Directed by the silent film era auteur Maurice Tourneur, (father of Jacques Tourneur Curse of the Demon 1957, Cat People 1942, I Walked With a Zombie 1943, Out of the Past 1947 ) this fantasy- horror film creates a tumultuous Mephistophelean voyage of surreal and striking imagery. This film has fast become one of my favorite fantasy/horror films….
Carnival of Sinners or La Main Du Diable (The Devil’s Hand) is a brilliant and hilariously dark morality play about being careful what you wish for and what is the meaning of life and the pursuit of physical pleasure and earthly desires, if you must lose your eternal soul in the end.
With an incredible score by Roger Dumas, that lends a magical sound track to the story!
Based on Gérard de Nerval’s novel, the film creates a hallucinatory world of monochromatic imagery, with noir like edges & shadows, Gothic & theatrically macabre masks and a gruesome narrative about a disembodied charmed left hand. Palau’s amiable little grinning devil is perhaps one of my favorite portrayals of Old Nick as he reveals himself to others as a mild mannered civil servant in a bowler hat, when he is actually on a duplicitous mission to abscond with the soul’s of desperate men.
It opens with a small village tavern filled with people who have been detained by an avalanche. These characters are comical and colorful as they all want to eat, and are suspicious of Roland, who we haven’t been introduced to yet. As they wait to be fed, a strange man dressed in black carrying a wrapped package under his left arm, his immovable hand gloved in stiff black leather storms into the tavern with a gust of secrets and urgency at this back. They immediately have mistrust of this man, as he is not amiable and does not wish to mix with them at all. He acts as if he is being pursued by the devil himself.
Well maybe he is… hhm. He is called to the phone by someone asking for him by name. Once at the phone, the lights go out, and when they come back on and the chaos settles, the package is missing. He panics of course.
As it is a tradition at this tavern to be told unbelievable stories by Monsieur Notary. They plead with Roland Brissot to tell them what has brought him here. And so he begins to relate an incredible story…
Pierre Fresnay (The Man Who Knew Too Much 1934, Le Corbeau -The Raven 1943) is french artist Roland Brissot, who can’t get the girl or sell a painting until one night after Irène (Josseline Gaël) storms out of the little cafe frustrated with him for not being a success and a bore, Mélisse the cook (Noël Roquevert ) brings over a bottle of wine and offers to help the down and out painter. He tells Roland that he possesses a Talisman that he’d like to sell him for merely one sous. That it would bring him great riches, love and success!
When Roland follows him up to his room, he shows him a small wooden box, inside the curious box is an animated severed left hand. Mélisse explains to Roland that he purchased the Talisman a while ago, but he fears going to hell, and wants to save his eternal soul, so he must pass this gift onto another man who is willing to buy it full knowing the contract. Desiring to make Irène his own, and stop doing portraits of dogs. Roland agrees and pays the sous to the cook. At that moment, Mélisse’s left hand is severed and mysteriously wedded to Rolands left forearm, and he is now the new owner of the Talisman. Of course all his wishes come true and Irène comes back in total awe of her man. He becomes a great renowned painter and has riches beyond his wildest dreams. But with all these cautionary fables there is a kink in the chain. A chain that I will get back to in a short while.
A peculiar little man (Le petit homme– who is wonderfully enacted by Palau (Children of Paradise 1945, The Devil in the Flesh 1947, Le Corbeau 1943) is actually the devil himself who has been offering this deal for quite a while now and since it has been a year to the day that Roland made the wager of his immortal soul for the Talisman, he has come to collect.
From the moment Roland obtains the Talisman, women flock to him, his dog runs away in fear, and Irène cannot resist him to the point that he no longer can stand her smothering love by the end.
The little man shadows his every move, playing little tricks on Roland so that he couldn’t possibly buy back his soul. He changes the time on the clock, he steals money so that Roland must scramble to put the fee together which doubles with every day that it’s come due. His life falls apart, his wife becomes less desirable to him and they become strangers, and all he wants is to be free of his left hand which is the harbinger of doom for him.
Will Roland Brissot find the next sinner to buy the Talisman from him… or will the Devil get his due?
As the he relates his story, it unfolds like a marvelous dark fairytale, lensed with visual splendor dipped in a wonderful folkloric narrative and marvelous characters… including the other souls who lost their left hands and formed a special chain in the links of fate.
Roland’s journey is whimsical and harrowing, beautifully filmed by Arman Thirard who photographed such masterpieces as Henri Georges Clouzot’s Diabolique 1955 and The Wages of Fear 1953 two of the best thrillers of all time!
Carnival of Sinners 1943 belongs with some of the great fixtures of ‘wagering your soul to the devil’, with William Dieterle’s The Devil and Daniel Webster 1941, and F. W. Murnau’s Faust 1926,
Roland has an enormous painting of Goya’s nightmarish diversion into hell hanging in his palatial mansion. It is the one of Colossus devouring his son. You would have to watch this film several times to catch all the wonderful details and devilish black humor!
Directed by Lance Comfort (Bedelia 1946 with Margaret Lockwood) from the novel Max Cato (Bad Blonde 1953, Fire Down Below 1957, Seven Thieves 1960)
With cinematography by Stanley Pavey who lenses a beautiful but at times treacherous landscape. A haunting and surreal atmosphere where the possibility of the supernatural world usurps the ordinary one beneath the knowing shadows. He paints an ordinary and bucolic portrait of simple life which has become otherworldly and dangerous. Daughter of Darkness has a striking visual application of shadow, light and eerie dread that cause us to realize the natural environment is being seized by something uncanny. Much like the films of Val Lewton, where the uncanny held the reigns and psychology was offered as a way out. Similarly Simone Simon’s unearthly sensuality causes women to fear her and men to want to capture her in Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People 1942.
We are not quite sure whether Emmy possesses dark thoughts or a dark essence. The narrative creates a world where the two are indistinguishable.
While Pavey isn’t well known keep in mind that he did the lighting for the ghostly masterpiece Dead of Night 1945.
Daughter of Darkness showcases elements of Val Lewton as the ominous narrative is vague in its proving out the presence of a supernatural force of evil. The use of shadow touches upon the best of Gothic Suspense and Noir’s femme fatale stalking the darkness, but leaving open questions of a conflicting psychological neurosis against a darker more malevolent supernatural presence…
Siobhan McKenna (Dr.Zhivago 1965, Of Human Bondage 1964 with Kim Novak & Laurence Harvey) plays Emily Beaudine or Emmy, a strange young girl, while plain and without wile on first look, holds a mysterious draw for the local men. Mckenna bares a resemblance to Sarah Miles.
Emmy is the conflicting force of innocence and sexual awakening yet she harbors within her a growing sense of devouring hunger. First she mysteriously attracts men, then she denies them, then she gruesomely destroys them.
Is Emmy like a Banshee of Irish folklore, or the Lorelei or perhaps even a type of Succubus. The film definitely earns it’s right to be considered a classical melodramatic-horror film with it’s Gothic shadowy edges, inexplicable power of attraction that Emmy exudes, dogs snarl and bare their fangs at her, and toward the end she does seem to become transformed into a dangerous psychotic serial killer. And a pretty creepy cinematic female character that might actually predates this kind of psycho-sexual female killer, if you don’t consider Gene Tierney in Leave Her To Heaven in 1945.
Either created from years of persecution, repression and abuse, by the time Emmy does find a place that she feels safe, the darkness finds her and she is driven mad by the events, or you can decide to believe she is an evil soul. You can also consider the horrible behavior that Emmy brings out in both men and women. Either way it’s a pure example of the ‘Monstrous Feminine.’
Is this a type of supernatural story or a morality tale about innate hatred and persecution that creates this monster because she is constantly assaulted both physically and mentally by hatred and fear.
Is this how she eventually loses her mind? At times the young Emmy seems so fragile, filled with a deep sadness and vulnerability. Is she a Banshee who has extraordinary pheromones…. She continues to play diabolical music on the pipe organ even after she moves to England. She visits the church each night and pounds out a mysterious opus that haunts the locals…
She frightens the dogs… most women sense her darkness, but is it jealousy? Again the dynamic reminds me of the struggle between Irena– manifested beautifully by Simone Simon in Cat People 1942 and the insecure and mistrustful Jane Randolph as Alice Moore…
It seems that most all women persecute her for her free almost feral nature, she tells Father Cocoran that something wells up inside her belly that she’s doesn’t understand or can control and it frightens her as well. She becomes wild at times but playing mercy to the devout hypocrisy that surrounds her, I tend to believe that she is literally driven mad by the endless witch hunt she’s subjected to.
Is she a representation of the lower class, seen like an animal to the aristocracy that holds them down and persecutes them as dirty sinners? Or is she the wicked girl these old maids perceive her to be?
From the very beginning of the film we are dropped into a claustrophobic scene that over-indulges us with religious reflection. The congregation of a small Irish village let’s out after the night’s sermon. There’s a huddle of vicious faced women scowling at the young Emmy (Siobhan McKenna) who has her hair modestly covered by a shawl. She is a very plain looking girl, with a simple expression of virtue in her eyes, as she prays to the Mother Mary. The women gathered exude a feverish sort of blood-lust for the poor child.
They confront Father Cocoran (Liam Redmond) about the young girl and insist with a zealous panic that he send this evil wanton girl away from their village for good. He almost looses his composure with them but must decide about the welfare of his entire congregation. He has taken Emmy into his church as his assistant and is very protective of her, but he can no longer ignore the entire parish’s wish to see the girl run out of the village. In particular the women who consider her to be a sinful harlot ‘a creature’ who tempts their men. Father Cocoran has tried to protect Emmy by imploring her to stay close to the church and think of only pure thoughts.
Emmy tries to give flowers to a little girl in the village when the mother comes and rips them out of her hands and yanks the girl away, as if she truly were a monster. Murdocks Mammoth traveling fair happens to be passing through the town, and handsome but smarmy Dan (Maxwell Reed), jumps out of his truck and in Emmy’s defense kicks down the door to the shop the woman’ owns. He then takes Emmy by the arm and persuades her to come see him box that night. He is Battlin’ Dan, the main attraction. Oddly his dog takes an instant dislike to her and bares his sharp fangs and snarls at her as if he too senses something wrong about the girl.
Battling’ Dan shows off that night and beats his opponent to a pulp when the fight was supposed to be fixed, which angers the fair’s manager, but strokes his masculinity as a seduction for Emmy who is in the audience mesmerized by his prowess. He grabs hold of her and they walk through the night to the grassy hills near the fair grounds where he pulls her down and tells her how there’s something about her…When he tries to push himself on her, she scratches his face so badly that he screams in agony and stumbles away holding his bloody face in his hands. Emmy runs through the grounds like a wild animal escaping a hunter –back to the church, and leaves the incident behind her….
By now Father Cocoran makes the decision to send her to his friends The Tallents who own a vast amount of land in England where they raise sheep. George Thorpe plays the patriarch. Barry Morse (With a full curly head of hair! plays Dan Stranforth, he is married to Bess (Ann Crawford who takes a dislike to Emmy right away. Much like the women in Emmy’s village she gets a nif of something unorthodox about the queer young girl. Honor Blackman is younger sister Julie Tallent. Grant Tyler plays the young brother Larry. And Julies boyfriend Saul is played by Denis Gordon.
When the father goes to tell Emmy about his plans, he finds her playing the pipe organ half in a trance as she sweeps the keys. Emmy strokes the octaves creating a dark and sinister lamentation, as she caresses the chords it’s almost masterbatory in the way she is filmed. The music is provocative as if the organ were an extension of her own secret world, of her body and her sexual desire or hunger for release. Pretty reminiscent of Candace Hilligoss’s Mary Henry who would enact a similar musical and macabre prelude to threat and death in Carnival of Souls 1962.
It is a question of conflicting perspectives as to whether Emmy is menacingly flirtatious or that she becomes a victim of her own sexual attraction.
Emmy truly seems to love the Tallent farm, and working as a maid to the family. But right from the start Bess, has an eerie intuition about the young Emmy and is immediately disturbed at the sight of her. She catches her younger sister’s beau trying to kiss Emmy in the barn. She calls him a ‘turnip’ and tells him to make up a story that Julie will believe. Meanwhile she confronts the Emmy…
A year later–the carnival comes around by The Tallent’s farm, the same Murdock’s Mammoth traveling fair. And Dan has a kisser that is now a scarred up mess where Emmy nearly had scratched his eye out.
The Tallents’ insist that Emmy come along with them to the fair. She doesn’t want to go, yet they force her into the car and then proceed to go off and leave her to wander, even leaving her there when they decide to leave, assuming she’ll find her way home.
There are several moments in Daughter of Darkness, where fate takes a very harsh stance for Emmy’s future. What if the women in the village didn’t feel so threatened by the girl’s mysterious yet enigmatic sex appeal? What if Dan was kind and didn’t try to force himself on her? What if the Tallents’ had listened to her and not practically kidnap then abandon her at the fair?
Who’s crimes are these anyway? And the larger question, who created the mental disturbance, that might have even begun from childhood abuse? Where was Emmy’s mother and father? And can I say that the film doesn’t seem to address the fact that Dan tries to rape Emmy. He might suffer a punishment by the laws of fate, but by man’s justice he seems to escape judgement and is treated more like the victim… So the pretty boy winds up with a bad permanent gash across the eye and cheek. It was self defense! but I digress…
This time he hunts her down to an isolated barn and tries to inflict revenge and take his lust out on her, still strangely drawn to her. But he is found mutilated, and Bess gets the idea that Emmy had something to do with it, she continues to show suspicion and hostility toward the girl til Emmy does start to act like a cornered animal.
Emmy is either at the mercy of a burgeoning sexual desire that she must keep to herself because it has a negative effect on the women folk, or she truly is an awaking she-fiend, a female jekyll and hyde who’s dark side begins to take over more and more until she is a force of death and destruction when ever her desire needs satisfying.
Emmy returns to the Tallent farm in a fugue. The next morning Dan is found dead in the barn, his dog wandering aimlessly looking for his master, now yowling for the culprit to come and face their fate.
There are so many interesting elements to this obscure little gem, that I wonder why it’s not more popular amongst classical melodramatic horror enthusiasts. Even the use of the carnivalesque milieu that borders around the edges of quiet society. As if hell were awaiting the damned. As if Emmy herself were damned from the beginning, conflicted by the over-powering strength of her sexual desire that frightens the women and contaminates the men with lust. Emmy is an insurrectionary figure who invades the quiet spaces of society and stirs up sensuality and suffering both.
I won’t give away any of the fantastic dialogue, various chilling scenes nor the build up of the story as you must see it, and I don’t wish to give up any of it’s scenes or the ultimate finality of Emmy’s journey, poetic as it is…
Hope you’re all lucky in love and good fortune and please… never buy a Talisman for a sous even if an affable little man tells you it’s worth the price of your soul-Your EverLovin’ MonsterGirl