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…”

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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….

Dragonwyck
-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
CapturFiles_6 I thought so it's got spirits in it. A little bit. Even a little bit of evil cannot be good Mirdanda
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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Continue reading “Dark Patroons & Hat Box Killers: 2015 The Great Villain Blogathon!”