wake me up.” She shakes her stick at him. He apologizes.
“Hey mister you got something to eat?” He shines up an apple on his denim jacket and tosses it to her. She begins biting into it, while looking at him sidewise, chomping on her words with mashed apple in her mouth, filling her cheeks up.
“I can’t help it if I slobber mister I haven’t eaten all day” He tells her “Don’t bother me none, wish I had some more, well see ya in the morning.”
“Hey mister… somethin’ tells me you’re new at this game… a babe in the great big woods.”
She tries to lift his wallet but he grabs her hand, as she winces let go of me, he says “Serves you right… man that sure was a dumb thing to try.” She cries “Well I’m hungry and I been dreamin’ all night about potatoes.” “That’s still no reason.” “Yeah well what’r you gonna do to me?” “Nothing, you aint done nothing but tried. You wouldn’t a gotten much but I got the price of a couple a breakfasts if that’s all you want.”
They jump aboard a freight train. She tells him her name is Kitty Twist. That’s what they took to calling her in the home. Any folks he asks, she has a Ma back in Kentucky but she’s probably drunk herself to death by now.
They hop off the train at Beaumont. Dove goes into a general store to buy some food and Kitty gets into a tight fitting dress. When Dove comes out he looks Kitty up and down while she says, “Every part of me cried out for attention so I gave it.” “Man you sure do look different.” She laughs “Man you not only don’t talk much, you don’t say much.”
They sit and eat the food he’s gotten at an abandoned house treasured with broken glass and rotting wood. Kitty hangs from the doorway of the dilapidated structure and mimics a train conductor ‘All aboard” clang clang. With her print dress and body language she sounds more like Tarzan with her vocalizations, evoking the wild nature that resides in her.
Later he tells her while they’re snuggling up to each other and Kitty tries to seduce him, “I’m resting up for New Orleans.”
“Sure I like you Kitty but I don’t feel like foolin.'” She tells hims she’ll make him feel like foolin’ but he gets angry. “When I want somethin’ I’ll ask for it.”
“Who you savin’ it for Dove… What’s her name?” “Hallie, her name’s Hallie.” “She in New Orleans?”
“Hope so, I aint seen her in three years. I’ll never forget the first time I met her we went swimming together it was at night. The way she moved in the water, like a kind of a white flash. It was then I kissed her for the very first time. She gave me something I’d never known before. Something I ain’t experienced since. Afterwards in the moonlight we danced like we were celebrating a miracle. Crazy kind of dancing we sang and shouted like it wasn’t real, as if we were in another world. Sometimes I think it never really happened to us.”
Crying she throws his cowboy hat at crying and slumps down along the slats of the rattling truck
“It’s a shame. We coulda had such a good time.”
Soon after they jump off and go in search for food but he can’t walk on an empty stomach. There’s loads of chili in New Orleans but he wants to stop into Teresina’s Cafe across the street. Kitty tells him he’s crazy, always getting hungry like he was a millionaire.
Dove asks Teresina for two bowls of chili and coffee. She asks if he’s from Texas, and tells him she’s from Texas too. Kitty lights Dove’s cigarette and snarks “Sounds like a real old fashioned reunion.”
Kitty is possessive and jealous of Dove. Any other woman giving him attention gets her showing her claws. She tells Teresina she’d prefer good old American food any day, but if he wants that other stuff bring it for him. “Ah Chicharones and Tortillas” Teresina says with a bit of her own claws subtly extended. Kitty answers, “I hope it’s easier to eat than pronounce.”
When Dove comes back from the wash room, he finds more food then he asked for. “What’s all this, you’ve been asking for hand outs.” Kitty says “Oh you know you can be very insulting.”
Teresina looks satisfied to see him eating her cooking. She puts a Spanish song on the juke box and Dove tells her it’s a nice song. Kitty is clearly threatened. “What part of Texas are you from… Mexico?” she’s filled with fight and combative energy.
After they finish eating Kitty leers at Teresina counting the money from the register. Dove is impressed with her cooking, nobody makes chili like a good Texas woman. But Kitty gets annoyed that all Texas people talk about is Texas. Kitty tells him if they’re going to stay he should put another tune on the box. He looks at her curiously as she suddenly seems interested “Maybe they got Mississippi Mud.” She’s just stalling, planning on stealing Teresina’s money.
When Teresina comes back into the room, Kitty fakes having stomach cramps from the chili. Teresina offers to bring her to the back room to lye down.
While Kitty acts like is a feral thing rifling through Teresina’s drawers, Dove goes outside to help Teresina pump gas and wash the windshield.
Teresina and Dove come in and find Kitty sitting up on the bar stool like nothing happened.
“Hey you alright now?” Teresina is happy to see Kitty feeling better. Kitty tells Dove it’s time to go.
“I never felt better.” Then Kitty threatens to take her to the board of health, they have laws about poisoning people in public places. Dove says to her, “What are you trying’ to do Kitty?” “Don’t be dumb I oughta take her to court, I oughta sue for damages. You know legally lady you’re in trouble.” Kitty has no morals, she’s a conniving little hellion always looking to take what ever she wants.
Teresina tells her“You recover pretty quick for somebody who was poisoned.”
“Imagine an innocent person walking in here…” Kitty doesn’t get to finish her statement as Teresina interrupts her “And of course you make your living by walking!”
“That remarks gonna cost you extra!”
“It’s on the house, now get out. I don’t like how for 85 cents you smell.”
As soon as they leave, Teresina gets the sense that she’s been taken. She goes to her room and finds it’s been ransacked by Kitty. Luckily Kitty hasn’t found the hiding place for her cash in the brass bed knob.
Kitty is walking next to Dove, “Some of my best ideas come in the moment. Ah Dove you should always let me take care of you like that.” She leans into him. He looks on pensively and says “Here take this it’s yours. One dollar, it’s eighty five cents plus tip” looking surprised Kitty says “Oh I didn’t earn it.” “You cheated for it. You conned that woman for it. Take it and we’re quits.”
He puts the money in her pocket and finds the rosary beads she stole from Teresina. Kitty tells him she found it. “Lie, cheat, steal is that all you know?” “And you think that woman is better trying to steal you away from me.” “I just don’t get you. I can understand some things you done but well stealing from someone who’s doin’ you a kindness. I just don’t…”
“Oh child… Those people are the best kind to take from. The people who are doing you a favor are too busy pattin’ themselves on the back to be watchful.” “Stop talkin’ like a no good… like you don’t know what’s right.” Kitty argues “A good time is right, everything else is wrong.”
He goes back and knocks on the Cafe window. Teresina asks through the glass, what he wants. He dangles the rosary beads for her. “So this is what she took.” Dove says “Sorry ma’am.” She thanks him. Tells him he’s very kind. She asks if he wants a cup of coffee. and where Kitty is, he tells her he doesn’t know and that the rosary is one of the prettiest he’s ever seen. Teresina asks “You are Catholic… what religion are you?”
“My religion… it’s a girl. Weighs about a hundred and nineteen pounds and gray eyes. She’s French.” She asks “And where, in what shrine does this holy person stay?“
“It’s a big city I don’t know yet.” Teresina asks what his girl’s name is, Hallie that’s such a nice name. She goes to the phone book to see if she can find her. “My name is Teresina.” “Please to meet you ma’am.” She can’t find Hallie listed. She says maybe they’ll find her in a Hotel or where she works. “What does she do?” “She’s an artists, paints, sculpts.” “Maybe to find this religion we gotta put an ad in the newspaper. In the personal columns. I’ll show you. Like this.”
She starts writing on a pad. “Anyone knowing the whereabouts of Hallie Gerard please contact Dove Linkhorn, (she looks up at him, and pronounces his name) uhh pleased to meet you. Contact Dove Linkhorn at?” “Well that’s the trouble, I don’t have no address… besides how much would that cost?” “I don’t know a few dollars” “I don’t have it. Until I find a job I can’t..” ” You know that was my favorite rosary. I think maybe I oughta give you a reward.” She goes to the register but Dove tells her “You don’t owe me nothin’.”
Scene fades, we see Jo’s husband and flunky Schmidt (Karl Swenson) who has no use of his legs. He’s reading the newspaper ad. Of course he’s going to tell Jo about the ad for Hallie. He propels himself along on a small wooden dolly with wheels dragging his hunched body around the portentous streets of Baton Rough and the Doll House holding two metal hand grips.
Back at the bordello he drags himself into The Doll House, and shows Jo the newspaper.
“Everyday for a week”. She tells him “Hallie never reads the newspapers, and he’ll get tired wasting his money… It’s a big city full of lost girls.” Schmidt says ” I just don’t want you to get upset Jo.” She shoots daggers at him. There’s also a photo of Hallie in a silver frame behind her desk.
She tells her boys that she’s going up to see Hallie. Walking through the courtyard where the Doll House ladies are lounging, she stops and shoots them a look that could maul as if she sees all, her stare telling them ‘better behave’.
In the cover of Chiaroscuro Jo shuts off the muted blues on the record player standing over Hallie’s bed she says softly “Hallie? Hallie it’s 3 in the afternoon.” Hallie groans, tosses and turns and then puts the covers over her head. Jo tells her ” You’re getting lazier and lazier… wake up. Come on wake up.” ” What for.” “Well you can’t sleep the whole day away.” Jo starts picking up the room. She keeps ripping open more curtains until the room is thrust into daylight from the outside world, which comes crashing in on Hallie’s darkness.
Hallie is lugubrious as Jo turns around in the light and notices a large bust of her head, that Hallie’s been sculpting. There’s a scarf tied around the neck. Jo asks Hallie what the scarf means.
Hallie ignores the comment and lights up a cigarette. Looking at her with a lazy contempt. Dragging on the cigarette like a sexual gesture to taunt Jo. The scene quickly cuts away. We’ve just seen a lover’s quarrel.
Oliver, Jo’s suave psychopathic thug asks Mama in the courtyard with the other girls if Miss Precious is upstairs. She tells him she’s feeling kind of poorly “When I saw her this morning I said now Precious honey, now you go lye down, I’ll tell Mr. Oliver that you aint up to seeing nobody today. Mr. Oliver’s a gentleman and I…” Oliver cuts her off.
“Mama… shut your mouth.” He walks upstairs while putting a pair of gloves on.
Precious is sitting up in bed “Oliver I was just thinking about you.” “Was you honey what was you thinking?” He’s playing with his gloves making sure they fit nicely on his hands. It’s a sick touch as he’s about to smack her around while wearing suede gloves. It’s got fetishistic qualities and psycho-sexual arousal written all over it.
“I was thinking how the colonel used to say that love was really all that mattered. That it melted the hardest heart” Oliver asks “Do you ever watch the movies Precious?” She shakes her head yes like a little girl. “What do they to a girl who holds out on the house?” “Oh Oliver I know I was drunk last night but I didn’t mean it. See this man gave me a tip and it was just a little tip. He said go out and buy yourself some stockins’ Oh Oliver if you just assume I just assume you not whip me if I got my sooners.”
Joanna Moore is divine in this role as a tragic woman-child surrounded by nefarious parasites who suck the life out of her innocence. A gentle soul who’s just trying to follow the wisdom of ‘the colonel’ a man she constantly invokes through out the film.
Oliver is sadistic. She’s crying and begging as he says “Not soon enough Sugar but you gotta learn not to steal no more.” The scene cuts away as he’s about to strike her. We see Jo in Hallie’s room as she’s getting dressed. We all hear Precious crying out in pain. Jo and Hallie exchange glances.
Hallie runs out to help Precious but Jo yells after her that it’s none of her business. She bursts into the room, Oliver tells her to go away.
Precious tells her to stay out of here but Hallie yells at him “Out of this room.” “I am not finished yet.” Hallie again yells “I said get out of here.” Oliver argues “She’s been stealing.” “I don’t care what she’s done, don’t you ever touch her again!” Hallie grabs Precious who is crying “It’s gonna be alright Precious.” Oliver tells Hallie “I never interfere with you do I Hallie, as a matter of fact I’ve taken quite a lot off you.” Hallie comes back “Not even remotely what you deserve”
Hallie places a purse under Precious’ pillow “Here don’t steal anymore.” Precious hugs Hallie “Oh Hallie you’re so good to me… The colonel used to say that you could tell everything there was to know about a person, just by the size of their heart.” Precious beams a sweet smile at her good friend and the camera’s last shot leaves Precious sitting up in her bed. From behind, the metal frame look like bars. It’s a frilly room cheaply ornate with crystal tear drops hanging from the canopy and vintage drapery giving it an air of a decadency.
Back in her room Jo is waiting, “Now don’t say anything Jo I warn you don’t.” She holds up her hand to try and anticipate Jo’s words. Jo stands there like concrete. Hallie says “I wish you’d get rid of him, Jo.” “I try to stay out of my employees private lives.” “That’s no answer.” “I’m running a business and Oliver is necessary to that business.” “One of these days I’ll go down to the Doll House and do something about that necessity.” “The less you go down to the Doll House the happier I’ll be.” “That was cruel Jo, she’s got the mind of a little girl… it was like beating a sick child. I can not stand that sort of cruelty… I won’t!”
“Alright Hallie, I’ll see that he never touches her again- My we are depressed aren’t we.” Jo smiles a cruel sarcastic smile at Hallie.
“Yes you are.” Jo walks over to Hallie on her bed “You’re so wrong Jo, I’m really no different than Precious, Georgi or any of the others.” Jo says in a very low slow sultry provocatively flirtatious tone “You are to me…” ” Oh don’t humor me.”
“Promise me one thing Hallie… you won’t go down to the Doll House anymore.”
“Sorry Jo, I can’t stay cooped up here, I’ve got to break out to, to find excitement. Lock me up, swallow the key and I’ll still crawl out… nibble my way through the plaster.”
Jo sitting on the bed looking at her, Hallie almost looks like a cat, now sprawled out on the satin bed covers. “Oh you know me better than that Hallie. Sometimes I’ve waited years for what I wanted.” The camera does not show us Stanwyck’s face. We only hear Jo’s words We gaze at Hallie, but we cannot see the expression on Jo’s face, as she tells her that being a woman in a man’s world and lesbian is hard work.
The scene fades into a shot of the front of Teresina’s Cafe. She is looking out the window waiting for Dove to arrive back home.
He comes in and tells Teresina “I been gettin’ the feeling that it aint Hallie who’s lost it’s me… me! I’m beginning to hate this town and everything about it. I’d like to kick it in, shake it, bust it wide open.” Teresina yanks the juke box plug out to stop the Spanish music. “No wonder you can’t find your Hallie. Maybe she doesn’t want to see you. Maybe she knows what you are like. All the time sitting around feeling sorry for yourself. You’re not so pleasant to be with. Maybe she has gone away, that she knows you are here but you are no prize.”
Dove is sitting on his bed. He is broken without having found Hallie. Teresina comes into his room. “I’m sorry Dove for talking like that. I didn’t mean it. You know, you know how it is with a woman, when they like somebody, right away they gotta become a nuisance. I am a nuisance. Look I brought you something. I know when men have pain, sometimes they drink to forget. To ease the soul. When my husband was alive that’s what he used to do. When he had too much worry or trouble.”
She tells him that she’s going to open the repair shop and he’s going to run it. That they will be partners and then he’ll feel better not so hopeless not so lost.
“Do you know what they call a man who lives off a woman? They call him a…” She stops him from saying it. “When people are kind to each other why do they have to find a dirty word for it.”
Cut to a night scene with jazz musicians and Brook Benton singing the title song Walk on the Wild Side: “Sinner, hear what I’m saying, Sinner you been swinging not praying’ One day of prayer and six nights of Love… the odds against going to heaven six to one… Walk on the wild side, The devil is waiting, he’s waiting to take your hand.”
Hallie goes down to the Doll House. Mr Benito is waiting for her. (the rigid cop who tells Sheriff Andy Griffith just to stick to catching chicken thieves)
“Last time you told me you wrote poetry.” Hallie sluggishly tells him “No… I just echo it” Hallie has a lugubrious disenchantment of Gothic proportions. Like a tragic heroine of Victorian era who is struck with a darkened soul biting sarcasm and cynicism of life.
“No I”m a sculptress, Or I used to be before I fell down the well. But it’s a very nice well… Cozy. All the little frogs love me, and the big frog Jo… adores me.”
Perhaps a reference to The Well of Loneliness a 1928 lesbian novel by the British author Radclyffe Hall.
Benito says to Hallie “Did you ever hear of bread? I butter yours, Jo’s too… this whole dumps. Without me you don’t last a week, right.” “I know, we’re all so grateful.”
Hallie walks out with him as she sticks a tip in the trumpet and says with compliments from a southern gentleman.
fades to black.
We’re back at Teresina’s cafe and gas station. She’s answers the phone Dove is working outside, she tells him he’s got a phone call. “If you want Hallie Gerard you can find her at 904 Charter Street.” the voice on the phone is a woman. “She said she’s know where I can find Hallie do you know where that is?” Teresina tells him yes as she looks down so as not to look in his eyes yet. “You just go to the quarter and ask anyone.”
Dove arrives at the Doll House and walks through the ornate wooden door and entry gate. Guided by the french quarter Jazz. horns and brushes pulsing on the high hat.
Mama sees him, “What you want mister?” “I’m looking for Miss Hallie Gerard.”
“One flight up, first door right up there.” He knocks on the door his image is obscured by crinkly clear glass. Hallie says come in, she’s working on a bust, and Precious says Hi. Hallie’s back is still turned to Dove. He says hello she quickly turns around startled.
“Oh Hallie’s told me all about you Mr Linkhorn and about Arroyo I never even heard of Arroyo till I met Hallie.” Hallie looks worried and ashamed Precious keeps on chatting while Dove just stares at Hallie silently. “Oh you must excuse my ignorance you see I’m from Georgia. Well it’s just that I’ve never been to Texas. I do know about the Alamo and I do know about the panhandle. What in the world is a panhandle, do you know? I though it meant to beg.” Precious keeps laughing though neither Dove nor Hallie has yet to say a word “Hallie says you’re a farmer you know I always wanted a farm.”
Precious quotes the colonel once again, with a few cliches, two’s company threes a crowd, and two old friends should be left alone and all that. But Hallie tells her not to leave.
Hallie tells Dove he’s looking good and asks how his father is. “So are you Hallie… He’s dead.” She fixes a wet cloth to protect her sculpture, turns around to face him and says she’s sorry. He tells her it was bound to happen miracle was that he held out so long.
“You loved him very much didn’t you?” “Love or duty I’ll never know which.”
“I lit out to find you the moment I could. I’m free now.” “What?” She seems surprised by his statement. “Just yesterday I give up hope. I been looking everywhere for you. Putting ads in the papers. I didn’t think I’d ever find ya. Now it seems like those three years never passed.”
He moves in to kiss her. She pushes him away. “Look Dove I should have written.” “But you did write. You wrote me twelve letters.” ” I should have written you a thirteenth, telling you” “Telling me what?” he says forcefully for the first time raising his voice showing some anger after all his twilight dreamy eyed gaping.
“Hallie you know I couldn’t leave my father, he was sick he needed me.”
“I was sick, scared sick and I needed you. Oh Dove if only you could have given me hope.” “I couldn’t count my father’s days.” “But I was counting mine.” She tells him emphatically with tears glistening in her languid eyes.
He tells her that he has so much to make up for but she says “I’m no good for you anymore believe me. I’m not good.”
Dove says softly ” I got so much love for you and it can’t grow less, it can’t Hallie.” Suddenly there’s a knock on the door. She agrees to meet him day after tomorrow.
Jo is standing in the doorway looking at Hallie with a burning stare. Stanwyck looks so sharp in her tight fitting sweater blouse skirt and pearls. She’s filled with fire and ice right now.
Hallie says goodbye to Dove. Jo looks at him. He brushes passed Jo and says excuse me.
She asks “Who was that? “Dove Linkhorn.” “Not a bad looking boy… All the way from Texas, I’m sorry for him.” “Careful Hallie, pity can be a dangerous emotion and you have a great capacity for it. Oh I see you’ve started working again , why don’t you go back to it.” “Suddenly I don’t feel like working.” “Alright then let’s go shopping.” “Sorry I really don’t feel like doing anything today.” “The boy, he really upset you that much” she looks at Jo “Yes, yes he did… he reminded me of everything I am not and everything I thought I couldn’t’ be.”
Jo walks out of the room. Hallie sits in her chair reflecting on her life.
The next day Hallie meets Dove, he tells her that it’s like walking with another girl, and that she looks different. Even since yesterday, She’s even more beautiful.
Hallie begins to tell him something when the preacher who is doing a sidewalk fire and brimstone sermon calls out “Jezebel” The two turn to look at him. “That’s right I mean you. Now both you sinners hurray and pass.” He waves them away with his hands.
“You got no business with us mister.” “Oh sinners is my business, you and that hip swinging daughter of satan… (he comes down through the crowd and addresses Hallie up close) You know there’s a smell of sulfur and brimstone about you. A smell of hell fire!”
Dove asks “Who ordained you preacher?” “I am self ordained son, I had the call.”
“You were called by the wrong voice mister.”
“Lord strike this sinner down. Send a bolt down to smite and consume the blasphemer now!” Dove exclaims “He won’t hear ya, because you’re no friend of God or man, standing there hollering hate to the world. God is love, God is mercy and forgiveness. Try that sometime Mr Preacher… Teach people to forgive, not to crawl in fear. Teach people to love not hate. Preach the good book. Preach the truth.” He says Come ‘on to Hallie who with admiration watches Dove admonish this hateful man.
Lying in the grass Dove asks Hallie to marry him. She tells him it’s been such a wonderful day not to spoil it. “I’m sorry I spoiled your day by asking you to be my wife.”
“Oh no no I didn’t mean it that way… I “ She kisses him. “We haven’t seen each other for years, it’s been so long. Just give me time to think about it.”
When Hallie returns to the house, Schmidt sitting on his little wheeled board calls to Hallie before she climbs the stairs. “Hallie you’re late Jo wants to see you” She tells him she’ll be down after she gets dressed.
Jo is in her office talking to Oliver and Kitty Twist. “And another thing too many of the girls wind up more loaded than the clients and their so called brains become addled and naturally the customers take advantage of them… Think of the house, not yourself. Call me if there’s any trouble.” She takes cash out of her desk and tells Kitty to get herself a gown. She can pay her back later and Oliver will show her where to buy it and what kind.
Kitty starts to talk “Miss Courtney, I want to assure you that I mean to co operate in every single way” Jo lights up a cigarette. “Because for me, it’s an honor to be working in the Doll House. And if by accident I should step on anybody’s toes like a special boy friend or somebody like that… I just asked to be told in a nice way, because on my mother’s life … “ Oliver interrupts “Get the mouth piece on her.”
Jo is smoking her cigarette blowing smoke and completely tuning her out, looking down at her books. She finally looks up at Oliver.
Kitty glances at him briefly, getting very tense her voice gets louder “And most of all I want to thank you for getting me outa jail” Kitty hovers over Jo, who finally addresses her “You talk too much, get yourself that gown.” Before Oliver leaves the room Jo says “Watch yourself she works for the house.”
Hallie walks into Jo’s office. Jo tells her that she looks wonderful. Frank Bonita stopped by was disappointed that he didn’t see her but left flowers which Jo thinks is quite considerate. Hallie tells her “Taste and good manners impress me, not twenty dollars worth of flowers” Jo asks “Have a nice day?” “Oh I just did the town.” ” Alone?” “Yes of course why?”
Jo asks this with her back turned, brewing she slams the door shut for privacy…
“Oliver saw you. You were with Dove all afternoon.” Jo shakes her body in that Stanwyck sort of way, strong and authoritative “You know lying to me Hallie it…'” She slaps her hip “Oh well perhaps maturity will change all that.” “What do you think I’ll mature into…You?” Jo slaps her hard across the face, it shakes Hallie for a moment.
Then Jo grabs her and starts shaking her, “I want to know what’s going on between you and that boy, you in love with that Texas dirt farmer?” “He’s more than that,” “Ahhh it’s gone quite far already hasn’t it… you’d like to make him happy wouldn’t you, make all his dreams come true, perhaps even get married.” “Yes even get married!” Jo looks at Hallie and starts to compose herself. She’s the one who is truly more shaken, the threat of losing Hallie is too much to bare. Hallie resists Jo’s domination at every turn.
scene cross fades
Hallie and Dove are sitting at an outdoor cafe. They’re approached by an old woman who is begging for two cents with yesterday’s damp newspaper. She says “Forty years of a good life forty years married to a good man.” Hallie gives her two cents but doesn’t want the paper. The old woman doesn’t take charity but Dove wants it and says yesterday news is harder to come by. He gives her more than two cents. She thanks him. Hallie gives him a curious look.
The two spend the night together then Hallie leaves Dove a goodbye note on the pillow while he’s sleeping. He furiously runs over to the Doll House to confront Hallie. Did Hallie really think he wasn’t going to come following after her?
He meets Precious on the balcony. She tells him that Hallie is down at the bar. He walks in, Dockery the bartender asks what he’s drinking. Neither say a word. But he looks crushed, the realization that she belongs to the Doll House. She looks down, and he walks out. The scene fades.
Back at Teresina’s Dove in a drunken rage starts flinging metal objects around making noise as she comes to put him to bed.
Teresina gives Dove a kiss and a via con dios and he sets out for the Doll House.
There’s a repulsiveness to the Josea/Gomer story, where only women are harlots but men can use them as objects and possessions. Throw them into slavery and then confine them or hold them hostage from being themselves. The film definitely seems to play on Dove’s hero savior complex in his sanctimonious way he needs to rehabilitate Hallie from a life of sin. There’s judgement about the lives of these women, but not a shred of awareness about the horrible men that satellite around. Except for when Dove admonishes that hateful preacher for not talking about love and only spouting hate. Yet he is only awarding love on his terms.
Back at the Doll House Hallie walks into the bar, and Dockery tells Jo who turns around to see her.
Hallie looks so elegant. Jo quickly moves over to her grabbing Hallie’s arm. “Hallie you don’t have to be here, you’re not well, I’ll take you…” Hallie reviles her.
Everyone wants a piece of Hallie. To control her, like a captive thing. Jo is no better. Both Jo and Dove have a sickly obsessive love for Hallie. Who is stifling from being everyone’s object of desire. “Get your claws off of me… I’m not going back to my room how long do you think I can sit there chewing my lower lip?” “Now Let’s not have a scene if you want we’ll sit down and have a drink.” Hallie stings her “I want to sit drinking with a man, not with you… Ouch… This one perhaps, he looks like a…”
“You’re being perverse.” “I was born perverse. Isn’t that a woman’s nature?” “Maybe I should let you do exactly what you want… go to hell in a hack.” “Fine, as long as the driver’s got gold braid and he’s tall dark and handsome.” “I’ve had enough of this.” “Do you want me to scream, do you?” Jo unhands her grip on Hallie’s arm and she walks away. Hallie goes and sits with a client and asks him to buy her a drink.
Suddenly Jo walks into the bar and sees Dove. Kitty says, “You know Dove I oughta thank you cause if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be working here.” “Why are you doin’ this Kitty?” “I like my work… beside you meet a better class of people than you do on the road.” “Kitty… I…” he grabs her arm, she smiles and gets sarcastically cute with him.
We now see Hallie sitting with the man “Are you a surgeon… that explains your long beautiful hands.” She grabs his hands. He asks if she’s ever been married. the question strikes a chord, she says regrettably “Almost.”
“You know something I wish I hadn’t met you here.” She says “As they say the breaks of life” she tells him goodnight. Meanwhile Jo asks to see Kitty.
As Hallie looks down, she hears Dove’s voice- “Hello Hallie.”
“Well he didn’t exactly bring me Miss Jo we come in on the back of a truck.” “You crossed the State line?” “How else do you get from Texas to Louisiana “ Kitty notices Jo’s attention on the window. “What what is it Jo?” Kitty looks worried by Jo’s stance and line of questions.
In Hallie’s room she begins to undress for Dove. He moves to her and starts putting the dress back on her shoulders and tells her to pack.