Dark Patroons & Hat Box Killers: 2015 The Great Villain Blogathon!

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IT’S HERE AGAIN… THAT TINGLING ON THE BACK OF YOUR NECK BECAUSE THERE’S FOUL DEEDS AND MURDEROUS MACHINATIONS AFOOT…HOSTED BY SPEAKEASYSHADOWS & SATIN… AND SILVER SCREENINGS… THE GREAT VILLAIN BLOGATHON OF 2015!

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“Sometimes human places, create inhuman monsters.”
Stephen King, The Shining

“What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark? It would be like sleep without dreams.”
Werner Herzog

“Monsters cannot be announced. One cannot say: ‘Here are our monsters,’ without immediately turning the monsters into pets.”
Jacques Derrida

DRAGONWYCK  (1946)

Vincent Price -had said- “I don’t play monsters. I play men besieged by fate and out for revenge…”

vincent price
Vincent Price is perhaps one of THE sexiest men in film. Eventually type cast albeit an icon of the horror film industry… enough of us are aware of his range of talent and his sophisticated manner. If I were to have met him, I would have swoon… and that’s not a lie. He possessed a unique sensuality both tragic and dynamic that just drew you in.

Price always could play ONE of the most cultivated, enigmatic and beguiling villains any time….

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-Secret thoughts… That led to secret love… That led to rapture and terror!-

Gene Tierney as Miranda Wells:Nicholas – you do believe in God?”

Vincent Price as Nicholas Van Ryn: “I believe in myself, and I am answerable to myself! I will not live according to printed mottoes like the directions on a medicine bottle!”

The chemistry between Price and Tierney is authentic and captivating. When Miranda Wells feels humiliated by the gaggle of high class snobbish debutantes because she’s from the wrong end of the river, not from the Hudson but The Connecticut River bottom, and Nicholas tells her she’s better then all of them and asks her to dance. He seems so gentle and human… but he has a dark and villainous side!

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“You couldn’t help yourself any more than I”-Nicholas

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“What makes you think you’re so much better than I am!”

DRAGONWYCK 1946 was Vincent Price’s 18th film, after having appeared in The House of the Seven Gables 1940 as Shelby Carpenter opposite Gene Tierney in Laura 1944, Leave Her to Heaven 1945, right after he appeared as the cold blooded Dr. Richard Cross in Shock 1946.

Produced by Ernst Lubitsch uncredited and overseen by one of my favs– Writer/Director Joseph L Mankiewicz. this Gothic & dark romance is based on the novel by Anya Seton… With cinematography by Arthur C. Miller (The Ox Bow Incident 1943,The Razor’s Edge 1946, Whirlpool 1949, The Prowler 1951), Art Direction by Lyle Wheeler and Russell Spencer, Set Direction by the great Thomas Little. The lighting alone is a mixture of noir chiaroscuro and offers dramatic shadings of the best classical elements of horror. The narrative speaks of familial secrets, and twisted vengefulness not unlike Lewis Allen’s spooky debut masterpiece The Uninvited  1944.

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Added to the moodiness is the eerily haunting score by Alfred Newman with Orchestral arrangements by Edward B Powell. Edited by the keen eyes of Dorothy Spencer (Stagecoach 1939, The House Across the Bay 1940, Lifeboat 1944, The Ghost and Mrs.Muir, The Snake Pit 1948.) 

Costumes by Rene Hubert and Make Up by Ben Nye. The film bares shades of Hitchcock/de Maurier’s Rebecca 1940 and Robert Stevenson’s/Charlotte Brontë‘s Jane Eyre 1943. Even a bit of de Maurier’s tautly suspenseful My Cousin Rachel 1952 directed by Henry Koster and starring Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton. The book is a hell of a good read if you enjoy Gothic melodrama.

Gene Tierney and Vincent Price reunite after having appeared in Otto Premingers‘ memorable film noir masterpiece Laura in 1944.

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Otto Preminger brings together these two fine actors in his noir masterpiece Laura 1944

Here-Gene Tierney plays Miranda Wells, Walter Huston is her devoutly christian working class father-Ephram Wells.

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Walter Huston as Ephram Wells reading from his bible to Miranda
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Miranda takes a drink of wine. Her father reproaches her-“I thought so, it’s got spirits in it. A little bit. Even a little bit of evil cannot be good Miranda”– Her stifling life with her religious father pushes her further into the arms of Nicholas Van Ryn

This scene foreshadows the dangerous path the Miranda is willing to wander through, as she starts to break free of her puritanical upbringing and reach for a life of being a free spirit. Believing that Nicholas represents that freedom. But there is a hint of evil that her father can sense.

Vincent Price once again manifests a passionate yet conflicted antagonist Nicholas Van Ryn with a magnetism you cannot escape, yet you may despise his cruelty and his self indulgent murderous arrogance.

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“I must not feel like my life is finished as long as you are with me”-Nicholas
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“You must never be afraid when you’re with me Miranda”

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Glenn Langan is the handsome yet vanilla Dr Jeff Turner, Anne Revere adds a depth of nurture as Abigail Wells-Miranda’s mother who is weary of her daughters intentions to marry such a powerful man.

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Spring Byington is one of the maids-Magda. Connie Marshall is the young melancholy Katrina Van Ryn, Henry Morgan is Bleeker one of the farmers who challenges Van Ryn and fights back against the antiquated laws.

Vivienne Osborne plays wife-Johanna Van Ryn. Jessica Tandy gives a marvelous performance as Miranda’s maid the feisty Peggy O’ Malley. Trudy Marshall is Elizabeth Van Borden. Reinhold Schunzel is Count de Grenier, Jane Nigh is Tabitha. Ruth Ford is Cornelia Van Borden, David Ballard is Obadiah. Scott Elliot is Tom Wells and Boyd Irwin is Tompkins.

DRAGONWYCK is a Gothic suspense melodrama in the grand classical style. It even brushes against the edges of the classic horror film not only because of the way it’s filmed, but there are certain disturbing elements to the story. The shadows and darkness that are part of the psychological climate work almost reminiscently of a Val Lewton piece. There’s even a pale reference to that of a ghost story that is concealed or I should say unrevealed, with the first Mrs.Van Ryn’s spirit playing the harpsichord, and the eerie phantom chords that add to the mystery and gloom that hang over the manor house.

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Katrine-“I don’t like it now The singing’s getting louder now, I’m afraid I’m afraid”

Ghostly Dragonwyck

With swells of atmospheric tension and darkly embroidered romance there’s just the right tinges of shadows and danger. A lush and fervent tale that combines tragic Gothic romantic melodrama with the legitimate themes of social class struggle wrapped within dark secrets and suspense.

As always, Price conveys a tragic pathos even as the story’s villain, he is a man who manifests layers upon layers of feeling. Brooding, charming, sensual, intellectual, menacing, passionate, conflicted, self-loathing, and ego-maniacal all at once.

One of my favorite roles will always be his embodiment of Corman/Poe’s Roderick Usher in House of Usher 1960.

Vincent Price in House of Usher, 1960.

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The film also offers us the sublime acting skill and divine beauty of- Gene Tierney as the heroine or damsel in peril, a simple farm girl living near Greenwich Connecticut, who dreams of the finer things in life, swept up by the allure of a fairy tale existence only to find out that her dream has become a nightmare.

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Once Miranda receives a letter inviting her to come and visit Dragonwyck, she is perhaps at once young and naive when she arrives at the austere place to be a companion to Van Ryn’s despondent daughter Katrine, a lonely sort of isolated child. First triangulated by Van Ryn’s over-indulgent wife Johanna, after her death, the two begin a whirlwind romance that leads Miranda to marry the imposing Nicholas Van Ryn.

Almost in the style of a Universal monster movie, the central focus is the mysterious mansion, surrounded by volatile thunderstorms and restless villagers who want to take action against their oppressor. The film works as a period piece seeming to possess an added heaviness due to the provincial settings and underpinnings of class unrest, which lends itself to the bleak mood.

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DRAGONWYCK’S villain or very human boogeyman is the inimitable & urbane Vincent Price who holds sway over the locals as the patroon–lord of the land, as well as master of all he surveys, and of course his new wife. Driven by his obsession to have a son. He is a brooding dark figure whose dissent into drug addicted madness comes to light like a demon who has escaped from a bottle.

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Nietzsche quote

Van Ryn is vain and contemptuous, scornful, condescending and cruel. Eventually driven by his immense pride, love and desire… to murder his first wife who is in the way of his ultimate legacy.

DRAGONWYCK is an interesting film that belies any one genre. And as I’ve pointed out, beyond the dark melodramatic suspense elements, it’s every bit a horror film. And it is also the directorial debut of Joseph L. Mankiewicz 

Ghost Story

Set during the Nineteenth Century when parts of New York were still founded as feudal Estates. It’s a fascinating portrayal of the history of the 19th century Upstate New York Dutch colonies and their struggles between the rich and poor against the reigning yet dying tradition of aristocratic rule over the small family farms which were overseen by ‘Patroons’  A Patroon is the owner of the large land grants along the Hudson River. They are descendants of the original Dutch patroons… “and they’re terribly rich and elegant.“ -Miranda

Yet as in the case of Nicholas, they can be brutal and self-opportunistic land lords who collected the rent from these hard working, exploited and poor farmers.

This is what first impresses Miranda about Nicholas, his power and station in life. Tibby her sister tells her that she’s not anxious to leave home.

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Miranda says “That’s not fair, you know that I love you and pa, all of you and my home it’s just that I try to be like everyone else… and want what I’m supposed to want. But then I start thinking about people I’ve never known and places I’ve never been. Maybe if the letter hadn’t come I’d…. Oh I don’t know I must be loony.”

Nicholas Van Ryn is a brooding and powerful aristocratic patroon who runs all matters with an iron hand. In the Nineteenth Century the upstate New York counties were still dealing with a system run by these Patroons. There began a social uprising of the surroundings farmers who wanted more power over their land and a rule that would abolish the aristocracy that was a tribute to a dying past practice. Soon there would be an end to these ruling Estates.

As seen in Van Ryn’s maniacal demonstration of his being seated in an elaborate throne he remains poised while collecting the farmers rent. Henry Morgan plays the tough and prideful farmer Klaus who has brought nothing with him. “Not rent– nor tribute.”

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“I’m a free citizen I take my hat off for no one”

When Nicholas’ first wife cannot bare him a son as heir to carry on the Van Ryn name, the wealthy and wicked Nicholas Van Ryn secretly plans to poison her with the help of an Oleander plant. Setting his sights on the younger, more beautiful cousin Miranda.

Oleander

He then invites Miranda (Gene Tierney just naturally exudes a uniquely dreamy eyed splendor) to come and visit Dragonwyck. She is an innocent girl fascinated by the urbane Nicholas but by the film’s climax she becomes entrapped in the foreboding and bleak atmosphere of Dragonwyck, a place of secrets, sadness and insanity.

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Nicholas-“The Breeze must feel wonderful indeed on a face as beautiful as yours I imagine.”

Miranda is so taken with the idea of dancing the waltz and how fine a gentleman cousin Nicholas seems. Her father always reading passages from the bible, she hungers for adventure. Miranda craves the freedom to experience a better life.

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Vincent Price is incredibly handsome as Nicholas. Mysterious, his deep blue eyes crystallize   through the stark black and white film. He has a strong jawline, and possesses a vitality… at first he is so charming. Nicholas-“The Breeze must feel wonderful indeed on a face as beautiful as yours I imagine.”

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The first meal at Dragonwyck, is a grotesque scene in which his wife Johanna (Vivienne Osborne) shows herself to be a lugubrious sow, a glutton and a spoiled child who now bores and disgusts her husband. He tells Miranda, “To my wife, promptness at meals is the greatest human virtue.” 

Nicholas is already starting to reveal his cutting tongue by commenting on how his wife over eats and is not refined. A hint of his cruel nature.

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“I think I’ll have the bon bons before going to bed”
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Look at the detail of this frame. It’s almost the perfection of a Late 19th century painting

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Miranda meets the despondent Katrine… a hapless child

At dinner, Johanna begins to nag him about bringing home the pastries from New York, the Napoleons, she appears to be a glutton, and though very pretty, a most unattractive portrayal of her character is given for the narrative’s purpose of Nicholas justifiably ridding himself of her so that he might pursue Miranda. In contrast to Johanna’s piggishness, Miranda is given a clear bowl of broth for her supper. the scene is set up so we feel a bit of sympathy toward Nicholas.

As Johanna shoves another bon bon into her mouth…

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Cinematographer Arthur C. Miller frames the shot as Johanna is placed in between Nicholas and Miranda. His wife Johanna appears like a fairy tale character–the over-exaggerated plump wife who gorges herself on sweets while Nicholas and Miranda talk of love and loss. Miranda is wildly curious. He is withdrawn and pensive.

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Nicholas plays the harpsichord. Miranda listens contentedly then asks who the woman in the painting is. He tells her it’s his grandmother Aziel –“That’s a strange name… she looks like a frightened child.”

Miranda asks him to tell her more about his grandmother. Was it love at first sight?

Nicholas-“No Van Ryn does anything at first sight” Miranda-“Oh but she must have been happy to live here” Miranda smiles, her face a glow. Nicholas adds, “As it turned out it didn’t matter, soon after her son was born she died. She brought this harpsichord with her from her home. She played it always.”

Johanna “If you listen to the servants they’ll have you believe she still does!“ she laughs. But Nicholas quickly turns around to look at her, a dark shadow creeps along his brow. His eyes raised.

Nicholas-“fortunately we don’t listen to either the servants or their superstitions.”

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Magda (Spring Byington) tells Miranda about Nicholas’ grandmother from New Orleans, the woman in the portrait. That his grandfather never loved her, he never wanted her at all. he wanted their son. he kept her from him… He forbid her to sing and play. He broke her heart. And drove her….” Magda stops short…. “She prayed for disaster to come to the Van Ryns and she swore that when it came she’d always be here to sing and play… She killed herself in this room.”

Magda asks-“Miss Wells why have you come here? Do you think Katrine is in need of a companion? Miranda answers her, “Well that would be for her father and her mother to decide.”
Magda says, “Don’t you think she’s in need of a father and a mother… that was a silly question wasn’t it?” 

The meddling maid pierces Miranda’s innocence with her honesty like venom–causing a bit of shock on Miranda’s face that usually seems as tranquil as a quiet lake of sparkling water.

“You like it here?” Miranda answers–“Of course I do” Magda comments- “Course you do, you like being waited on, I could see tonight it was the first time. You like peaches out of season. You the feel of silk sheets against your young body. Then one day, with all your heart you’ll wish you’d never come to Dragonwyck…”

The handsome young Dr. Turner (Glenn Langan) comes to take care of Johanna who has taken sick to her bed.

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He and Miranda sit and talk by the fire. He tries to imply that living at Dragonwyck has changed her, he tells her that the last time he met her he felt like they had so much in common.. “Frankly right now I doubt you have any idea about the slightest thing to talk to me about.”

Johanna’s illness gets worse, of course we know Nicholas has poisoned her. Lying in bed she tells him that sometimes she thinks he hates her, but asks if they can go away together once she’s better. He says yes because he knows she’ll never get better. In fact she will never leave that bed alive.

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That night she dies. Doctor Turner feels bad that he can’t know why. “It’s funny the way she ate… almost passionately as if she wanted from meat– what she couldn’t have…

Once his wife mysteriously sickens and dies, Nicholas begins to woo his cousin who quickly becomes his second wife. Miranda’s father Ephram Wells, a righteous farmer (Walter Huston) naturally has a great mistrust of Van Ryn.

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Later Nicholas comes to Miranda and tells her that she must of known their love was inevitable. He tells of how Johanna could have no more children. That she could never give him a ‘son.’

His wife has just died and yet he compels her to realize that they were drawn to each other from the beginning. That they are meant to be together. He seems genuinely in love with Miranda.

Her father can’t believe that she’d be married to any man since she’s always had her nose up in the air for so long. But then Nicholas shows up and asks for her hand, and takes her back to Dragonwyck.

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Mother Abigail (Anne Revere)- Miranda child do you love him very much?” “Course I do”. “Are you sure?” “Why do you ask that?”  “It’s just maybe I shouldn’t have let you go. Maybe Dragonwyck shoulda stayed something to read about and dream about.” “My dreams came true Ma. Can you see. Ever since I was a little girl and built a castle and in that apple tree.” “But you can’t marry a dream Miranda. What about him? Do you love him?“ “It’s all Nicholas, Nicholas is all of it!… You’re acting so strangely almost as if you were afraid.”

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“Yes Miranda I dance the waltz but never in a public place”
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“On an occasion we dance the waltz at Dragonwyck”-Nicholas

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Now living at Dragonwyck–(Jessica Tandy) Peggy comes in to Miranda’s room to force her to eat. Her ironing is worse than her cooking… but she cares about Miranda. Nicholas asks “And what was that strange little creature?” “That was Peggy, Peggy O’Malley” “I assumed it had a name, what was it doing here?” “I’ve engaged her as my personal maid.” “A maid that untidy little cripple” “She’s not untidy and her leg’s no fault of hers… she’s had a miserable life.” That’s the strangest recommendation I’ve ever heard” “She’s bright and willing and good to me and Nicholas I want her as my maid.“

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Nicholas-“I shall have McNab give her some extra money and a good character. “

Miranda-“It’s so little to ask please”

Nicholas-“Deformed bodies depress me….”

He tries to divert her attention by offering her a wrapped package from Tiffany’s.

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“How dare you say that!” Miranda grows much stronger and less naive as time goes on.

Nicholas indignant replies, “How dare I?” Miranda fights to make her point her voice strengthens, “You speak as if her crippled leg was a weakness on her part, rather than merely God’s will…” Nicholas sarcastically submits-“We’ll agree then that it is God’s will.”

They were planning a ball to celebrate their betrothal. But all the society people are sending their refusals. All because he married a simple farm girl.

Miranda brings up the night Johanna died. How they started to talk about their future together. God knew. Nicholas doesn’t care about gossip…

“I’ve never heard you speak so childishly Miranda you might as well be on his knee. Do you believe there is a god who spends eternity snooping on human behavior. And punishing all violators of the pastors latest sermon.”

“That’s not what I mean at all”

“Then what do you mean?”

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“Well I believe that God has a put a sense of right and wrong in all of us. And that when we do wrong. NO matter if no one else knows. We do.”

“And you’ve remembered that ever since your Sunday school days haven’t you… that’ a good girl…”

“Nicholas You do believe in God?”

“I believe in myself and am answerable to myself … I will not live according to printed mottoes like the directions on a medicine bottle!”

But Nicholas’ growing drug habit and the ghostly happenings real or imagined a manifestation of a long dead ancestor who is driving him to either suicide or to rid himself of his second bride. Miranda is pregnant. She gives birth to a baby boy.

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Dr. Jeffrey Turner is so in love with her. He tries to tell Van Ryn that his son is not well. Nicholas tells the priest who baptizes his son that in a few months he will be properly baptized in a Dragonwyck church. But Miranda tells him that it’s a good thing they did it just in time. With tears in her eyes she looks up at her husband. The baby has perished.

His son tragically dies soon after birth. This drives Nicholas further away.

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Nicholas takes to his secret tower room … staying in there weeks at a time.

Miranda decides to go up and check on him. Peggy doesn’t want her to go up there alone.

She finds him laying down on a bed in his silk robes. A dirty growth of beard on his face and a woozy sort of swagger, he stands up and confronts her.

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“this is an unlooked for pleasure I wasn’t expecting you Frankly I almost succeeded in Forgetting you”

“Oh it’s you” Miranda-“Yes Nicholas” Nicholas lazily comments, “This is an unlooked for pleasure. I wasn’t expecting you… Frankly I almost succeeded in forgetting you. Don’t be frightened of me.”

Miranda assures him-“I’m not frightened” Nicholas– “I’m sure you’re not. You have courage Miranda, I  like that about you. It must have taken a great deal to make this pilgrimage up to the mysterious tower room. I assume your twisted little friend is offering up suitable prayers for your safe return.”

Miranda answers him, “I see no reason why that should be necessary” He asks her, “Tell me are you disappointed in what you found here? I’m sure you expected velvet drapes and heathen idols an altar for human sacrifice at least.” She asks him plainly-“Nicholas what do you do here?” He answers cryptically-“ What do I do?… I live.”

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Miranda-“Nicholas what do you do here?” Nicholas “What do I do?”
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“I live…” Miranda-“I’m sure you mean a great deal by that but…”
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Miranda-“I”m sure you mean a great deal by that but it isn’t very clear to me” Nicholas- “I Didn’t expect you to understand… how could you. Don’t be offended by ordinary standards you’re quite intelligent-but I will not live by ordinary standards. I will not run with the pack. I will not be chained into a routine of living which is the same for others. I will not look to the ground and move on the ground with the rest. So long as there are those mountain tops and clouds, limitless space. I’m sure you’re still unable to understand.“ Miranda-“I want to try if you’ll help me...” Nicholas-“Shall I Shall I tell you what you want to know. Brace yourself. Prepare to have your god fearing farm bred prayer fattened morality shaken to it’s core. See I’ve become what is vulgarly known as… a drug addict.” Miranda-“Why?” Nicholas- “No tearful reproaches, no attempts to save me to regenerate me?”
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Miranda-“Why do you find it necessary?” Nicholas-“That is what you could not hope to comprehend. Tis because I have set free something within me, something that ever since I can remember it’s been like a rock caught in my heart, in my brain… pushing at me, choking me.” Miranda- “I know you better than you think I do.” Nicholas- “Perhaps I’ve underestimated your intelligence” Miranda- “No it’s pretty ordinary and farm bred. I couldn’t follow everything you said but I think it’s pretty simple… You’re just plain running away!” Nicholas- “Is it as simple as that?” Miranda-“I’ve seen farmers with their crops ruined and their cattle dead and most of them just go to work. But some of them blame their troubles on God and get drunk, to forget, to run away, to run away and hide. That’s what you are doing Nicholas. Whenever you come up against something unpleasant you couldn’t change like the rent law.”
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“Or the death of my son…” “Our son…” “Get out of here!” “Nicholas let me help you..”I don’t need to be helped!” “Please don’t shut me out like this. Let me be unhappy with you and happy again. Let me be part of you. Let me love you and love me too.“

Nicholas turns and walks away….

Will Nicholas try to murder Miranda for not being able to give him a proper son. Does the suspicious young doctor Jeffrey Turner (Glenn Langan) save her? Or does justice reach out it’s ironic hand to Nicholas and have him die as he lived– elevated in his reigning chair of state, surveying his tenants and the vast lands lost in his clouded drug induced unconsciousness.

Vincent Price has always been flawless as the villain as he seems to embody that brilliantly threatening grin with ease. In DRAGONWYCK he personifies the very physical stature of the type of figure a contemptuous patroon would possess. Price has both the aesthetically striking features and charisma of a Lord or Patroon. No one quite delivers a line, packed with innuendo, sarcasm, highbrow insult and swiftness quite like Vincent Price. I’ve always felt that he was an underrated actor who should have been considered a great leading man.

Lead actor material

Here’s a description from Anya Seton’s novel–

“He was tall, over six feet and of a slender build… His hair, nearly as black as his boots, was abundant and waving… As of his face, it was so nearly the embodiment of the descriptions of heroes in Miranda’s favorite books that she was awed. Here were the full flexible mouth, the aquiline nose with slightly flaring nostrils, the high and noble forehead accented by stem black brows… And eyes of a particularly vivid light blue.”

In an interview on the set, LOOK Magazine described Vincent Price as “Lean, razor jawed and romantic” I would agree. Though Price became known for the horror pictures he would become iconic for, in particular the Roger Corman adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe stories, Price to me always had the striking sensuality to play a leading man.

All 6 Foot 4 inch razor jawed, wildly romantic and vivid blue eyes and all. Price actually lost 30 pounds for the role of Nicholas Van Ryn. And it’s marvelous when the antagonist of the film is still someone you feel compelled to watch and at times empathize with. Though Van Ryn was truly a despicable villain a wife murderer–indeed. It was a perfect role for Vincent Price who brought an unyielding passion to every part he played.

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He could carry off with ease the great arrogance and scorn, as he held rigidly to the inviolability of his god given birthright. Haunted and tortured by the demons of weakness, his pathological self-loathing and discontent that drives him to become a drug addicted fiend who hides in the shadows of his locked tower room. Tormented by the fierce love he has for his new and beautiful young bride, yet conflicted because she has failed to give him a son.

In preparation for his role as Nicholas Van Ryn, Vincent Price found it difficult to manifest the persona of a character who could not tolerate imperfection in his life or anything that contradicted his inflexible standards. After reading the preface of Anya Seton’s novel which began with Edgar Allan Poe’s poem called “ALONE” Price gained insight into Van Ryn’s personality and the terrible isolation and alienation he had felt.

Ironically or perhaps like an augury–it is this very type of personality that would immortalize Price forever through the A.I.P/Corman does Poe collaborations that awaited him!

I happen to have a small needle pointed cross stitched version of Poe’s ALONE that my mother had made for me. Perhaps a morbid little message to have hanging in your bathroom, but mom was melodramatic and being a fan of Poe myself… it stays….!

Dragonwyck Price

“Alone”

By Edgar Allan Poe

From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were—I have not seen
As others saw—I could not bring
My passions from a common spring—
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow—I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone—
And all I lov’d—I lov’d alone—
Then—in my childhood—in the dawn
Of a most stormy life—was drawn
From ev’ry depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still—
From the torrent, or the fountain—
From the red cliff of the mountain—
From the sun that ’round me roll’d
In its autumn tint of gold—
From the lightning in the sky
As it pass’d me flying by—
From the thunder, and the storm—
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view—

REVIEWS

Variety, February 20, 1946 (trade-show screening)
“…its box office chances are assured… {a} grade A production in every detail … It is one of Vincent Prices best roles to date, and he handles it for all it’s worth.”

NEW YORK TIMES . APRIL 11, 1946 BOSLEY CROWTHER

“VINCENT PRICE GIVES A PICTURESQUE PERFORMANCE CLEAN SHAVEN AND ELEGANTLY TAILORED. HE STILL MAKES A FORMIDABLE BLUEBEARD, AND HIS MOMENTS OF SUAVE DIABOLISM ARE ABOUT THE BEST IN THE FILM”

LOOK MAGAZINE, MAY 5, 1946

“AS DRAGONWYCK HOMICIDAL ARISTOCRAT WHO TRIES TO MURDER TWO WIVES PRICE SETS A ROMANTIC PACE WHICH WILL E A REVELATION TO FEMININE MOVIEGOERS. ONE OF HOLLYWOODS SOUNDEST ACTORS, THIS SOFT SPOKEN FORMER MEMBER OF ST LOUIS SOCIETY DOMINATES THE PICTURE”

Vincent Price comments during a lecture on his role as Van Ryn, “The Villain still pursues me”

“Aristotle wrote a theory of drama that is really quite extraordinary in it, he says that the villain, the man who has to pay for his sins, should be preferably a man of great intelligence, great charm, great wit, noble birth… preferably rich, well liked- because then if this man has to pay for his sins, you and I we understand that we have to pay for ours too. Well… the character of Nicholas Van Ryn is an Aristotelian Villain”

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“Words-so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.”

-Mary Wollstonecraft

NIGHT MUST FALL (1937)

Night Must Fall Montgomery and Dame May Witty

Robert Montgomery as Danny: –“I forgot it was Sunday. They’re goin’ to church down in the villages. All got up in their Sunday best. And the organ is playin’ and the windows are shinin’. Shinin’ on holy things because holy things isn’t afraid of the daylight. But all the time, the daylight’s movin’ across the floor. And by the end of the sermon, the air in the church is turnin’ gray and the people isn’t able to think so much of holy things anymore but only of the terrible things that’s goin’ on outside. Because they know it’s still still daylight and everything is ordinary and quiet and the day is the same as all the other days. And it’ll come to an end. And it’ll be night.”

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Night Must Fall 1937 is the film adaptation of Emlyn Williams’ stage play. Williams created the character of Danny based on a series of murders in Cleveland called The Mad Butcher. He also played the role of Danny on stage. In this moody superior version of the story director Richard Thorpe ( Black Hand 1950, The Prisoner of Zenda 1952, Jailhouse Rock 1957) creates an almost confined space immersed in the atmosphere of fable and impending dread.

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Night Must Fall opens with the dark and eerie silhouette of figure hunched down under a giant oak… a hat box resting beside him.

With a carefully detailed eye cinematographer Ray June   (The Secret Garden 1949, Shadow on the Wall 1950) creates the perfect at times elegant landscape for secrets and indulgences. June might have fit right in as photographer in the Val Lewton or Jean Renoir camp of visionaries. Danny is a virile working class fellow, a waiter at the Tall Boys Pub who has an air of underdog quality to him. The intrusion of his presence creates the sense of downfall to the languid elitism of the upper class.

Starring Robert Montgomery as the dapper and cocksure Danny a certifiable psychopath with a fetish for carrying around his female victims’ heads in a locked hatbox which are-“much too heavy for a hat.” Montgomery was nominated for an Academy Award for his adept performance as the charming & menacing fetishistic sexual-psychopath!

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He steals into the lives of the wealthy crotchety, churlish–verbally abusive old dowager Mrs. Bramson (Dame May Whitty) who is a neurotic lonely old gal feigning the need to be tootled around in her wheelchair. Both egotists Danny & Auntie Bramson belong together fueling each others pathological need for self importance.

Mummy and son Danny

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Edward Ward (The Women 1939, Phantom of the Opera 1943, The Strange Door 1951) lends his musical score that is a dark and melancholy accompaniment to this psycho-sexual thriller ahead of it’s time, and sorely underrated.

The ensemble cast includes Merle Tottenham giving a wonderful performance as the dippy maid Dora who is his latest girlfriend as she takes Danny with all his faults. Kathleen Harrison is the counter-weight to Dora’s scatterbrained persona, as the wise cracking Emily Terence, cook, housekeeper and all around comic relief. Harrison has some of the best lines in the story.

Alan Marshal is just right as the handsome stout fellow Justin, who is madly in love with Olivia no matter how many times she turns his marriage proposals down. Olivia is so intellectually driven by her need to experience something more than her dull life permits and she herself has a secret longing for a more dangerous kind of passion that her heart just isn’t geared toward their normal relationship.

Justin warns Mrs. Bramson about keeping so much money around the house. She berates him for meddling and distracting her while she counts her piles of pound notes. She also insists as her lawyer that he revise her will yet again in order to cut Olivia’s inheritance in half, leaving her devoted but deeply trampled upon niece penniless.

E. E. Clive (Dracula’s Daughter-Sgt. Wilkes) has a small part as the guide.

Dame May Whitty reprised her role as the cranky Mrs. Bramson on the stage in both London and New York, making her film debut at age 72!–She is one of my FAVORITE character actors… (The Lady Vanishes 1938, Suspicion 1941, Mrs. Miniver 1942, Gaslight 1944)

Then there’s her niece/companion Olivia played by the audacious Rosalind Russell. Who manifests a sexy frumpiness and at first takes a strong dislike to the dapper Danny who is starting to work his charms on the difficult old lady. The repressed yet curious Olivia sees past his light-hearted act and suspects there lurks a darker side to this smiling schemer yet she too has a dark side and develops a dangerous fixation on him.

Russell’s role in Night Must Fall couldn’t be more of an antithesis to her character as the wicked Mrs. Howard Fowler (Sylvia) in George Cukor’s The Women (1939) Who’s venom drips off every word and her claws are always sharpened, unlike the yearning Olivia love isn’t a dangerous adventure it’s a gossip headline, a friends secret to divulge and a chance to kick someone when they’re down.

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Night Must Fall 1964 Albert

Night Must Fall was remade in 1964 starring the amazing Albert Finney, and while the film has it’s stark moments of terror and dark psychological entrenchments. Karel Reisz’s version is stark and brutal and has a pervasive atmosphere that is gruesome because of the tightly wound performance by the masterful Finney who’s Danny conveys more of an alienated psychopath filled with both destructive and childish rage. Both characters of Danny seem to possess a childlike complexity that exhibits animosity toward women and a strange attachment to them, most likely being a warped mother fixation. 1964 contains some incredible camera work by the gifted Freddie Francis and the film itself stands out as a psycho-sexual gem, still I prefer the more moody and Gothic version with Montgomery’s more lyrical and macabre ‘bad boy’ with a grotesque secret. Just the mere image of the hat box is more chilling to me, then watching Finney actually wield the axe!

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Robert Montgomery had boyish good looks and a certain unique sex appeal

A Year of Fear: A Day-by-Day Guide to 366 Horror Films–By Bryan Senn. “By 1936, MGM contract star Robert Montgomery was fed up with the prim leading roles given him by the studio. Montgomery had begun to complain to the Metro brass incessantly about his endless stream of light comedy characters, insisting that he break out of this tepid ‘happy-go-lucky’ mold…{Montgomery considered Danny the favorite of his many screen roles.”

Montgomery really earns his place as a memorable cinematic villain… who straddles his world between intensely dangerous to endearingly guiltless or so he would appear to the more naive. “I’m the one who watches!”-Danny (Baby Face) To the more alert he gushes a mysterious yet menacing charm, and he also loves to whistle Mighty Lak a Rose, which was the tune heard the night a figure was spotted by an old oak tree most likely burying something. Perhaps a headless body?

As Phil Hardy says “While the play endows the contents of the mad axeman’s cherished box with some mystery, Reisz’s version has Danny wielding the axe from the start and there is little subtlety in his relation with the resultant severed head.”  Hardy also takes note of Freddie Francis’ cinematography which did endow the 1964 version with a sense of doom and danger. This later version tends to be less atmospheric and more laden with the impulse to be an exploitation work.

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While Danny’s presence becomes a whirlwind around the house, the police have been searching for the missing Mrs. Shellbrook in the woods and along side the river. This kicks up quite a lot of excitement in the isolated village as the gory sensationalism hits the newspapers and sends the town out hunting in the brush.

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The inspector asks Olivia if she’s noticed anything. “Oh yes I did see some men beating the undergrowth.”
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The cantankerous old gal asks the inspector “What’s all this fuss about?” He answers -“Oh yes I’m coming to that.”
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“There’s a lady missing from the Tall Boys. A Mrs Shellbrook”
Emily gets excited Shellbrook oh yes dyed platinum blonde
Emily gets excited -“Shellbrook…! oh yes dyed platinum blonde… A regular red hot mama from what I’m told.”
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Mrs Bramson snaps at Emily-“And what’s a red hot mama?” Emily has no fear of the old lady’s bite-“Don’t you go to the picture shows?”

Danny is introduced by Dora the maid who just isn’t herself lately. He tells Mrs. Bramson that she reminds him of his own mum. He manipulates the old woman into giving him a job as her caretaker, telling her that he can marry Dora once he makes good money.

When Olivia voices her concerns over this enigmatic stranger to her aunt, she is quickly rebuffed and it’s clear that auntie Mrs. Bramson has fallen under Danny’s charming spell. The relationship becomes an odd sort of chemistry between the two, as he dotes on her and she eats it up like her box of chocolates. She could be his mother but it’s obvious that she finds his attractive child like charisma flattering as well as titillating. Olivia can’t deny that she too finds Danny attractive, which is a large part of the underpinnings of this psychological thriller. Is Olivia an accomplice to the dark goings on? You might very well ask that question once you’ve seen the film, for she at times stays silent when she catches Danny in a lie, or suspects that he is responsible for the missing, most likely murdered woman.

Like the newly purchased shawl he tells the old lady was his own mothers, when Olivia spots the price tag and hands it to him behind her back, it’s as if she allows her true suspicions -not the gossiping sort she shares with Emily and Dora to sit idle at times, holding her secret knowledge about Danny mostly to herself, as a) she legitimately is emotionally and verbally abused by her aunt and probably has a primal desire to see her punished for being so cruel, and b) has stumbled onto an adventure that has sparked something in her, something that Danny gets a ‘nif’ of right away.

Russell and Montgomery Night Must Fall

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The film opens in murky blackness. The sky is a moonlit smudged darkness and yet the sparkling tones of the score pokes through the eerie twilight night. Suddenly we hear the sound of someone whistling the melody of Mighty Lak a Rose— the darkness eases up a bit. There’s a large tree, and the vague figure of that someone (Danny) digging up the ground. He seems to be wearing a cap and there’s a hat shaped box next to him. A voice calls “Who’s there?” and the figure begins to take off. A flashlight aimed by a man with a hunting dog comes to investigate the goings on. The shadowy figure (Danny) takes the box and scrambles to hide behind the great oak tree, as the dog barks, the flashlight searches onward and the chorus frogs and crickets sing their night song. Danny finishes burying what ever it may be… which we learn later of course is the missing woman’s body without a head–he scampers away into the dark night.

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I just had to include this contrasting early morning light shot from the shadowy night shot because it’s so darn ethereal it brings us into the hauntingly private world that’s about to get a jolt of scandal and morbid circumstance.

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Night fades into day by the same grand tree. The music changes it’s mood and enjoys the sunlight, Dora is riding along on her bicycle as she comes upon several men in row boats. She asks them what they’re doing. “Looking for something” “A lot of nonsense”  “Haven’t seen anything have ye?”
‘What ya mean. seen anything” “Oh nothing, nothing” He barks at her and continues to tread the water with his paddle. “Mysterious Aren’t you.”

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so many frames… a postcard — from the set design to the photography

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Dora-“What am I going to do?”

Once Dora makes it back to the house, she’s confronted by Emily who tells her It’s trouble for you me girl” “that the madam has been complaining about finding two broken cups and saucers from her best tea set buried in the rose bed. When Dora asks what the old lady said Emily answers swift and sarcastically, “She said it doesn’t matter, I should kiss ya and tell ya she loves you all the better for it!… What do ya think!”

Dora broke the dishes the day before, and doesn’t know what’s come over her. Emily tells her she’s been acting strange all week. She’s been losing things and dropping things. We hear Mrs. Bramson calling for Dora.

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Dora skulks into the parlor. Olivia tells her aunt to leave her alone. “Leave her alone!!!, that little sneak thief… Oh there you are…. I suppose you think that the china came from the penny bazaar. Thought if you planted them in the rose bed I should never see them I suppose… well I have seen them!”

She then yells at Nurse. “Don’t be so clumsy do you want to break my arm?”

Olivia bespectacled and busily knitting looks over at her –short of rolling her eyes. Dora breaks into tears, but Olivia tells her it’s not as bad as all that. “Not as bad as all that… It’s worse!… Mrs. Bramson insists on interrogating Dora-“What about that chicken you stole on Monday?” “ I never stole it” “Well I don’t know what else you’d call it, borrowed it perhaps.”

Olivia tries to stop her aunts tirade, but she tells her to keep out of it. “I don’t know what’s come over you. I really don’t. Clumsy, thieving, deceitful. You can leave. You’re sacked my girl” Dora cries even harder. She can’t even lift her head. “Oh stop that sniveling and squeaking, you’ll bring my heart on again. “Oh mum please don’t turn me away.” “You should have thought of that before you broke my china.”

Olivia gets up and puts her arms around Dora. Ask if she’s in trouble, and Dora tells her yes in a “manner of speaking” Old lady Bramson doesn’t skip a beat. “Oh… a man ay… so that’s the game… Men too!”

“Not men, just my friend. He promised to marry me but he keeps making excuses and I know he isn’t keen” “Who is he” “a boy I know. A page boy at The Tall Boy” “The good for nothing scoundrel” “ Oh no he isn’t. He’s nice really, if you know what I mean.”

“They call him Baby Face”

Danny has gotten maid Dora in the family way. Mrs. Bramson sends for him in order to pressure him to do his duty and marry the dippy girl. Instead, she is so taken with his wily ways that she hires him as her personal caretaker. Whitty as the steely Mrs Bramson measures just the right balance of feisty, haughty and at times tenderhearted, well at least exclusively toward Danny that is. One minute lambasting Dora, then taking charge of her indelicate situation. As much as she depends on Dora and Olivia, she regales in pretending to fire Dora (Merle Tottingham) accusing her of stealing and breaking the fine china and how she has a sharp and nasty tongue for her niece Olivia just never a kind word–Whitty is marvelous as usual playing at being the stern battleaxe and yet so exploitable.

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“I’m going to make that young man realize what his duty is”

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Mrs Bramson once again attacks her niece-“A lot of good you are to look after an invalid.”

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“You’re looking pale too”
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“Pale.. did you say pale?” Danny coyly tells her, “I Shouldn’t have said that, I am sorry.” “But it’s true… as true as your my witness. But nobody else seems to realize… Now look here young man, about Dora.”
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“Do you mind if I ask what your ailments are.” “Well I have the most terrible palpitations” “Palpitations (whistles) and the way you get about” “Oh” “There a very bad thing to have you know. Do you realize that 9 out of 10 women in your condition would be lying down and giving way” “Would they?” “Indeed they would” “I knew somebody once who had palpitations once and… somebody very near to me… they’re dead now”
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“Oh” “My own mother.” “Oh??” “I can just remember her… as a matter of fact, Oh no it’s a daft thing.” “Come come out with it.” “It’s just my fancy I suppose but you remind me a bit of her.” “Of your mother?”
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“I don’t like to talk about my mother… makes me feel sort of sad. She had the same kind look as you have. The same eyes, very wide apart. And the same very good hands.” She asks-“And the same palpitations?” “And the same palpitations… you don’t mind my talking about your health do ya?” “No” for the first time she actually says a word that comes out of her mouth, with a genuine softness. “You ought to get used to letting other people do things for ya” “Yes” “You ought to be very careful” “Yes, you’re a strange sort of boy to be a page boy.” “Am I?” “You seem so much too sensitive and understanding.” “Well I’ve never had any advantages you know but I’ve always tried to do the right thing.”

I won’t go off about his flinging that adorable black cat around and stroking it with such sinister undertones as a ploy to create the illusion that he’s a gentle soul…

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“Excuse me Ma’am is that your cat? May I pick him up? “Do you like cats?” “I’m fond of all animals especially cats. I bet he’s a good companion to ya” “He’s about the only one who is.”

“Well I think you deserve better… talking of the right thing. What about Dora?”

He shivers with a little chuckle.. “I’m going to marry her… I’d marry her now but I hardly make enough now to keep myself. If I could get a job with a bit more money I’d marry her like a shot.”

“How would you like to work for me?”

“Indeed I would. I hardly think of anything better id rather do than to live in a beautiful house like this with a kind lady. Taking care of her.”

“Well we’ll see.”

Danny gets up. She asks if he’s got to go back. She invites him to stay to lunch..

He always manages to speak with long pauses in between each personal and flattering revelation he conjures, and so he manages to insinuate himself into the household.

Once the socio-pathic Danny arrives he starts working his chameleon like radar honing in on what each person needs to hear and what he needs to be for them. He knows what questions to ask in order to solicit his intended emotional response.

He tells the old lady that she looks pale. And so he’s already figured out that she’s a vain hypochondriac who needs coddling, yet she’d never be satisfied, until now… He loves to manipulate women.

Danny makes himself at home

Has he said anything more about marrying you? Not since he moved in here
Emily asks Dora “Has he said anything more about marrying you?” Dora tells her-“Not since he moved in here…”
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Mrs Bramson says to Danny-“You know I”ve takin a liking to you” as Olivia looks on.
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Danny schemes to shop for a gift for Mrs. Bramson as a ruse to gain her affections. He tells her that it was the only thing left from his own dear old mother.
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Danny even charms Beryl Mercer the saleslady who tries on the shawl for him…

Danny goes into town to buy the old gal a shawl. He rides back on his bicycle like a child. bouncing with purpose as he gets to the house with his luggage in particular his locked hat box, which is photographed to appear truly sinister when shot by Ray June.

Mrs. Bramson counts her money like a miser. She doesn’t trust banks. Justin mentions that a woman disappeared and that foul play is suspected. She tells him it’s nonsense they’d put anything in the newspapers.

Alan Marshal who plays the handsome Justin Mrs Bramson’s lawyer and Olivia’s tepid romance figure-tells her he’s worried for she and Olivia to be alone in the house.

She tells him to put his mind to rest that there’s a man coming to live. Justin says “A servant?” “Yes a servant so there’s no need to be jealous.”

She’s changed her will so many times, Justin can’t keep track, but she tells him that she remembers it all. She’s leaving Olivia 200 pounds. She’s been thinking it over and she’s come to the conclusion it’s too much. She tells him that she want’s to cut it in half. He tries to argue that she hardly has any money of her own, but she yells at him. that he should do what he’s told and take down her instructions.

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“Aren’t you afraid of being robbed or burgled?”
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Justin says “A servant?”She snaps at him– “Yes a servant so there’s no need to be jealous.”
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Danny sees her putting her metal box of money in the safe. He is framed by the window, the look on his face puckishly ominous.

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He knocks on the door. Dora greets him. Mrs Bramson quickly closes up her safe. Dora asks if he spoke to her, referring to them getting married. He combs his hair neatly in the mirror without looking Dora in the face, and tells her “soon.. soon…”

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Danny asks Dora-“Is the old lady in?” Dora lugubriously tells him- “She’s always in”

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“Olivia why won’t you marry me?” “Because I told you before I don’t love you that way.” “Even if you don’t, aren’t I better than the old lady?… I wouldn’t bully you and treat you like a servant… Story book romance does happen.” He looks at her adoringly.

Justin meets Danny. Mrs. Bramson tells him that he’s a very nice boy, very superior.

Olivia walks Justin to the car and tells him exactly what she thinks of Danny He’s seems a friendly sort of chap…

She thinks he’s “common and insolent and conceded and completely double faced…”

Justin is a very nice guy. He asks why she puts up with Mrs Bramson’s treatment. She’s got no money, so he pushes once more for them to marry. “Olivia why won’t you marry me?”

“Because I told you before I don’t love you that way.”

“Even if you don’t, aren’t I better than the old lady?… I wouldn’t bully you and treat you like a servant.”

He tells her that she “wouldn’t be in the woods where nothing ever happens.”

“Still there’s a chance that something might happen” she tells him with longing in her voice.

Olivia is looking for danger. The thing about Danny’s double-face intrigues her as much as it repels her. It’s better than her nothing life.

Olivia’s a fool and Justin is dear and sweet but it’s very natural to be drawn to things that are taboo or dangerous. Rosalind Russell is absolutely gorgeous in her glasses and downplayed bookish attire. She’s smart and independent and there’s definitely something brewing below the surface of her pathology too… a dark side waiting to be unleashed perhaps?

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Olivia uses the excuse that Danny’s left his wool cap in the hallway, so that she can meet him in his room.
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“Can you imagine me doing a thing like that, hanging it up just like I was a visitor I am sorry”
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He shows her the print of Napoleon pinned to the wall. “He did things”
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“You know you wouldn’t be bad lookin’ without them glasses.”

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Olivia looks for an excuse to talk to Danny. She finds his wool cap in the hall and suggests that he keep it in his room.

Can you imagine me doing a thing like that, hanging it up just like I was a visitor I am sorry”

She’s drawn to him, curious about him, frightened of him. She asks if he’s comfortable– he tells her he’s been hanging up a few pictures that make it feel more like home. She’s interested and comes in to look around. Then he asks. “Do you ever go to the movies? Real life’s better though.”

He has a photo of Napoleon on the wall. “He did things” Then he asks if Justin is her “chap”

She tells him that he’s Mrs Bramson’ lawyer. “What’s she gone to the law about?” Olivia tells him,“Well he manages her affairs.” Danny begins to get personal-“Oh I see, I thought by the way he looked at you, he was a bit gone on you.”

The comment makes her uncomfortable. She changes the subject. “It’s rather stuffy in here why don’t you open a window.”

He smiles because he knows he’s hit a nerve. He goes to help with the window and gets so close to her that she just about jumps out of her angora, so shaken to be that near him. He leans into her up close and tells her…

“You know you’d be attractive without them glasses.”

“Thank you but it doesn’t interest me very much what I look like” She storms out of his room.

“Don’t you believe it” he says. She turns around. “Why do you say that?”

He postures for her. “I understand you alright…”

She looks at him sternly, more composed–angora cardigan pearl buttons and glasses like a lovely owl. Shocked and fascinated at the same time.

“Don’t you think young man, that you’re rather forgetting your place?”

He smiles beguilingly as she tells him to see if Mrs. Bramson needs anything. Slamming the door she appears for a moment to be struck down with heart pangs. She takes a deep breath and tugs on her glasses.

Something is finally happening to her…

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The duality of Olivia’s nature questioned in this visual iconography of the mirror image.
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The glasses come off…

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“You agree with me now don’t you?”

He catches her shaking her hair and looking at herself in the mirror. He tells her “So you agree with me about you don’t ya?… You don’t like me being here.”

“It doesn’t really matter what I think I’m merely a servant here myself.”

“Not a very ordinary servant though.”

“No I suppose not”

He tells her… “Neither am I.”

Mrs Bramson begins calling for Olivia asking where she’s been, while she has been reading the newspaper with the sensationalist rubbish headlines about the missing woman. Olivia takes the paper and begins to read…

Olivia comments-“ It’s a bit of a thrill for a small place like this” Have they found any clues?” “Keeper in the Sheffley woods reported that on the night in question about 2am in the morning he heard someone moving mysteriously in the woods and whistling ‘Mighty Lak a Rose” inquiries are being pursued.”

Mrs Bramson “That shows how hard up they are for something to print. Mighty Lak a Rose indeed, I never heard such rubbish in all my life” She mumbles the rest while eating a chocolate.

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Danny comes in with the shawl behind his back. She asks what it is. He tells her it’s “just something he brought along that she might like. It’s a shawl tis my mothers matter of fact I thought I’d like to see you wear it if you didn’t mind.”

“Danny, that’s a very sweet thought”

“Can I put it on for you” “yes” “I’ve always kept it Now that I see ya wearing it like that it’s — almost as if herself was still here.”

Olivia spots the price tag still on it. She catches him in a lie.

She stands up, “Wait a minute it’s not quite straight. There” she adjusts the shawl at the same time she takes the tag off, and shows it to Danny behind the old lady’s back to let him know that she’s no fool… Dropping it into his hand. Is Olivia complicit in his charade partly because the old woman is so cruel to her, it’s satisfying to watch her be taken…

She shoots him a look, like I’m not naive, I know what you’re doing…He loves it.

To him it’s now a game.

He lavishes Mrs Bramson with boyish attentions. Wheels her over to the mirror to inspect the shawl. She tells him it’s very pretty.

“Thank you Danny… You are a good boy” She is beaming.

Olivia offers to take her in for her nap, but Danny takes over with his syrupy talk gushing over her like a doting child.

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“it’s the only thing of my mothers I’ve got left”

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Like the newly purchased shawl he tells the old lady was his own mothers, when Olivia spots the price tag and hands it to him behind her back, it’s as if she allows her true suspicions -not the gossiping sort she shares with Emily and Dora to sit idle at times, holding her secret knowledge about Danny mostly to herself, as a) she legitimately is emotionally and verbally abused by her aunt and probably has a primal desire to see her punished for being so cruel, and b) has stumbled onto an adventure that has sparked something in her, something that Danny gets a ‘nif’ of right away.

Danny tucks her into bed before he oils her wheels
Danny tucks her into bed before he oils her wheels

 

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He begins to oil the wheels of the chair, Olivia sits at the window seat reading the newspaper But Danny starts whistling Might Lak a Rose… Of course it occurs to her the connection.

There isn’t a single moment where auntie Bramson is kind to Olivia.

I'm sorry is my cigarette annoying you

oh not at all I like it
Olivia is doing the bills, she realizes her cigarette is wafting while the old bird is playing solitaire-“I’m sorry is my cigarette annoying you?” She screeches at her-“Oh not at all I like it!”

Danny enters the room, puffing on his cigarette sideways, the cocky gesture he adopts.

Danny reads one of Olivia’s poems. She grabs it but auntie Bramson insists on seeing it and berates her for such nonsense.

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“A Sonnet-The Flame of passion is not red… but white… not quick but slow.”

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“What do you know of passion anyway?” Olivia crumples the paper and answers her aunt without any fight left in her- “Not much…”
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Danny says “I like a bit of poetry I really do, but I don’t see how you think of those things I really don’t…She is a dark horse isn’t she.…” Once again she criticizes her niece-“Writing poetry did you ever hear of such nonsense.”.

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Emily says as she and Olivia look out the window. “Look at that -Mother and child both doing well” Olivia asks her what she thinks of Danny. “Oh he’s alright, a bit of a mystery” “You think that too?” “A terrible liar of course, whoo. But then a lot of us are.” “No more with Danny..” “What’d you mean?” “There’s something more the matter with him… something he’s hiding

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Dora fills Olivia in on what she knows about Danny. That he acts like he doesn’t care but all the time he’s looking for what you’re thinking about him. Sometimes she trusts him and sometimes she doesn’t His past is ever so romantic. Olivia says I”m sure. she seems inspired-“That incredible vanity… they always have it, always.” Emily asks “Who? Olivia-“Murderers…” she says very slowly and casual.. without an ounce of terror in her voice..
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The three go to search his room. Olivia finds it extraordinary that he’s been there a week and hasn’t unpacked. They find a letter. Olivia at first says no about looking at it, but Emily wants to read it. She smells it. “Don’t be silly his wife will do it to him hundreds of times. Oh what a nif”

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She reads. “Dear Baby Face my own-signed, Lil” They find some racy photos of a girl in bathing suit .Then Olivia discovers a photo with the woman who’s missing. “Look look there she is the woman who’s missing remember that photograph in the paper.” Dora says-“it’s awful to think she may be dead.”

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“There was another bag wasn’t there” Olivia asks. They pull the old fashioned hat box from under the bed,. Emily hefts it. “Hhm too heavy for a hat” The black humor is rich and fluent throughout the narrative. Olivia says-“Looks extraordinary doesn’t it?” “What is it miss?” “I was just thinking. supposing there’s something inside of it” Emily drops it quickly… like it’s radioactive…, the timing is hilarious. There are so many clever and witty moments in the film. You can see how it must have made a wonderful stage play.
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Danny walks in and sees them. “I left the lady’s pills in the pocket of my other coat” The funny moment turns dark. He reveals intensity for a brief second. He shows a bit of his sinister side. It cuts through the dark comical banter. But he readjusts himself and says “Silly of me wasn’t it” as if he isn’t bothered at all that they are snooping in his room.
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He asks Olivia for his wallet back. “It’s the only one I’ve got” He stares at it’s contents. “How did you like the letter?” “Letter?” “You’ve got it in your hand”
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He tells her that Lil used to spy on him. “If there’s anything I hate worse it’s a spy-Don’t you agree?” He stares through her, she looks frightened of him for the first time. “I’d sooner have anything than a spy…bar a murderer of course. “ “What did you say?” “I said bar a murderer of course”
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“Talking of murder. Do you know anything about Mrs Shellbrook?” He reacts confused-“Whereabouts at the present moment?” The camera quickly focuses on the hat box — “You’re not going to pretend you’ve never even heard of her.” Oh Mrs Shellbrook’s whereabouts” He acts all flustered and silly that he got the name wrong first. He tells her that he’s got nothing to go on but he thinks she’s been murdered. she asks “Who by?” Suddenly Mrs. Bramson calls for Danny. He stares directly into Olivia’s eyes with his wicked smile… he looks at the hat box.

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Mrs. Shellbrook’s decapitated body is finally discovered in the woods and the police are closing in. Olivia confronts Danny accusing him of the murder. He tries seducing her with his odd yet enigmatic sensuality and his hunch that she is drawn to him. So when…

Olivia arrives home, and in order to control Danny’s murderous intent, she stalls him by confessing that she was once attracted to him, but since she has learned of his deeds no longer finds him desirable. He insists that she’s returned because she, like him desires adventure, that she has come back because of him, and not because she feared for the old lady.

Danny breaks down while he’s alone. Panicked because the photographers and police have been searching the grounds and are getting close to linking him to the murder.

Danny goes into the kitchen and finds Olivia making tea. He gives her a smoke. The air is thick with tension. He asks her what she told the chap, meaning Justin that afternoon. She’s very measured in her body language. Conflicted…

“That they found that woman.”

A strange look comes over his face.

“Is that all” Yes of course that’s all… what else is there to tell.

“Nothing. Nothing”

He asks if she likes that chap. Why isn’t she married. She gets upset that he asks that question. He tells her it was only a civil question.

“Why aren’t you married. Hasn’t he asked you yet” Yes he’s asked me”“There there you see you don’t like him, and you’re right you know. He’s not the sort of a chap for you… you want adventure don’t you… and it’s here, right in this house. Here now in this kitchen…

The two of us. Alone here. At this time of night. It’s exciting isn’t it. Something that’s never happened to you before. Being alone at this time of night with a chap like me. You’re not frightened. You’re excited. I can tell you are. Your eyes are shining. You’ve got color in your cheeks. And you’re beautiful … the way he’s never seen you. “

“No no I’m frightened of you.”

“And you feel as light as air. Same as anybody else who’s been out for the first time without their overcoat. And you haven’t had a drink but you feel as if you had. And you never knew there was such a secret part inside of you.”

I will leave you with that much. The end you might know already, chance to guess or as I would imagine, wouldn’t want me to spoil it for you.

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He tells her of his meager childhood and how he has been considered lower class being a servant. There is definitely an element of classism to the film. Does the nasty rich old dowager hording her money, get her come uppance by the angry poorer class? A story of a psychopath created by a bourgeois society and lazy narcissistic old women who are suckled on lavishes and too needy to mother their sons appropriately.

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I will tell you this much…Danny threatens to kill Olivia, and she tells him that she understands… Do the police get there in time…? see Night Must Fall

“I’ll hang in the end, but they’ll get their money’s worth at the trial.”

From the wonderful book by Edmund G. Bansak – Fearing the Dark: The Val Lewton CareerBansak points out something that I discovered when looking more intensely at this gem. I couldn’t find many sources that covered or categorized the film by any genre, in particular what I would have expected, the suspense thriller, leaning toward grim horror story. As Bansak writes so insightfully- he calls it an “uncharacteristically gruesome thriller.”

At the time between 1937 and 1938 there seemed to be a void of classical horror pictures. Perhaps Night Must Fall wasn’t considered a typical horror film because it lacked a supernatural narrative. Even though Lewton’s films were considered horror films, though devoid of any concrete monster or supernatural occurrence, more the mere mental suggestion of primal fears and taboos. Night Must Fall even without the presence of formulaic elements that entitle it to be called a horror film, it’s story is every bit a shocking one as Bansak points out, in the way that —“Lang’s M, Whale’s The Old Dark House, and Hitchcock’s Psycho and Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs are considered influential films in the horror genre, then surely the same must apply to Night Must Fall, a film about a charming psychopathic rapist who decapitates his victim and proceeds to carry her head about in a piece of luggage.”

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VILLAINY VILLAINY VILLAINY BLASTED VILLAINY… I ADORE YOU! YOU’RE EVERLOVIN’ MONSTERGIRL SAYING BEHAVE!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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12 thoughts on “Dark Patroons & Hat Box Killers: 2015 The Great Villain Blogathon!

  1. Jo, “Night Must Fall” is one of my fave films. I find Robert Montgomery mesmerizing. He creates a persona so large it seems to fill the set. And his scenes with Rosalind Russell and May Whitty are superb. I haven’t seen the Albert Finney version but, from your description, I think I would still prefer this one.

    As for Dragonwyck, I have never seen this movie! I KNOW!! Your descriptions of the scenes (and Vincent Price) were engaging, and now I can’t wait to see it.

    Thanks so much for joining the blogathon. It wouldn’t have been a party without you!

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    1. Ruth! I wish I could have seen the original stage play of Night Must Fall, but then again, no one can play Danny “baby face” the hat box killer like dreamy Robert Montgomery. It’s astounding how compelling his is, and Rosalind Russell was the perfect Olivia. In fact, I had to watch The Women 1939 because I wanted to see her be brassy ballsy and beautiful in contrary to her bookish sexy self. What a hoot! I got whiplash from the dialogue. And Joan was a beauty but I have to admit Virginia Grey as Pat had it all over her. Sorely underrated actress. Thanks soooo much for letting me participate in this blogathon. I really think it’s one of my favorite topics to cover. And the line up of menacing men and dangerous dames is just superb! When you get a chance. Perhaps a rainy day, with some tea and the hankering for a darker film- watch Dragonwyck and let me know what you think of Price. I’ll be tuning in to read so many of great features to read. Cheers and thanks for inviting me to the party! Cheers Joey

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  2. Loved your epic post, Joey. (I never thought of Vincent Price as sexy, but he is looking pretty good in that first picture you have of him in the beard. Hubba hubba.) I think I’ve only seen Dragonwyck once and your post makes me want to drop everything right now and check it out again, as I hardly remember anything about it. As for Night Must Fall, a co-worker recommended it to me years ago, but I only recently started watching it — and never finished it. Maybe I’m just so averse to my beloved Robert Montgomery as a bad guy that I just can’t take it! I’m inspired to try again, though, after reading your take on it. Thanks for your contribution to the blogathon!

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    1. Hey there! I just love this blogathon and the fantastic line up of menacing men. I’m so glad you liked my piece. I swear I try to edit myself down, but these incredible films just get me going and I can’t stop. I never thought of Vincent Price as sexy when I was younger… but over the years I’ve grown to appreciate how elegant, urbane and quirky sexy he truly is. Dragonwyck is such an underrated film, visually it’s stunning yet it is a very dark piece. Night Must Fall is worth your giving it a second look. Robert Montgomery wanted to shed his romantic comedy style so he could break out of that box. I think what he accomplished was an incredibly memorable and complex villain of all time. He is truly mesmerizing. It’s no wonder Rosalind Russell was conflicted, even if he did carry around a women’s head in a hat box… Thank you so much for letting me come out and play you guys… It was a thrill-Cheers Joey

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  3. Joey, you did a great post about Dragonwyck! What a cast, with Vincent Price! Poor Miranda! No wonder they had bad luck; it was as if the poor baby could’nt catch a break; that joint just could’t get any luck till Langham, even if he was kinda vanilla! Loved your tip of the hat to Vincent Price with HIS KIND OF WOMAN, too! Brava, Peaches, and warmest wishes to you and yours, and great job on the VILLAIN BLOGATHON! :-D

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    1. Sugar Pie!!! I always laugh my tush off when I read one of your witty and fact filled reviews. It’s been sort of dark and gloomy with all the bad boys and menacing men that I had to watch The Women 1939 yesterday just to cleanse my palate of progesterone. But wow Sylvia gives these guys a run for their money. Hey I bet you would know, about the deleted scenes of Margaret Dumont? I would have loved to see her along side Margorie Main– Anyways… I loved your review of His Kind of Woman. I am going to watch that tonight because it sounds too good not to, and it’s even got Vincent Price in it… And geesh Robert Mitchum. “Who could ask for anything more?”– Thanks for stopping by The Last Drive In. See ya round the bend! love to you and yours

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  4. I just watched “Night Must Fall” a couple weeks ago. I found the beginning to be rather slow but the music was so good I decided to finish it. I’m glad I did! The second half was so tense!! There’s something very riveting about psycho movies! Love all the screen shots!!

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  5. Wonderful! I’ve had to say this a few times on other posts, but here are yet more examples of nice people playing creeps and villains. You already know I share your love of Vincent (well, and Robert) and never found him as scary as he was lovable, but still he did a great job at being cold and damaging, Dragonwyck is a super example. Such a beautiful movie. And yes Montgomery is truly shocking in Night Must Fall, imagine how audiences must have reacted at the time. Many thanks for being part of this event again, wouldn’t be the same without you!

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  6. Wonderful and informative post about a film I’ve seen but I think I didn’t really pay proper attention to – or I dismissed as overwrought. It sounds much darker than I remembered – glad you’ve shown me the error of my ways.
    I’ve always been a big fan of Price (ok, it was Thriller that introduced me to him!) but I’ve always felt like I didn’t ‘get’ him so it was great to read all these insights. I do think he’s particularly suited to this type of role, although I’m not sure anything will ever top his performance in House of Wax ;)

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    1. I just read your piece on Fatal Attraction and the unfortunate path they took in order to please the masses, sell tickets and sabotage any critical thought about single women, male accountability and the imaginary constructs of marriage. You really did a superb job of bringing it to light. To be honest I never liked the film that much… most likely for the very reasons you pointed out, and hey I never knew ‘bunny boiler’ was a term that made it into the cultural consciousness about jealous women. Who knew! Just wanted to tell you that it was a fabulous contribution to The Great Villain Blogathon 2015…. Cheers Joey and say thanks for stopping by The Last Drive In… agreed Price was pretty imposing in House of Wax… did you like The Haunted Palace?

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