Walter Graumen puts Olivia de Havilland in peril as a Lady in a Cage (1964) “Right now I am all *animal*” or “Oh, dear Lord… I am… a monster!”

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THE GREAT VILLAIN BLOGATHON APRIL 20-26, 2014 hosted by Speakeasy*Shadows and Satin * Silver Screenings

“She was very badly raped, you see! We were assaulted by a gang of vicious, young, hoodlums in this house! In this very room you are sitting in now! I was left a helpless cripple, but for her the agony was too great! The doctor said it was pneumonia; because it happened some months later! During a flu epidemic! The doctors told me it was pneumonia, but I knew what it was! A VICTIM OF THE MODERN AGE! Poor, poor girl!”-quote from Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971)

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James Caan- is the violent anti-social ruffian Randall Simpson O’Connell and a good choice for ‘The Great Villain Blogathon’ since I’ve covered two sympathetic antagonists, I thought it was necessary to write about a true villain in every sense of the word. He’s an *animal* as he calls himself. He is not an anti-hero, he is a sadistic, and violently wired punk a, a vicious hoodlum, a product of a modern age.

The young James Caan embodies such a sociopathic, undomesticated menacing rage that even through the cliché stocking on his face, it makes him all the more frightening. Randall is the axis of this amoral trio who are such anti-social, narcissistic degenerates that they do not evoke a smidgen of sympathy from the audience. Though he may come from trouble beginnings, his displaced rage pits him against Hilyard who represents everything he despises.

Randall is a misogynist brute who beats his girlfriend Elaine (we hear the blows from behind the door as she both screams and exults in sexual excitement), and would have probably sexually harassed Mrs. Hilyard but for the fact that he mentions how he hates his grandmother, an older and sexless figure. He is physically rough with her, feeling that she is an ‘old crow’ who is controlling and manipulative and has pushed her son to threaten suicide. Undertones of an Oedipal nature run through the plot line as Randall is raging against the devouring mother, that Hilyard represents in the story, which truly plays like a modern mythic tragedy. Randall traumatizes Hilyard until she is almost insane with fear.

Lady in a Cage is a grimy urban ordeal drenched in taboo, and inhabited by drunken derelicts, boozy dames, doped-up delinquents and a menacing cruelty that escalates until it is almost unbearable. 

de Havilland’s lovely face distorts in the reflected mirrored panel of the elevator as she begins to unravel from the brutality and captivity she confronts, all within the vanilla white tonality of her quiet house. The interior shots alternating with the outer rat race, the urban grime and modern desolation.

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Randall leers at Hilyard from under the stocking like a vicious hob goblin

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As Tony Williams writes in his chapter Trying to Survive on the Darker Side in The Dread of Difference-edited by Barry Keith Grant-where he cites Grauman’s film “The monstrous adult child product of a traumatic family situation existed in earlier decades, as works such as Curse of the Cat People 1944, Psycho, The Strangler 1963, Lady in a Cage 1964, Marnie 1964, I Dismember Mama 1972, The Killing Kind 1973.”
James Caan had made an appearance as a soldier with radio in Billy Wilder’s Irma La Douce (1963)
Randall was James Caan’s first credited feature film role after getting his start with small television parts such as The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, “Memo from Purgatory” where he plays a writer who goes undercover in a street gang so he can get inspiration for his book. Kraft Suspense Theatre in 1963, Dr. Kildare, Death Valley Days, Combat!, and the ruthless Marty Feketi in ‘Bullets Cost Too Much’ episode of The Naked City 1961 extraordinary social commentary police procedural tv series that ran from 1958-1963. I’m still working through my new dvd box set, and let me tell you, there ain’t nothing like this show with it’s incredible cast of character actors, dramatic story telling and on location cinematography in New York City in the 60s.

A snippet of the exchange between Hilyard and Randall…

Mrs.Hilyard-“You’re from an asylum?”

Randall-“Asylum? Oh no, you don’t. Reformatory. Work farm. I been inside every way there is to be inside. I been some kind of inside since I was nine years old.

Mrs. Hilyard-“Oh I see. You’re one of the many bits of offal produced by the welfare state. You’re what so much of my tax dollars goes for the care and feeding of.”

Caan, with his very ‘masculine’ hairy chest, was a much more subtle psychopath in Curtis Harrington’s psychological thriller Games 1967 where he gaslights the beautiful but emotionally delicate Katherine Ross with the help of sensual goddess Simone Signoret. BTW, I’ll be doing a special feature on the works of Curtis Harrington hopefully by the summer.

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James Caan in Curtis Harrington’s Games 1967 with Katherine Ross

Randall even takes off on Marlon Brando’s Stanley Kowalski from Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named Desire, as he belches, shirtless (most of the film) and leers and smirks in his outre tight jeans.

This evokes “I think I’m going to be sick” from the respectable Mrs. Hilyard who voices her scorn. Randall is in control and enjoys the power struggle, sadistically amused by her indignation and repulsion, “Watch the human being be sick in a cage.” He’s looking for any excuse to lash out.

Randall says [to George Brady the bum] “We’re gonna kill you. First you, then the pig (Sade)… and then, the human being!”

It is suggested that Randall also likes to beat up on his girlfriend Elaine, as she has a black eye. As I stated earlier, off camera while up in the master bathroom behind closed doors,  it is implied that she actually vocalizes pleasure when he hits her. Elaine herself is an angry and hyper-sexual oddity, perhaps even a  sociopath as well, as she moves her body provocatively, quite aware of her seductive maneuvering. She enjoys watching violent acts and she dances to a small music box in a very sexually inappropriate way. Obviously she is wired to believe that sexuality and violence go together.

Olivia de Havilland  as Mrs. Cornelia Hilyard is terrorized by James Caan as the violent Randall Simpson O’Connell and his gang of sociopathic miscreants.

de Havilland’s Cornelia Hilyard suffers from delusions toward the climax –that Randall is her son Malcolm. First when she faints after she speaks to Randall thinking he is Malcolm and then again when he reads the letter and uses the words ‘release’ – as the screen becomes all wavy, as she self-accuses that she is a ‘monster.’

de Havilland having taken the role after Joan Crawford turned down the part of Cornelia Hilyard, and then ironically stepping in a little later that year to fill Joan’s high heels in Hush Hush… Sweet Charlotte when personalities clashed on the set with Bette Davis and Robert Aldrich.

Walter Grauman (his first film obscure B cult classic- The Disembodied 1957, writing for television Peter Gunn, Matinee Theatre, Perry Mason, The New Breed, The Untouchables, Naked City, Twilight Zone (Miniature) Route 66, Burke’s Law, Kraft Suspense Theatre, Honey West, The Fugitive , The Streets of San Fransisco and Barnaby Jones- Directing tv movie horrors like Daughter of the Mind, The Man Who Cried Wolf, Crowhaven Farm, Paper Man, They Call it Murder and The Golden Gate Murders ’79, a terrific hard to find film with David Janssen and Susannah York.

I just love Grauman’s realist style– it’s raw and captivating mise en scène and here he directs this very taut thriller, that somehow seems to elude a definitive genre category as it falls into place amongst the transgressive noir-hybrids of the 60s, it’s been linked with Grande Dame Guignol cinema, and it’s every bit a suspense crime drama but there is little written about it in any of my books on the THRILLER or NOIR film genres. Film historian Kim Newman points out that the sub-genre that was a popular psycho trend of the 1960s where “the aging actress as *monster* was inaugurated” by Aldrich’s Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

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It’s also showcases elements of the horror style rampant in the 60s and yet again, I’ve found it difficult to locate it in any index, and I’ve got a full library on that subject as you can imagine. The idea of home invasion and torture isn’t a subject that’s been missed this side of the 21st Century. It’s been a featured narrative on shows like Law and Order, Dexter and Criminal Minds comes to mind.

Gregory A Waller writes in the introduction in American Horrors: Essays on the Modern American Horror Film- “The 60’s provided a number of noteworthy horror films -still disturbing oddities like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?(1962), Lady in a Cage (1964) and The Haunting (1964) with it’s restrained ‘adult’ major studio, quasi Victorian terror.”

The idea of the home being invaded in an era which was coming off of the industrial age of suburban comforts, ice maker refrigerators, frozen dinners, air conditioners, appliances for an easier way to be a home-maker. the notion of this once safe, comfortable and innocent lifestyle is thus shattered by the intrusion of a doomed and violent world out of control. Even more stunning is that the action happens in broad daylight.

Martin Rubin sums it up in his book Thrillers-Lady in a Cage “epitomizes modern day social decay through the predicament of a cut-off shut-in Olivia de Havilland terrorized by lowlifes and juvenile delinquents”

introducing James Caan-exteriors key to framing an atmosphere of symbolic visual entrapment
The shots of exteriors, interiors and certain objects are key to framing a visual atmosphere of entrapment.

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The script was written by writer/produce Luther Davis  The Hucksters 1047, B.F.’s Daughter 1948, Kismet 1965, Across 110th Street (1972, tv movies Daughter of the Mind 1969 with Ray Milland and Gene Tierney, The Old Man Who Cried Wolf 1970 with Edgar G. Robinson.

co-starring as Caan’s female sidekick is Jennifer Billingsly as Elaine, Rafael Campos is Essie ( very hard working character actor in the sixties and seventies, I especially loved him as Little Emanuel with one leg shorter than the other in All in the Family), William Swan as Malcom Hilyard, Scatman Crothers as the junkman’s assistant,

Lady in a Cage also includes Ann Sothern as the weary and wanton Sade, Jeff Corey as the derelict George L Brady/ who decries, “Repent, repent” the two outliers of society, taking advantage of Mrs. Hilyard’s predicament instead of helping her.

With art direction and production design by Hal Pereira who worked on such great Hitchcock thrillers as Rear Window ’54, Vertigo ’58 and Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s ’61

The evocative soundtrack of beat jazz and experimental nuances by composer Paul Glass  (Bunny Lake is Missing 1965, Five Desperate Women 1971 tv movie, To the Devil a Daughter 1976)

At times Glass underscores the world gone awry with sounds akin to the mechanism of social order having just snapped a spring, and becoming uncoiled and shorted out!

The opening credits are framed with the use of bar like graphics symbolic of not only the literal plot entrapment but the atmosphere of being caged in as well. The linear graphics that interplay with the rolling list of credits remind me of the work of title designer Saul Bass.

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The titles are reminiscent of Saul Bass

Ann Southern as Sade

Leon Barsha takes care of the tense editing. Barsha knows how to create a claustrophobic chaos as he did with Joan Crawford in Sudden Fear 1952, Midnight Lace 1960, editing a few of the most outstanding episodes of The Twilight Zone– A Penny For Your Thoughts ’61, The Grave ’61 and Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up ’61.

Rudolph Sternad production designer/art director-died a year before the film was released. Just to mention a few of his credits-(Dead Reckoning 1947, Walk a Crooked Mile 1948, The Member of the Wedding 1952, High Noon 1952, The Wild One 1953, The Defiant Ones 1958, Inherit the Wind 1960, It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World 1963) Set designers were Sam Comer and Joseph Kish.

Cinematographer Lee Garmes has some list of credits, having started as a painters assistant and prop boy. He lensed some of the most beautifully visual films,  The Garden of Allah 1927, Lilies of the Field 1930, Scarface 1932, Call Her Savage 1932, Strange Interlude 1932 then later uncredited for Gone With the Wind, Guest in the House 1944, and of course some of my favorite films, Nightmare Alley 1947, The Paradine Case 1947 and Portrait of Jennie 1948 onto noirs, Detective Story and The Captive City.

Garmes sets up certain shots that give the impression of a brutally grotesque modern masquerade fête of social misfits on a rampage in a woman-in peril film.

With various close ups on the players faces, in particular de Havilland as she begins to lose it. Often the trio are framed at angles where they look over Mrs. Hilyard who appears like a trapped animal in a cage, as they taunt her from above. She seems smaller and helpless. de Havilland begins to lose her coiffed appearance as she devolves, her hair becomes unkempt and she is drenched in perspiration. It’s quite visually disturbing and graphically unnerving. As these good shockers often are as Grauman and Garmes use extreme close ups of de Havilland’s mouth when she screams for help. The emphasized shots of the alarm bell ringing to no avail, reminds of the detail that cinematographer Ernest Haller paid toward elements of communication and non-escape (the myriad shots of the phone, the stairs) in Aldrich’s What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?

director of photog Lee Garmes
Emphasis on anonymous hands blasting car horns all modern lines of communication that are chaotic and used in an audibly offensive way-dehumanizing noise.
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To show the indifference and cruelty of the world, a little girl runs her roller skates along a bums leg…

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As voyeurs we see Malcolm through window blinds, peering through the bars of his private world- He writes a letter to his mother-“Darling”

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Malcolm is a coded gay character of the film

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Malcolm’s misadventure with the car sets off a chain reaction of horrific events to follow–fate is in the driver’s seat.
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throughout Lady in a Cage Lee Garme’s camera focuses on objects of communication or the lack thereof… Modern conveniences and bourgeois trifle

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Twenty First Century Desolation

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Lady in a CageHal Pereira’s set is more modern, sterile and streamline, inharmonious and unwelcoming. There are many disturbing scenes with the subtle distinction of this hostility and inhumanity like the girl who runs her roller skates over the leg of an unconscious man, an evangelist spouts off about the evils of the world on the radio, a dog hit by a car that drivers keep passing by without stopping.

The date is the 4th of July, it is extremely hot day, people’s nerves are more sensitive and agitated during these heat waves which usually leads to more crime. There are exploding garbage cans in the street to mark the holiday.

Garmes focuses on Mrs Hilyard through the bars on her cage and the reflections in the mirrored panel. We begin as voyeurs. Malcolm is writing his letter, addressing his mother as ‘darling.’ Perhaps a little undeveloped sub-text to be discussed in a different kind of post. Considering that this one is in a series of ‘love notes’ he writes to her. “Darling” Hhmm???

It is made apparent though not explicitly, that Malcolm is in fact gay, and his mother’s domineering personality is at the source of his homosexuality, which is what films of the 60s & 70s would tend to illustrate.

de Havilland has a screen presence that is quite sophisticated and almost imposing with her sense of stylish intellect and decorum. This puts de Havilland’s Mrs. Hilyard in an interesting position on the graph of class struggle, as Randall and his gang aren’t just fighting amongst their own contemporaries, he is challenging an upper class society lady and mother figure to attack back.

Ironically what sets off the sequence of actions that ensue is Malcolm whose car hits a ladder, that tears out wires that short out the power lines. He causes the accident that creates the electricity going out leaving his mother stranded in her gilded prison. He is yet another character in the film who is distracted by his own agenda, self-absorbed carelessness and indifference. Played out like a tragedy, it is at the chance moment when Malcolm causes the power outage that his mother wearing a sheer negligee gets into her elevated cage locking herself inside like a sitting canary. The ‘cage’ has a mirrored panel by the buttons, that allow for de Havilland/Mrs.Hilyard to be seen from various angles and expressions.

With her in her gilded trap is a transistor radio, which is reporting about the uncovered murder victim, a woman who has been decapitated!

Mrs. Hilyard (Olivia de Havilland) is a poetess and a wealthy widow who lives in a stifling bourgeois mansion with her son Malcolm (William Swan) Cornelia, though she is never actually called by her first name, has had an elevator installed in her mansion after she breaks her hip. We see Malcolm writing a letter to his mother as he is about to go away for a weekend, leaving his mother all alone in the house. Malcolm appears to be stifled by his mother’s overbearing love, even to the point of her insisting that he drink his orange juice. As he leaves in his car, he backs into a ladder which nudges a wire that short circuits.

Through this subtle set of events triggering a negative chain reaction causing a power outage, it only sparks the larger series of violent circumstances that begin to spiral out of control. Of course Cornelia Hilyard is now trapped in her gilded cage of an elevator. She has an emergency alarm, which she uses while the electricity is out, but only one person is aroused by the alarm. A derelict wino named George L. Brady (Jeff Corey) hearing the alarm in the alley he ignores her cries for help, and instead helps himself to some of her things. Brady feigns muteness while he rummages around her things, as she is helpless to do anything about it. In desperation she tries to bargain with him to help her, “I will build a shrine to you.”

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The use of white is so vanilla–like Mrs Hilyard

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Repent is tattooed on Brady’s hand

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Much like Joan Crawford’s Blanche Hudson whose entrapment was because she was wheelchair bound, the camera would often focus on the distance between the phone that was always out of reach. The lines of communication had been a constant hurdle to invoke the sense of dread and captivity

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Randall and his little band of riff raff wonder where the old bum stumbled onto a $40 toaster and packs of cigarettes

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Brady shows up at Sade’s apartment, telling her about the house filled with so much loot!

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But Brady is only the first character who will prey on the weakness and vulnerability of Mrs Hilyard. The ferocious and unsympathetic opportunism is a theme that will carry through the film’s story telling. And none is likable and no one is safe from harm. While we might feel slightly ambivalent toward the poor souls who are down and out on their luck, or the proper and uptight Mrs Hilyard who is the central sufferer in the piece, the narrative doesn’t allow much time for us to feel compassion which only illustrates that the message of nihilism translates with an authentic sting. Mrs. Hilyard is every bit part of the testimony of elitist apathy and arrogance that comes along with a hypocritical and so-called civilized modern society.

The film begins to escalate with a real sense of urgency and smothering atmosphere of dread. The derelict Brady fences the goods and then pays a visit to his slovenly dame Sade (Ann Sothern). This sets off yet another ripple in the threatening current that is building in the narrative.

Following Brady from the junk dealer to Sade’s apartment the vicious trio learn about Mrs Hilyard’s house. The savage bunch of hoodlums Randall, Elaine and Essie hang back and wait for the right time to strike. The three lowlifes follow George and Sade to the mansion wearing stockings to obscure their identities, as they start ravaging the place. Eventually they kill the old bum George L Brady who is in a way the second catalyst for the crime of invading and tormenting the trapped Mrs. Hilyard. Hypocritical too as he decries, ‘repent’ though he not only ignores her pleadings for help, he engages the mechanism of ill-fate-he must also be the first to be disposed of. And although we do not see any of the gory details when they stab him to death, the murder is still quite gruesome, as the force of violence still permeates the screen with Paul Glass’ use of music box nuance to create contrast between the two experiences.

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When the phone rings, it startles both Sade and Brady.
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As Mrs.Hilyard yells into the phone after it rings she knocks it off the hook, but Sade rips the wire out of the wall. Hilyard starts to lose it, calling out for help, calling out ’emergency’. Sade creeps up the stairs while Hilyard hangs in mid air in her cage. Hilyard tells her “this is my house, my sons and mine. I broke my hip and am somewhat incapacitated.”

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Sade coldly ignores Mrs Hilyard’s pleading for help “Haven’t you ever needed help?” but Sade stops and only thinks for a split second and continues to walk away.
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“Perfume, is that perfume? A woman, are you a woman?… Listen, Hello my name is Hilyard. I am Mrs Hilyard.” The bum Brady creeps around the stairs and cage. As if the house has been invaded by termites come to pick it clean. Hilyard continues to try and make contact with her intruders “What’s your name. Won’t you answer me. Please answer me” She moves around the inside confines of her gilded prison calling out for them to answer her. With no success.

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“Please help me get out of this horrible cage. Please, please PLEASE!!!!”
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Suddenly the moment is broken with a horrifying wail, as the three hoodlums rush the stairs wearing stocking masks. It’s a immobilizing stunner in the film, that breaks the initial inertia of Hilyard’s entrapment and the circular photography that creates a whirlpool effect. At first an mind numbing monotony and then a blitz of chaos.

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Randall makes Sade his pick up truck
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Hilyard soaked in sweat and crazed has already been driven half mad. Now she is terrified.
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Randall appears at the stair case looming down on her. His face concealed by the stocking mask. Grinning at her he smacks his fists together. A show of brutish force.
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“Who, what monsters… Do you stink… get out…. steal and get out. What sort of creatures are you? Randall slithers over to her and pounds on the top of the cage. “Oh even animals would have more civil compassion than you” Randall –“What… what you. You’re something holier than thou? Huh… You’re something ah. You ain’t no animal?” Hilyard- “I am a human being… a thinking feeling creature” He belches in her face. she winces. “Ah well me I”m an animal. Right now I am all animal. Lot of times I can’t even make animal. A lot of times I’m what do ya call, an inmate. But animal’s better.” Hilyard-“What do you mean inmate… asylum… you’re from some asylum?” He says-“Asylum…(tisk) Oh no you don’t. hahaha… reformatory. Work farm. I been inside everywhere there is to be inside. I been some kind of inside since I was a, 9 years old.” Hilyard with contempt in her voice-“Oh I see… you’re one of the many bits of offal produced by the welfare state. You’re what so much of my tax dollars go to the care and feeding of.” Randall answers her-“Well a, I don’t know from offal, but yeah… yeah. And I sure do want to thank you ma’am for all them tax dollars. The food is lousy though… belch, haha” He begins to literally rattle her cage.

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This image of the ‘outside world’ gazing at us– the audience while they are confronting Hilyard creates a chilling moment that is truly indicative of a horror film– We too become voyeurs looking in on society as it implodes from violence and apathy The four intruders watch her with their masks on. As the monsters watch their prey lose control she cracks within her captivity. They study her. We study them watching her. The entire plot closes in on itself in that moment. The world turns –inside out from outside in.

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She begins an inner monologue “The world must have ended. Someone on one side or the other must have pushed the button. Dropped the bomb.” She puts on her little transistor radio… She hears...”Ladies and gentleman, here stands before us, the man of tomorrow” the radio spouts its media dogma. Modern experimental music underscores the insanity of the moment. The complete loss of rational thought. Civility and safety. Applause The sounds of haywire, slipped cogs and shorted fuses. the noise of chaos. She laughs and drops the radio out of the elevator it lands on the floor and smashes. She begins to laugh heartily. She has lost it.

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They lock Sade in the closet never to be heard from again–not before they rough her up a bit, pushing her into a mirrored dressing table, where she cuts herself. George Brady’s fate is much worse.

At this point Randall sets his sights on Mrs.Hilyard who is trapped as the lady in said cage.

Mrs. Hilyard becomes less consequential at the moment the vicious trio arrive, as she is a symbol of the weakened society–the raw meat for the predatory wild animals, the more vulnerable of the modern jungle which will get picked off first. As Shelley so aptly notes, it’s very ‘Darwinian’ and the survival of the fittest. Mrs. Hilyard as much as refers to the city as a jungle.

Mrs. Hilyard-“I am a human being. A feeling, thinking, human being.”

Randall-mocking her- “Okay. I am *all* animal. Sure beats the hell outta being an inmate…”

Mrs. Hilyard ” … inmate?… Asylum?

Randall begins tormenting her, by playing head games. He shows her a note from her son Malcolm telling her that he’s about to commit suicide because of her overbearing motherly love. “Release me from your generosity. Release me from your beauty. Release me from your love.”

The entire film’s universe is filled with deviant and transgressive characters. Sade is a self-hating woman who demeans herself because of her weight. Her ability to escape the chaos hampered by her greed to take part in the looting of Mrs, Hilyard’s house. To add to the queasy touches, Sade wears a jeweled head band givimg her an odd-ball air of eccentricity. She would again play a similar type of character as Thelma Lambert in Curtis Harrington’s The Killing Kind 1973-another mother who loves her son too well, he becomes a lady killer…

The pawnbroker Mr. Paul only has one-eye. perhaps this is symbolic of a skewed vision of the world that surrounds him. He is also an opportunistic figure. Brady and Sade are afflicted with alcoholism. 

As Peter Shelley says in Grande Dame Guignol Cinema the film is “A disturbing indictment of the amorality of 1964 American society, as well as a nightmare for those suffering from claustrophobia and vertigo, this film introduces Olivia de Havilland to the Grande Dame Guignol subgenre.”

Walter Grauman creates an atmosphere of deafening nihilism that is so harsh and brutal it is almost hard to watch it at times. An indictment of modernity, opportunism and the industrial age, the use of sound with the car horns blaring in clusters of traffic, the sounds from the streets that invade Mrs. Hilyard’s closed in world is exhausting. The film delivers a sense that all of life is a furious, insensitive rhythm of hostility and discord. There is no empathy toward the individual and people are merely anonymous faces making the strident and shrill noise and disturbing the quietude of civilized life.

What makes this a suspense/noir hybrid is the environment of entrapment and flawed characters, with Lee Garmes camera angles and Leon Barsha’s razor sharp editing that keeps the pacing at an uncomfortable beat. Even the graphics that follow the credits representative of bars of a cage symbolized the narrative’s imprisonment. Cinematic bars were deftly used in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? as Aldrich wanted us to feel at ever turn the same sense of captivity that Blanche as well as Jane’s state of mind, and the landscape of the old Gothic mansion which felt like it was desolate and decaying.

And much like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane’s use of the outer world excursions Jane would take that would constantly throw light into the closed in universe of the Hudson’s mansion, Grauman and Garmes utilize shots of the ever turning world outside Mrs. Hilyard’s captivity to emphasize this contrast visually reinforcing the horror that is taking place within the confines of the house that is shut off. We feel that every frame has a sense of intrusion.

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The film has so much cruelty in it… it’s an exercise in Nihilism

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Outside the house, the world goes on spinning, the paper boy delivers the news on an ordinary street

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Essie finds the letter. “Darling Mom… “Hey how bout that it sounds real a …. gay” Mrs Hilyard asks Essie-“What is that that you’re holding? Where did you get it?” Essie-“What am I holding, a letter that was on the desk upstairs, do you want to hear it?” Randall tells Essie-“Ah, let her die curious.”

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Randall asks her-“Is your little boy married?”
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“I bet you had him at it til he was about twelve didn’t ya?… kept him sucking” She slaps him hard across the face. He grabs her violently, pushing his arm across her throat.

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He begins to taunt her with the letter. “Darling Mom,” She tries to grab it away from him. He slams her hard against the wall of the cage. with his forearm pressed against her neck. His hairy sweaty chest exposed, like he’s a pirate, his white shirt tied at the waist. Randall continues reading the letter from Malcolm -“I’ll be thirty next Wednesday, and I won’t have many more chances in life.”

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Mrs Hilyard confused says-“What, what”Randall continues to read “Every time I try to leave you, you add a room or dress up the house, or charm me…”
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He looks straight at her. She looks horrified. “No…” Randall says-” I thought you only had him at it til he was twelve. But you still got him at it… How do you charm him baby” He pulls her back by her hair… “I had a holier than thou old crow of a grandmother. She tried to keep me at it too. I’d a killed her if she hadn’t died… Like she was trying to kill me. Like you kill this um what’s his name… uhm Malcolm.” Mrs Hilyard begs, “No, no this is his too you know he decorated it himself. Complete freedom to come and go he wanted to stay here. Why would he write me a letter? We’re as close as…” She pauses and looks into Randall’s eyes. He smiles quietly at her as she begins to have an awareness. Randall asks her again, “He’s not married is he? Does he even have a girl?” “He has many women friends” “Oh yeah yeah yeah, all his friends are from public shower rooms I bet” She struggles but he continues to hold her up by her hair. It’s barbaric. He continues to torment her with her son’s letter. “Uhm, give me my half of what’s in the living room safe. What safe!!!!!!!” He repeats that line again…”Release me from your generosity, release me from your beauty, release me from your love.” Now she has truly begun to confuse reality and fantasy after she hears him say the word love. She says “Oh love” and touches his face as if it is Malcolm’s. “Oh love, love you could have your half any time you wanted. My half too for that matter.” Essie interrupts. “Read her the P.S. it’s got what they call some real buck shot in it… real loaded. Read it to her” Randall finishes the letter-“P.S. Think it over. I’ll call in a little while. Please make it yes or quite simply I’ll kill myself.”

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The interplay between Caan and de Havilland is utterly realistic. A volatile and primal confrontation between young and old, civil society and the disillusioned masses, paternal and maternal law. fear and compassion.
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She passes out and slides down the wall of the cage. Essie calls up to Randall-“You didn’t kill her?” He tells him-“No…Fainted, lying on the floor like a pile of old clothes.”

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Elaine and Essie go to look for the safe. Randall is left alone in the cage with Mrs.Hilyard who has fainted. For a brief moment it almost appears as if Randall feels sorry for her. He touches her face and neck. He looks the most thoughtful he’s been. He whispers to himself. “Old crow baby.” A hint at Randall’s mother issues which does not excuse his violent abuse of women.

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The film was refused a cinema certificate in the UK by the BBFC and remained unavailable until 2000.

Reviews courtesy of Paul Shelley’s Grande Dame Guignol Cinema- The picture was released on July 8, 1964

“Lady in a Cage adds Olivia de Havilland to the list of cinemactresses who would apparently rather be freaks than be forgotten … a grande chance to go ape. Attagirl, Ollie“- Time, June 19, 1964

“…{S}ordid, if suspenseful, exercise in aimless brutality… A discerning viewer is left curious and repelled… Olivia de Havilland as the trapped ‘Lady’ does project a sense of fear and self-appraisal … a surface, somewhat obvious portrayal.” -A. H. Weller, The New York Times, July 11, 1964

“…{A} noxious, repulsive, grueling experience… Davis’s sensationalistically vulgar screenplay is haphazardly constructed, full of holes, sometimes pretentious and in bad taste. {de Havilland} gives one of those ranting, raving wild-eyed performances often thought of as Academy Award oriented. {She} does about as well as possible under the dire circumstances.” Variety May 25, 1964

 Right now I’m all *MonsterGirl* Hope you’ve enjoyed this post for The Great Villain Blogathon!

Bunny Lake is Missing (1965) & Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964): Otto Preminger/Bryan Forbes -‘A Conspiracy of Madness’: Part 1

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Doll-maker: “This doll had almost been loved to death. You know, love inflicts the most terrible injuries on my small patients.”

BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING (1965)

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Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965) (British) is director/producer Otto Preminger’s psychological thriller, considered to be part of the noir cannon or Post-Noir yet embraces the suspense thriller sub-genre. A thriller about a little girl who may or may not exist! The film deals with the dread of losing yourself, not being believed, childhood nightmares which are rooted in the sense of lack of safety in the environment where they should be protected.

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Starring Carol Lynley (The Cardinal 1963, Shock Treatment 1964,The Shuttered Room 1967) as Ann Lake and Keir Dullea (2001: A Space Odyssey 1968, Black Christmas 1974) as brother Stephen Lake, the Americans who relocate to London and exude a mysteriously emotionless manner even when they act frenzied, enraged or frantically distressed.

The film also stars Laurence Olivier as Superintendent Newhouse, Martita Hunt as retired head schoolmistress Ada Ford, Anna Massey as the uptight Elvira Smollett, Clive Revill as Sergeant Andrews, playwright Noel Coward as Horatio Wilson, the lewd, drunken, seedy and lecherous Landlord who is creepy and inappropriate as he carries his little dog Samantha around with him everywhere. He’s also got a wicked whip collection… one which was once owned by the ‘master himself’ the Marquis de Sade.

Otto Preminger and Laurence Olivier on the set of Bunny Lake
Otto Preminger and Laurence Olivier on the set of Bunny Lake
Preminger and Noel Coward on the set of Bunny Lake
Otto Preminger and Noel Coward who plays the lascivious Horatio Wilson on the set of Bunny Lake Is Missing.

Finlay Currie plays the kindly old Doll Maker, Adrienne Corri  is the disagreeable Dorothy,and Lucie Mannheim plays the irascible German cook.

Preminger filmed Bunny Lake Is Missing in stunning black & white using a widescreen format on location in London, hiring Director of Photography and cameraman Denys Coop (The Third Man 1949, Saint Joan 1957, Lolita 1962 and Billy Lair 1963) and Production Designer Don Ashton.

The story is based on the mystery novel by Marryam Modell  using the pseudonym Evelyn Piper (who also wrote the novel, The Nanny 1965  brilliantly adapted to the screen starring Bette Davis as a very sympathetic yet disturbed nanny) With a screenplay by John and Penelope Mortimer, Preminger adapted Piper’s original novel and re oriented the story taking it out of New York and placing it in heart of London.

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Seth Holt directs my favorite- Bette Davis in The Nanny- 1965’s adaptation of Marryam Modell’s novel

The incredibly striking, simplistic and evocative score was composed by Paul Glass (Lady in a Cage 1964) and used not only in the opening titles designed effectively by the great Saul Bass but the theme is used frequently as a childlike refrain, poignant and moving. The British group The Zombies also appear in a television broadcast, featuring three of their songs, “Remember You”, “Just Out of Reach” and “Nothing’s Changed.”

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No one designs a title sequence like Saul Bass… each one evocative, primal… yet simplistic at it’s very core

Hope Bryce (Anatomy of a Murder 1959, Exodus 1960, Advise and Consent 1962) was responsible for the Costume design.

A standout performance is Martita Hunt, the wonderful British character actress who was in Boris Karloff’s Thriller episode as the batty aunt Celia Sommerville in The Last of The Summervilles. Here, she plays the school’s eccentric retired old headmistress Ada Ford who listens incessantly to recordings of little children who tell their nightmares and dreams recorded on her reel to reel tape machine.

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The fabulous Martita Hunt as the batty Celia Sommerville co-starring Phyllis Thaxter as the cunning cousin Ursula Sommerville in one of the great episodes of Boris Karloff’s anthology television series THRILLER.

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Columbia Pictures actually wanted Otto Preminger to cast Jane Fonda as Ann Lake, and Fonda was very anxious to play the role, but Preminger insisted on using Carol Lynley.

Carol Lynley as ann lake
Carol Lynley as Ann Lake

Much like the hype of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, audiences were not allowed to tell the film’s ending. The film’s poster promoted a tagline “No One Admitted While the Clock is Ticking” I will also choose not to reveal the film’s coda in this post, so as not to give away the culmination of the film’s secrets or it’s finale.

This was one of Preminger’s last films with a Noir milieu, since The Man With The Golden Arm 1955 starring Frank Sinatra.

Preminger and Frank Sinatra on the set of Man With The Golden Arm
Preminger and Frank Sinatra on the set of Man With The Golden Arm (1955)

Within the film’s openness, and it’s various environments, it appears that several of the frames are cluttered with visual odds and ends and bits and pieces, the sequence with the unbroken view of dolls, Wilson’s African masks and whips all evidence of the film’s sense of Fetishism.

Bunny Lake is Missing has a visual openness and fluidity which gives the film a striking dimension. The sweeping camerawork is familiar from the noir days of Preminger’s epic Laura (1944), although here it breaks away more completely from the enclosed environs of the 40s noir film.

Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney in Premingers iconic noir Laura
Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney in Preminger’s iconic noir classic Laura (1944)

Denys Coop’s diligent camera seems to peek into corners, moving through doors and up and down those iconographic STAIRS becoming part of the film’s fretful and apprehensive rhythm. Coop uses peculiar camera angles and lights his subjects from below in order to distort the mood, and throw odd uncomfortable shadows on their faces.

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An odd angle as the camera catches Ann Lake coming up the iconographic noir stairs. The visual Images are often a little skewed in Bunny Lake
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While Ann talks with the quirky Ada Ford, her face is lit from underneath giving her an ethereal, fairy tale like glimmer

BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING: THE SYNOPSIS

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A single American mother Ann Lake (Carol Lynley relocates to London England to live with her journalist brother Stephen (Keir Dullea), Ann drops off her four year old daughter Felicia nicknamed ‘Bunny’ on the first day at her new nursery school “The Little People’s Garden.” When Ann returns to see how Bunny is getting on in school, she can not find a teacher or administrator present, except for a cranky German cook who is complaining about serving Junket (which is essentially gruel) played by Lucie Mannheim. Ann is forced to leave Bunny unsupervised in the building’s ‘first day’ room under the promise by the cranky cook that she will look after the child. Ann must rush to meet the movers who are awaiting her at the new apartment. When Ann returns in the afternoon to pick up her little girl, the cook has quit, and she becomes distressed when Bunny is no where to be found and the school’s employees Elvira Smollett (Anna Massey) and Dorothy (Adrienne Corri) who are left in charge fervently obstruct Ann’s attempts at locating Bunny even denying that the little girl was ever at the school in the first place. No one remembers having seen her. This creates a mood of distrust and paranoia.

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Ann desperately calls her brother Stephen for help. Ann and Stephen were raised without a father, and Ann never married the man who got her pregnant. She and Bunny have depended on Stephen to take care of them. Brother Stephen becomes enraged by the carelessness of the school’s staff, but Scotland Yard begins to investigate the matter. In walks police superintendent Newhouse acted thoughtfully by Laurence Olivier assisted by Sergeant Andrews played by Clive Revill. Newhouse begins searching through the Lake’s belongings and the details of their lives trying to uncover what seems to be a mystery as to whether the child ever existed at all. He discovers that Ann once had an imaginary childhood daughter named Bunny, but even more odd is that there seems to be no presence of Bunny’s belongings at the Lake’s residence.

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Little Bunny’s hair brush and comb set out on the bathroom shelf…

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Where are Bunny’s things???? A taste of female hysteria and maternal paranoia.
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Does the curious headmistress Ada Ford know more about Bunny’s disappearance than she’s telling or is she just one of the plot’s red herrings?
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Retired head mistress Ada Ford who has a fantastical grasp of the inner workings of a child’s nightmares. Inhabited perfectly by wonderful character actress Martita Hunt

There are several red herrings which are inserted into the plot to divert us away from the truth. One such red herring involves retired headmistress, the eccentric Ada Ford played by the marvelous Martita Hunt who seems to have an odd sensibility about children and an acute understanding of childhood motivations which is quickly picked up on by the plasticine yet cold-blooded Stephen Lake.Yet another odd character in the mix is the lecherous landlord Horatio Wilson an aging writer and radio actor played by Noel Coward who revels in his African Fertility Masks and let’s himself into the Lakes apartment at will, in a perpetual state of inebriation lurking about making lewd gestures and propositions to Ann. He also has a collection of whips, exhibiting signs of his sadomasochistic proclivities.

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Horatio Wilson (Noel Coward) is a peculiar sort… as he intrudes on Ann’s world

All these strange characters give Inspector Newhouse a lot to digest, as he tries to eliminate all the possible suspects while trying to find a trace of Bunny that proves she actually does exist, not discounting the idea that Ann Lake is a delusional hysterical woman.

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Ann and Stephen tell Inspector Newhouse that Bunny’s passport and all her belongings have also gone missing, assumed stolen during the mysterious burglary in the apartment. Another odd detail which doesn’t support Ann’s truly having raised this missing child, is that the school’s authorities claim that they never received a tuition check for a Bunny Lake.

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Ann shows Stephen the voucher for the Doll Hospital where Bunny’s doll is being repaired. Proof that she exists? Traces of an incestuous bond from the bathtub…

Ann finally remembers that she has a ticket for the Doll Hospital where she took Bunny’s doll. She remembers this during a scene where Stephen is taking a bath, and brother and sister are both just smoking and talking like a married couple. The film constantly hints at traces of a very incestuous relationship, creepily manifested in several scenes, Stephens physical contact with Ann when he tries to comfort her and one other such overt scene while Stephen is taking his bath…

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Ann runs out into the dark and ominous London nightlife to try and get the doll from the repair hospital so she can show the police that Bunny owned a doll, reasoning that this will prove she exists.

Ann at the doll hospital

Continue reading “Bunny Lake is Missing (1965) & Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964): Otto Preminger/Bryan Forbes -‘A Conspiracy of Madness’: Part 1”