31 Flavors of Noir on the Fringe to Lure you in! Part 2

By now with Part 1 and 2 under my belt it’s pretty clear that one theme has emerged. It is my love for three shamefully underrated noir actors that really carry the genre, John Garfield, Victure Mature and Richard Conte! Victor Mature is a swarthy jewel in his darker noirs, The Long Haul, I Wake Up Screaming and Kiss of Death. Even in the western noir masterpiece My Darling Clementine 1946 where he plays the brooding Doc Holliday. Conte possesses a sublime brutality, with the lure of a Minotaur charging. Think of him In The Big Combo, Thieves’ Highway, and Brothers Rico. And Garfield is deeply vulnerable and edgy, giving off an existential sensuality as in He Ran All the Way, Force of Evil, Body and Soul, and They Made Me a Criminal. I think I’ve fallen in love with all three!

JUST A HEADS UP: THERE ARE SPOILERS!

12-Cry of the City 1948

From the heart of its people comes the … cry of the city.

Directed by Robert Siodmak (The Killers 1946 , Phantom Lady 1944, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry 1945, The Spiral Staircase 1946, The File on Thelma Jordon 1949) with a screenplay by Richard Murphy from the novel The Chair for Martin Rome by Henry Edward Helseth, and an uncredited Ben Hecht.

Editorial use only.No book cover usage. Mandatory Credit: Photo by 20th Century Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock (5876973e)
Robert Siodmak, Victor Mature Cry Of The City 1948 Director: Robert Siodmak 20th Century Fox USA On/Off Set La Proie

The moody black and white photography is by cinematographer Lloyd Ahern Sr. and music by Alfred Newman. Eddie Muller refers to Cry of the City as “Siodmak’s most operatic noir.” It is Siodmak’s most focused work, and the first film noir he shot extensively on location. The film reunited Siodmak with producer Sol Siegel who worked on three Paramount B pictures together after the director settled in Hollywood during the early 1940s. The song ‘Street Scene’, a recurring motif heard in several noirs and written by composer Alfred Newman, plays at the opening of the film. The song can be remembered in I Wake Up Screaming, also starring Mature. It is an urban melody that evokes dreamy nightscapes of the city. Siodmak loves a rain soaked street in his noir films, with it’s themes of fatalism and obsession, and the shocking story of the clash between law and lawlessness. The story borrows from a familiar plot device which sets up an opposition between two characters who come from the same background as children, but wind up clashing in their adult life.

Cry of the City is the most ‘operatic’ (Muller) film noir not just stylistically, but the theme its essential that you not hate Marty Rome’s character. The whole idea is that these are two boyhood friends who come from the same neighborhood and it’s just through circumstance one becomes a criminal and one a lawman, but they’re basically the same guy. That’s the whole point of the film. It’s essential that he play someone with that swagger (Conte) and that criminal intent, but he also has a vulnerability you can see in both of them. You can see the boy in the man. It ends so tragically that it feels operatic…You could see that Siodmak is using the street like this huge stage”

Cry of the City stars Victor Mature as Lt. Vittorio Candella, and Richard Conte as the ruthless Marty Rome. Fred Clark plays Cadnella’s partner Lt. Jim Collins whose tongue is fast on the trigger. Shelley Winters is Marty’s old flame Brenda Martingale. Brenda is Martin’s loyal ex-gal who spirits the wounded Conte around the city, while an unlicensed doctor works on his bullet wounds in the back seat of her car.

Betty Garde is Nurse Frances Pruett, and Berry Kroeger is the unsavory, amoral lawyer W. A. Niles. Debra Paget plays angelic Teena Riconti. Tommy Cook plays Conte’s cop hating kid brother who worships him, and it’s clear is heading down the same doomed path, as hi older brother Marty.

Garde and Emerson worked together in John Cromwell’s Caged 1950. Garde is Conte’s sympathetic nurse And Hope Emerson as the darkly imposing Rose Given. Emerson, a masseuse and a sadist, is the nefarious Amazon who desperately wants the jewels that Conte has lifted from sleazy lawyer Kroeger. One of the best supporting roles in Cry of the City is Hope Emerson as the ‘monolithic’ (Dinman) Rose Givens who dominates the scenes with Conte.

In Robert Siodmak’s sublime noir Cry of the City 1948 Emerson plays Madame Rose Given who runs a massage parlor, loves to cook, is a pancake eatin’ -looming ‘heavy’… who loves jewels and just wants a little place in the country where she can cook, eat pancakes and fresh eggs… ‘yeah that’s livin’. From her brawny swagger to her grumbling yet leisurely voice, Emerson’s delicsiouly diabolical performance is the highlight of the film!

Continue reading “31 Flavors of Noir on the Fringe to Lure you in! Part 2”

31 Flavors of Noir on the Fringe to Lure You In! Part 1

“A man could spend the rest of his life trying to remember what he shouldn’t have said.”- Force of Evil

“All that Cain did to Abel was murder him.” –Force of Evil

“He pushed me too far!… So I pushed him just far enough.” –The Lineup

“You’re like a rat in a box without any holes” – I Wake Up Screaming

“From now on, no one cuts me so deep that I can’t close the wound.” – I Wake Up Screaming

“I’m gonna give you a break. I’m gonna fix it so you don’t hear the bullets!”- The Big Combo

“I was born on a Monday, I might as well go out on a Monday. Like dirty laundry.”- Man in the Dark 

Heads up… this feature includes spoilers…💣

1-I Wake Up Screaming 1941

I Wake Up Screaming is the first official noir produced by Fox, directed by H. Bruce Humberstone (he worked on Charlie Chan programmers and B-movies) who was not considered a noir director. With a screenplay by Dwight Taylor based on the novel by Steve Fisher. Eddie Muller said it personified film noir, and calls the 1941 film – Proto-noir, as it was the first of it’s kind.

Darryl F. Zanuck wanted the film’s location changed to New York City, so it wouldn’t reflect badly on L.A. There are a number of sleazy characters involved and he wanted to shift the story from Hollywood to Broadway.

The film was remade as Vicki in 1953 (with Jeanne Crane and Jean Peters, though it lacked the highly stylized artistry) Photographed by Edward Cronjager (Seven Keys to Baldpate 1929, Hell’s Highway 1932, The Monkey’s Paw 1933, Island in the Sky 1938, The Gorilla 1939, Heaven Can Wait 1943, Desert Fury 1947, Relentless 1948, House by the River 1950, The Girl in Lovers Lane 1960) pours out murky noir shadows, darkened streets, unusual camera angles, low key lighting and the high contrast, onepoint lighting that illuminates the ink black threatening spaces. The film is stark yet dynamic.

With music by Cyril J. Mockridge, you’ll hear the familiar often used noir leitmotif, the melody Street Scene by Alfred Newman. I Wake Up Screaming stars Betty Grable as Jill Lynn, Victor Mature as Frankie Christopher, Carole Landis as Vicki Lynn, Laird Cregar as Ed Cornell. The film also co-stars Alan Mowbray as Robin Ray and Allyn Joslyn as Larry Evans. Quirky character actor Elisha Cook Jr. plays Harry Williams the desk clerk in Vicki’s apartment building who’s a real weirdo. William Gargan plays Detective Jerry ‘Mac’ MacDonald.

Cook is great at playing quirky oddballs (Cliff the crazed drummer in Phantom Lady 1944, George Peatty in The Killing 1956, anxious trench coat wearing Wilmer in The Maltese Falcon 1941, Watson Pritchard in House on Haunted Hill 1959).

I Wake up Screaming bares a resemblance to a whodunit, as the killer is chased down with the story playing a bit of a shell game with us. There are common noir themes of obsession, perverse lust, corruption and homicidal jealousy. The film is also has a preoccupation with images and artifice, tossing up flashbacks like a circus juggler.

Right before model Vicki Lynn heads to Hollywood to reach for her rising star, she is brutally murdered. Delicious Betty Grable in her first non-music role, plays Jill Lynn, Vicki’s sister, who is drawn to the man (Victor Mature) who is presumably her sister’s murderer.

Vicki functions as an essential part of the narrative early on in the film and is resurrected by way of flashbacks. Frankie knows that while there are images that still exist of Vicki she is no longer present. In fact Vicki is a myth and a manufactured deception in some ways. Jill on the other hand is genuine, unpretentious and warmhearted.

Carol Landis who died at 28 from an overdose, plays murder victim Vicki Lynn. I Wake up Screaming back flips into the weeks leading up to her death. The film is also somewhat of a noir variation on Pygmalion, as Victor Mature who plays Frankie Christopher, sports and show business promoter, discovers a beautiful girl waiting tables and gets the hot idea of turning Vicki into a celebrity and society girl. Vicki’s appeal, is the sphere of influence that drives the plot. Mature always makes the screen sweat with his sexy brawny build, swarthy good looks, strong jaw line and the aura of his glistening obsidian hair.

The film opens with a sensational news headline ‘MODEL MURDERED’ right from the top Frankie is being grilled by the cops in the interrogation room. Burning white hot lights are up close in his face. He says to the shadow of Cornell (Cregar) who’s a bulky shadow shot with single source lighting) to his opaque figure, “You’re a pretty tough guy with a crowd around.”

The flashbacks begin. Frankie goes back to the first time he meets Vicki at the lunch room on 8th Avenue while eating with Larry Evans (Alan Joslyn) and Robin Ray (Alan Mowbray). Vicki asks “Is that all?” Lary Evans says “No, but the rest of it isn’t on the menu.” She handles his come on, “You couldn’t afford it if it was.” Frankie pours on the charm. He gets the notion to take Vicki and mold her into a celebrity. “You know I bet in 6 months I could take that girl and put her on top of the ladder.” Mature and Landis worked together in One Million Years B.C.

Has-been actor Robin Ray (Mowbray) and ruthless gossip columnist Larry Evans (Joslyn) decide to get involved in developing Vicki Lynn’s mystique and cultivate her glamour on the road to fame. Of course both men wind up having a yen for her. A cynical Ray (Mowbray) complains that all women are alike. Evans (Joslyn) tells him,“For Pete’s sake, what difference does that make? You’ve got to have them. They’re standard equipment.”

Frankie takes Vicki Lynn out into New York cafe society – All three schemers, the columnist, the washed up actor and Frankie, bring her to the cafe and make a big noise, grabbing the attention of Lady Handel (May Beatty) who invites them over to her table. In order give the impression that Vicki will now be a new sensation, Larry Evans brags in front of the table, that he’ll plug her In his column. They also think that it’ll help Vicki to get noticed if she’s seen on Robin Ray’s arm. The outing is a success. When they bring her home to her apartment building they meet the squirrly desk clerk Harry Williams (Elisha Cook), who takes his sweet time, getting up for Vicki. Frankie gives him a hard time after being so disrespectful. Williams sneers, “She ain’t nobody.”

Back to the present and Frankie’s still in the sweat box. They’re questioning Jill too. She’s telling the cops about Vicki’s plans. She’s got, “Grand ideas about becoming a celebrity.” They ask about Frankie’s involvement. Another flashback – the sisters are talking about Vicki’s new venture. Vicki tells Jill, “They’re gonna glamorize me.” Jill tells Vicki that she doesn’t trust Frankie’s promises, and apologizes for sounding stuffy. She warns Vicki about having unrealistic aspirations. Flashback even further. Frankie shows up at the cafeteria. Vicki keeps dishing out the wise cracks. He shows her the newspaper article about her making a splash at the El Chico Club.

“Why all the cracks you don’t even know me?” “I don’t know anything about art, but I know what I like.” Back at the present day, at the police station. Jill continues to tell the cops how successful Vicki’s climb was. Backwards once again-

Jill Lynn I don’t want to tell you your business, but don’t you think you’re making a fool of yourself?
Vicki Lynn What do you mean?
Jill Oh, this Frankie Christopher. People like that, what have they got to do with people like us?
Vicki Jill, they’re going to help me!
Jill In what way?
Vicki They’re gonna’ glamorize me. They may have started this thing as a gag, but, after taking one look at those million-dollar debutantes tonight, I realized I can give them cards in spades and still come out on top.
Jill Vicky, you’ll never come out on top by any shortcuts. One week your picture’s on the cover of a magazine, the next it’s in the ash can.

Frankie arrives at the girls apartment, and Vicki breaks the news to Frankie that she’s going away to Hollywood. She’d done a screen test and signed a long term contract. He’s angry. She went behind Frankie’s back after everything he did for her. She defends herself “Some people think I’m a pretty attractive girl. I’m no Frankenstein you know!” Frankie comments, “I wonder.”

Jill tells the cops she was pounding a typewriter breaking her finger nails, and Vicki did get the Hollywood contract, so she might have been right about taking the risk with an acting career and becoming a star.

Another flashback The three men are sitting around the bar..

Robin Ray [indignant] Can you imagine her walking out on me, after all that I’ve done for her? Me!

Larry Evans [slightly incredulous] “You’ve” done for her? What have *you* done for her?

Robin Well, I took her out to all the bright spots, I let her be seen with me everywhere… It made her feel important.

Larry Why, you parboiled old ham! You don’t think anybody thought there was anything between *you* two, do you? If it hadn’t been for my plugging in the column, people would’ve thought she was your trained nurse.

Robin Why, you ink-stinking word slinger! I was famous when they were changing your pants 20 times a day!

Jumping to the present again, Jill is still being questioned by the cops. They want to know if Vicki had anyone in her life. Jill remembers a peculiar thing that happened. She tells them she was sitting at the table in the cafeteria waiting for Vicki to get off work. The peeping prowling, Ed Cornell’s giant shape stares at Vicki through the window. He has a queer look on his face. Jill maintains her stare, holding her coffee cup, she is unable to put it down as she studies him, uncomfortably. Once he notices Jill catching him ogling Vicki, he skulks away. Mockeridge’s score undergoes a sinister change, emphasis on the rhythmic accents of a classic horror picture.

Jill tells her sister, “You seem to have an admirer there’s some guy looking through the window like the wolf looking for the 3 little pigs.” The girls are walking on the street, Cornell is leaning against a wall, Jill points out to Vicki that he’s the one. “He gives me the creeps” Vicki says, “You’ll have to get used to that, they’ve got more wolves in New York than they have in Siberia” She tells the cops she saw him several times after in odd places. He never said anything but watched Vicki, it frightened Jill. There was something strange about him, the way he looked at Vicki. Always turning up in strange places. The cops look skeptical about her “mysterious stranger.”

The cops think Jill is trying to protect Frankie “I just don’t believe he did it, that’s all” They ask if she’s involved with him, and accuse her of being in love with him and wanting Vicki out of the way. Jill demands to see someone in authority, so they tell Mac to get Cornell. Who walks in? The creep who watched Vicki through the plate glass!

Enter rabid, self-righteous homicide Detective Ed Cornell (Cregar). Once he sets his sights on Frankie he begins to mercilessly hound him to the ends of hell if necessary, going after him with a flaming vengeance, trying to pin the murder on him. Cornell knows that Frankie is innocent but he is determined to persecute him. Cregar made an all too short career out playing imposing characters. He died at 28 in 1944 due to complications from a crash diet, always struggling with his weight, striving to obtain leading man status.

Jill is startled, the room is smoky and this massive shape looms over her with his girth “That’s him, that’s the man!” They think she’s crazy. First it’s a mysterious stranger peeking through windows and now it’s Ed Cornell. “Thats my job to look at people.” Leaving the dark corner of the sweat box into the smoke factory with Frankie, things become more visible as Cornell emerges as a menacing force. She insists, “I did see you.” “Alright Alright I’m a peeping tom.”

Jill Relates what happened on the car ride with Frankie, the night he learned Vicki was leaving, and she tells him he’ll be glad to get rid of her, because Jill is in love with him. That Jill is just covering up her feelings. Frankie says Jill being in love with him, never entered his mind. Vicki is sure, “I know it’s much deeper than that. That’s why its so dangerous. Anything might happen.”

Cornell writes down everything in his pad. Jill says that Vicki didn’t mean the line about being glad to get rid of her, but he corrects her, “What she meant doesn’t count. It’s what she said.”

The night Jill found Vicki, as soon as she came out of the elevator she got a feeling something was wrong. There was  music blasting from the radio. Frankie was there already – ”Jill you don’t think I did it, do you?” Jill is in shock.

Cornell goes back into the interrogation room with Frankie and tells him he knows about Vicki’s ‘get rid of me’ statement. The obessed Cornell comes up with a scenario. Frankie’s mind got more and more inflamed with jealousy and hurt pride. Went up there and killed her in cold blood. Cornell loses his cool and lunges at Frankie, ”I’ve got a mind to kill you right now.”When Cornell gets rough, the other cops have to break it up. They all like Frankie and ask if he’s got any tickets to the fights. They ask Cornell “What’s the idea of riding him, so hard?” “I have years of experience in this racket. If that isn’t the look of a guilty man, I’ll take the rap myself.” The District Attorney winds up getting his back up with Cornell when he focuses so much on Frankie’s guilt.

The District Attorney (Morris Ankrum) apologizes to Frankie. Jill is in the office too, and tells him they think they know the identity of the killer. It’s the switchboard operator at the sisters’ apartment building. They think it’s Harry Williams. Jill leaves the police station and Frankie asks why they think it’s Williams. The D.A. tells him, William’s been missing since 5pm last night, probably hiding out scared and shaky.

Frankie is released and later that night, Mature wakes up to find the huge, menacing Cregar sitting beside his bed, “Well that’s the first time, I had a bad dream with my eyes open.” “Someday you’re going to talk in your sleep, and when that days comes I want to be around.” The scene hints at Cornell’s repressed homosexual passion.

Cornell tells him he’ll get all the evidence he needs and tie him up like a pig in a slaughter house. Frankie unrattled, tells him, ”You’re the bright boy” and reminds him that they think Williams murdered Vicki. Victor Mature is so smooth, so mellow when he’s playing at being sarcastic, He says, “You’re like something out of a museum you ought to have a magnifying glass and one of those trick hats with the ear flaps” Frankie throws Cornell out after he calls him cocky, and has had it his way too long. First with Vicki, then Jill. Cornell’s resentment is showing.

Jill finds Harry Williams who’s returned to the apartment building. She’s moving out, but he has already packed up her bags and taken them down to the lobby. Williams is a suspiciously hollow little insect who Jill finds strange. Frankie meets up with Robin at the police station. The cops show a reel of Vicki singing at a night club. Cornell watches her longingly which gives Frankie a window into Cornell’s longing for the dead girl. Cornell looks at Frankie with contempt.

The film of Vicki appears in the dark room filled with cigar smoke that makes wispy clouds float, and the rays of light from the projection booth. The light cast on Frankie’s eyes are like an illuminated mask, it accentuates his epiphany — that Cornell is obsessed with Vicki. He catches something in his stare. The light on Cornell’s face as HE stares back at Frankie, unmasks only half of his face, revealing the duplicity Cornell projects throughout the picture. It’s a brilliantly framed shot by Cronjager.

The film reel resurrects Vicki from the dead, like a ghost haunting the room. Robin Ray squirms in his chair and runs to get out. The door is locked. His behavior hints at his guilt. They put the lights on and bring him into the D.A.’s office. Ray tells them how he felt about her. She laughed at him. Called him “a has-been and didn’t want to hitch her wagon to a falling star.” He’s the one that arranged the screen test but she went down there alone. He is obsolete, they decided they didn’t need him. While he talks about her, Cornell looks out the window. Daylight casts patterns from the venetian blinds that cut across his face. Odd angle profiles tilt the two-shot of Cornell and Mac off kilter. Ray has an alibi. He was at a sanitarium. Cornell checked it out already and is gleeful that it rules out yet another suspect. He wants Frankie to fry for it. Cornell would have Frankie in the death house by now. “That won’t prevent you from going to the hot chair.” 

As Frankie is leaving the police station Cornell asks him for a lift uptown “Sure, always happy to oblige a goon”

Ed Cornell [bumming a ride in Frankie’s car] “I’m sorry to have to ask you to do this, but I’m a little short on cash lately. You see, I’ve spent so much of my own dough, trying to build up this case against you.”

Frankie Christopher (Victor Mature) Well, if there’s anything you need, just let me know.”

Ed Cornell Oh, I imagine they’ll make it right with me when I bring in the material for your trial. They usually do in these cases. I nick a guy on my own time and send him up to the chair, then I get back pay.”

Frankie Christopher “Must be a great life – like a garbage man, only with people!”

Ed Cornell “I got practically all the evidence I need now. I could arrest you today for that matter, but you might get some smart mouthpiece and get off with life instead of the chair. I won’t be satisfied until I’m *sure* it’s the chair.”

Frankie Christopher “You’re a gay dog, Cornell. You make me feel as if I’m driving a hearse!”

Ed Cornell Oh, I know your type. I’ve seen hundreds of them. I don’t scare you enough to make you commit suicide, but I worry you just the same. And when the day comes they all act different. Some scream, a few faint, some light a cigarette and try a wisecrack. But it sticks in their throats – especially when they’re hung.”

Cornell shows up at Jill’s new apartment to intimidate her. Jill “What’s the good of living without hope?” Ed Cornell signals his own personal torture- “It can be done.” He advises her to just play along, insisting that she’s not even sure Frankie’s innocent. Once he’s left, Jill pulls out a note from behind a framed painting on the wall. It’s from Frankie to Vicki, “After what you did last night, the sooner you’re out of the way the better it will be.”

Frankie takes Jill to the fights and then out on the town. She asks if he ever brought Vicki to the fights, and tells him it’s the first New York night club she’s ever been to. The El Chico club, he first took Vicki to. She sees how nice he is without all the flashy bluster and pretense. He’s actually very real. Cornell follows them. Frankie asks her why she suddenly called him, “The trouble with you is that you pretend you don’t care about things but you do. You were very upset about Vicki’s death weren’t You? He tells her he’d like to find the guy, “Save the State on it’s electric bill. She was a good kid” Jill doesn’t want him to be guilty. “Did you love her? “No, do you think if I’d loved her I would have tried to exploit her the way I did?… Vicki was pretty, gay and amusing She had lots to offer and I wanted to put her in the right place on the map. After all that’s my business But when a man really loves a woman, he doesn’t want to plaster her face all over papers and magazines. He wants to keep her to himself.”

Looking into her eyes, he tells her he’s in love with her. Larry Evans sees them together and calls in the story “Stepping out… Dancing on the grave.”

Frankie takes Jill to his favorite swimming spot. It’s a lovely scene, that brings some lightness to the external space in the story. She shows him the note he wrote to Vickie and he asks why she didn’t turn it into the police. Jill tells him she knew he was innocent and what the note meant, at the moment they were dancing at the nightclub. When they are back at the apartment, Cornell walks in and takes the note. They cuff Frankie. Cornell who is obviously framing him is just waiting for the chance to catch him. Frankie tells him anyone could have written a note like that. He was burned up when Vicki dropped the bomb that she was leaving. He finds out that Cornell has planted a set of brass knuckles in his apartment. Vicki was hit hard behind the ear with a heavy object. The depraved Cornell punches Frankie in the guts. “You’re like a rat in a hole.”

As Cornell is about to take him downtown, Frankie on the ground after Cornell’s hostile assault, Jill hits Cornell from behind, and helps Frankie escape. Big fat head bullying him, she says.

Frankie proposes, “Mind marrying a hunted man?” She tells him, “Most married men have a hunted look anyway.” He tells her his real name – Botticelli, the son of Italian immigrants. Then he shows her how to hide in the city. They duck into in an adult movie house, watching the same picture over and over. Then they decide to split up for the time being and she goes to the public library. The cops find her, and Frankie sees them taking her away. The newspaper headline says “Christopher eludes police dragnet.” Cornell stalks the streets. Frankie sneaks up on him. “Let Jill go”, and he’ll turn himself in. Ed Cornell (Laird Cregar) “I’ll follow you into your grave. I’ll write my name on your tombstone.” “You’re not a cop you’re crazy trying to frame an innocent man.” Frankie throws a tootsie roll at him and takes off. Cornell assures him, he’ll eventually get him. Always smirking like the devil.

Cornell tells the D.A. a parable about the African Butterfly and how to trap the male is to let the female free. He wants him to let Jill out of her box to lure Frankie. She goes home, sneaks out through the window, and surprises Frankie at the adult movie house. At the apartment she has found little cards from flowers that were sent to Vicki, and at the funeral. She shows them to Frankie. The message on the cards say, “Because I promised.”

They go to Rosedale Cemetery and when he meets the caretaker, Frankie pretends to be reporter and ask if anybody lately has been around Vicki’s grave. There were many flowers at the funeral, and the caretaker tells him that the grave’s been getting flowers each day since she died. Frankie learns where they were sent from, and goes to Keating Florist. It turns out the Larry sent them. Frankie confronts Larry who admits he was with Vicki the day she died. He had promised to send her flowers every day when she left for Hollywood, and he wanted to keep his word. Larry winds up giving Frankie a clue about the killer, and he goes to the old apartment and gets Mac to give him a half hour. He has a strong hunch.

The next scene is ripe with atmosphere when Frankie leans against the wall in Vicki’s old apartment. The lattice shadows fence Frankie in. Harry Williams is sleeping at the front desk. Vicki rings the desk and speaks in Vicki’s voice “Hello Harry, this is Vicki” He’s visibly shaken. Frankie watches his reaction. His eyes open wider as the buzzing mocks him, “Harry this is Vicki. Why did you do it Harry? Didn’t you love me?” Frankie confronts Williams. “You let yourself in with your pass key and waited for her. You loved her. She panicked and screamed.” William’s admits,  “I told the cop that when he chased me to Brooklyn. Cornell knew all along it was Williams. The dirty Cornell told him to just come back and keep his mouth shut. Mac hears the confession. Frankie tells him, he wants 5 minutes alone with Cornell.

He goes to his apartment finds a perverse and macabre shrine to Vicki. Her image is like a talisman in his sufficating little apartment. He discovers the prominent photograph of Vicki in an elaborate frame. Cornell unaware that Frankie is there, comes in and places fresh flowers underneath the photograph, as an offering. Frankie watches then emerges, “You knew. Why’d you want to fry me?”He tells Frankie, “I lost Vicki long before Williams killed her. You were the one who took her away from me” Cornell wanted to marry her. Had this furnished apartment set up. Bought her perfume. “Til he came along and put ideas in her head. She thought she was too good for me. He could had killed him then.” Frankie puts it to him, “Why didn’t ya?” “Cause I had the hook in your mouth and I wanted to see you suffer.”

Cornell resented Frankie’s closeness to Vicki, and inhabits a world that excludes him. In contrast to the suave Frankie Christopher, he is a lumbering and awkward outsider. To Cornell, Vicki will always be as unattainable as the first time he gazed upon her through the window. He was struck by her beauty, but she was completely and forever out of his reach. Cornell is like a lurking monster straight out of a classic horror movie. His uneasy presence lends to a surreal and menacing mood.

A Trailer a day keeps the Boogeyman away! I Wake Up Screaming (1941)

Continue reading “31 Flavors of Noir on the Fringe to Lure You In! Part 1”

A Trailer a Day Keeps the Boogeyman Away! Robert Quarry-“I’m hard to scare”

For this upcoming Halloween, I thought I’d pay the Boogeyman off with a few fearful trailers! I put together a little theme here at The Last Drive In – and I thought to myself… how ’bout offering up several off-beat & groovy horror flicks from the 1970s featuring that smooth & sinister villain – cult horror star!-Robert Quarry, the enigmatic dark anti-hero of horror, suave yet not overtly theatrical. He’s got a sublime sex appeal with the underlying trance like magnetism of a viper – mysterious, charistmatic and dangerous. He even attained his villainous status to go head to head with Vincent Price as Darrus Biederbeck, his nemisis in Dr. Phibes Rises Again 1972 and in Sugar Hill 1974 he plays another predatory bastard – Morgan who needs to get his arrogant ass whooped by the entrancing Marki Bey as Diana ‘Sugar’ Hill.

It’s his aesthetic that works so perfectly in the cult horror genre. And I believe that the sophistication and malignant evil of his Count Yorga is perhaps one of THE most exquisitely predatory vampires in the history of terror on screen! Quarry’s vision of his style of vampirism, was to move away from the conception of what we experienced watching Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee’s Dracula. Not to downplay the significance of those two great performances. He wanted to give Yorga ‘a kind of reality and play him straight.’ (Robert Quarry in an interview)

Narrator: (George Macready) A vampire, in ancient belief, was a malignant spirit who when the earth lost its sunlight rose nightly from its dark grave to suck blood from the throats of the living. Its powers were many. It could see in the dark, which was no small ability in a world half-veiled from light. Its hypnotic skills baffled the domain of science. It was of a cunning more than mortal, for its cunning was a growth of ages, since it could not die by the mere passing of time. It had to have been by a wooden stake driven deep into its heart, or exposure to the rays of the sun, which would instantly decompose its body into a miasma of putrid decay. The believers of this superstition referred to vampires as the living dead. I seem to be making use of the past tense. Perhaps the present would be more precise, for it stands to reason that if one is superstitious, even on a small, seemingly insignificant level, one must be vulnerable to all superstitions, conceivably even those of vampires. Superstition? (laughs maniacally)

COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE 1970

Dashing, Dark and Deadly-MISTRESSES of the DEATHMASTER – sharing his hunger for human flesh, his thirst for human blood, his evil lusts that even Hell cannot fulfill!

“… the special appeal of Count Yorga, Vampire may well be its Los Angeles locale… Count Yorga’s ambience is pure Hollywood and the seamy elegance of Robert Quarry’s performance… exactly compliments {sic} that ambience. Bob Kelljan’s direction, often resourceful, does especially well by Quarry’s disdainful civility… “ – Roger Greenspun, New York Times, November 12, 1970.

Count Yorga, Vampire is a moody 70s dive into terror, amidst a sense of mounting dread, squalor, claustrophobic panic and Robert Quarry’s conjuration of arrogance and menace, with an opening seasoned with campy irony and provocative narration by character actor George Macready! At the time of it’s release, because Yorga is a departure from Victorian or 1930’s settings, the film can be considered a move forward, bringing the vampire lore into modern times, that started a new trend. Though not showcasing modernity with the wheels of progress spinning as with films like The Hunger 1983 or The Lost Boys 1987, Count Yorga possesses a somewhat reformist aura and the hints of Gothic fairytale meeting up with a contemporary feel that makes for a very  inventive atmosphere. Though Quarry’s vampire still wears a cape, his Machiavellian hostility oozes from underneath his blood red velvet smoking jacket. It is this remnant of actors sinking their teeth into the role of Dracula or in this case another descendant of European vampiric royalty transported to contemporary California – that gives Quarry’s attempted tribute a bit of a twist, yet deliciously cliché.

I was so lucky to have seen Count Yorga, Vampire during it’s theatrical release in 1970. I hadn’t experienced anything like it before having grown up being transfixed by Bela’s swarthy, sensual, old world vampire, and Christopher Lee’s terror inspiring, blood red eyed Count. With Yorga, he evokes a level of disquiet in me from watching a slew of campy yet shockingly gruesome scenes in the film. There’s a languidness, an eerie dread, a modern Gothic sensibility that washes over films like Yorga, overcast with a hazy lens of 70s colors and an uncanny pacing that is indicative of many of the decade’s horror films. Consider Let’s Scare Jessica to Death 1971 – and any attempt at contemporary homage to that grand decade of experimental horror, will always lack that organic moody vibe that is persistent in 70s classic cult horror. To me it all seems to appear – a forgery.

Directed by Bob Kelljan  Yorga co-stars Roger Perry, Michael Murphy, Michael Mcready (George’s son), Donna Anders as Donna, Judy Lang as Erica, Edward Walsh as the brutish Brudah, Marsha Jordan as Donna’s mother (reigning queen of softcore cinema in the 1960s), Julie Conners, Paul Hansen as Peter and Sybil Scotford as Judy.

The film takes place in contemporary Los Angeles where vintage hipsters assemble a groovy séance in order to contact Donna’s (Donna Anders) mother, who has recently passed away. The medium who has been chosen to lead the ceremony is the enigmatic Count Yorga, who claims to have been her mother’s lover. Oddly, Yorga talked Donna out of cremation. He is in fact a modern day vampire who also has the power of telepathy and hypnosis. After the séance, Erica (Judy Lang) and Paul (Michael Murphy) take Yorga back to his creepy isolated mansion, and must camp out in the surrounding woods when their van gets stuck in a convenient mound of mud. After the couple indulge in some 70s VW van nookie, Yorga lurks, then attacks to the backdrop of cricket’s eerie night song and a lake of murky dark. He beats Paul unconscious and bites Donna, putting her under his control.

The next day, Paul notices the strange puncture wounds on Erica’s neck and takes her to see his friend, a blood specialist, Dr. Hayes (Roger Perry), who discovers that the pale as chalk Erica has been drained of blood and is now suffering from pernicious anemia. After they find Erica drinking the blood from her WARNING: – kitten- Paul is skeptical about the existence of a modern day blood sucker, but Hayes suspects that she is the victim of a vampire attack. That evening, Yorga summons Erica and offers her eternal life, taking her back to his secluded castle where his other brides await. She is transformed into a lustful creature, ghostly, predatory, under Yorga’s masterful spell and hungry for blood.

Paul, Donna, her boyfriend Michael and Dr. Hayes show up at the castle looking for Erica. Her boyfriend Paul who had arrived earlier and has been killed by his servant Brudeh.

There begins a restless game of cat and mouse as Dr. Hayes insinuates himself in Yorga’s castle, and tries to talk Yorga into dawn, working his way up to the question, does he believe in vampires? Vampires are real and more superior than humans, he smugly informs Hayes. Onto Haye’s game, Yorga manages to evade the daylight, so he and Michael plan on coming back the next night kill him. Donna, under Yorga’s hypnotic domination, exercising his influence on others, is summoned to the castle. Hayes and Pete (Paul Hansen) must somehow fight off the grotesque servant, Brudah, Yorga’s thirsty brides (Donna’s mother being one of them), who dwell in the castle like deathly Hammer nymphs, and must somehow save Donna and ultimately destroy Yorga.

Quarry would go on to reprise his role in 1971 with The Return of Count Yorga.

THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA 1971

The overlord of the damned… The last of the vampires walks again among us… and Evil will have its bloodiest hour! 

American International Pictures brought back Yorga using the original crew, a script by Yvonne Wilder, directed by Kelljan and a bigger budget. The film also stars Mariette Hartley as the heroine, Cynthia Nelson, who will become the object of Yorga’s desire. There’s a looming sense of expressionist disharmony. It opens with a sequence in a graveyard, in almost Jean Rollin fashion, where buried vampire brides break through the ground while young Phillip Frame (as creepy Tommy from the neighboring Orphanage), plays with his ball, and winds up coming face to face with Count Yorga. Once again Yorga uses his powers of hypnosis to get his victims to do his bidding, and the film does suggest that Tommy has himself become a fiend.

The undead vamps slaughter a family at a fancy dress party in suburbia. Yorga, wipes the memory of the surviving members who were attacked. Tommy has an evil little ghostly angel face, and he lies about what happened to the family who were murdered, as well as helps Yorga ensnare his victims and he too commits murder, when he stabs Jennifer to death. Jennifer (Yvonne Wilder) is mute and somehow resistant to Yorga’s influence. She’s the only one who knows what happened the night of the attack, but no one believes her.

Once again, Count Yorga waves his powers of hypnosis over Cynthia, who also survives the attack, and eventually pieces from that night start coming back to her. The overlord of the damned decides that he is in love with Cynthia and wants her to share an eternity with him, though he wants her to come willingly. She comes to stay with him at Gateway Mansion, where David (Roger Perry) fights for her eternal soul.

Perry is back once again as a doctor, this time Dr. David Baldwin, her fiancé, and George Macready makes an actual appearance as Professor Rightstat. The Return of Count Yorga also co-stars Michael Pataki and Walter Brooke.

Incidentally, George Macready is the producers father, which explains the actors involvement in both films, though Macready is not a stranger to being cast in eerie narratives. He gave a feverish performance in Boris Karloff’s anthology series, Thriller episode The Weird Tailor, (written by Robert Bloch) where he will stop at nothing, even black magic, to bring his son back to life.

THE DEATHMASTER 1972

Eyes Like Hot Coals…Fangs Like Razors! Khorda the Deathmaster Has Left His Tomb!

Directed by Ray Danton (actor I’ll Cry Tomorrow 1955, The Longest Day 1962-directed the very freaky Psychic Killer 1975) Screenplay by R L Grove, music by Bill Marx who also worked on Scream Blacula Scream 1973. The Deathmaster resurrects Robert Quarry’s synergy of sophistication and menace, this time as Korda, a long haired vampire who washes up on a Southern California beach in his coffin, and is met by a flute playing spaced out hippie, that serenades his arrival, then proceeds to drag his master along the sand on his back. Only after he has strangled a surfer who has made the mistake of looking inside the coffin. The opening feels like an exploration into the bohemian netherworld, somehow inverted into a modern dance of the macabre. Marx’s opening score, using bell trees, clarinets and harpiscord are truly a moody piece of work.

Korda proceeds to play a Guru surrounded by hippies, sans cape this time, instead trading in his smoking jacket for a Nehru or ruffled poet shirt and beads and a talisman around his neck and leather sandals and sardonic goatee. The Deathmaster is a trippy low-budget dive into the craze for spiritual growth and metaphysical discourse, with Korda spouting philosphical meanderings that Quarry in fact improvised. After fusing together a Manson type cult, they all become lambs to the slaughter. Korda radiates his connection to immortality which gives him a godlike aura he uses to mesmerize this 1970s generation that are renegade seekers of truth and transcendence, and free will and free love. The only one who rebels against the master, is Pico who sees him as a false prophet. Pico’s girlfriend, Rona becomes Korda’s object of desire.

Deathmaster also features John Fiedler as poncho wearing Pop, Bill Ewing as Pico and and Brenda Dixon as Rona-who appeared in 165 episodes of the popular soap opera- The Young and The Restless.

FUN FACT:

A production still reveals that the picture was filmed in December 1970 under the shooting title “Guru Vampire.”

The critic Robert Ebert claims that the Santa Monica beach used at the start of the movie is the exact same location used by Corman’s “Attack of the Crab Monsters”.

Quarry wears the same set of prop vampire fangs in this as he did in both Count Yorga movies. They were specially made and fitted by his dentist.

This is your EverLovin’ Joey sayin’ keep your homemade stakes wittled out of broom handles, ready in case Robert Quarry’s lurking round your VW van… don’t you wish you had one! I do…

Ladies in Retirement (1941) Though this be madness

I am so thrilled to be joining CMBA’s Hidden Classics Blogathon! There are many great contributions this year–  so many unsung gems for the offering! Thank you CMBA for allowing me to share this little obscure suspense yarn with all of you!

The Great Broadway Melodrama Comes to Flaming Life on the Screen!

Ladies in Retirement, with its play-bound vibe and all it’s macabre thought-processes, is directed by Charles Vidor  who did not shy away from films that manifested a gutsy imagination. Vidor is known for films that bordered on the edge of their genres, such as the 1930s horror classic The Mask of Fu Manchu 1932, the sinister obscurity Double Door 1934, and the symbol of unforgettable film noirs like the tension filled Blind Alley 1939 and the seductively arousing  Gilda 1946.

While it’s been referred to as film noir, I believe it meets the criteria of the 1940s suspense genre with a trace of — I don’t know — ‘Gothic melodrama noir’ for it’s use of light and shadow and familiar noir tropes like the focus on class, scandal (Fiske was a courtesan, Albert -thief and blackmailer, Ellen -murderess, Emily-dangerously unstable), and of course by the end fate steps in. In addition, there’s use of noir iconography, with its visual interest in staircases.

It’s also an old-fashioned horror story– not vampires or ghouls– but the haunting feeling you’d get from fog filled marshes off the Thames River, the tinny sound of a not quite tuned piano, a body behind the wall, or the disorder of insanity vs a murder of desperation and opportunity. Where as with all of Val Lewton’s startling contributions, the “unspoken and the unseen were the true sources of dread.” (Judith Crist)

The lighting particularly accents the player’s expressions as they emerge from the dark edges around their form, with merely an aureole on their face or eyes– like a lit mask. This is truly effective in bringing out the intense concentration of Ida Lupino’s beautiful eyes and Ellen’s inner turmoil. The angles in the set up of the interior are odd and sharp, once again the source of light, Lupino’s face lit from underneath used to provoke the contrast between black and a deathly pale white.

Columbia Pictures studio purchased the rights to Denham and Percy’s story with Rosiland Russell in mind for the starring role as Ellen Creed. Russell was featured as the lead Olivia Grayne in another psychological thriller Night Must Fall in 1937. But, Ida Lupino, as always, was worthy of the role and had a remarkably innate grasp of a woman torn by her strong sense of preservation. She was also married to Louis Hayward at the time of filming.

Lux Radio Theater broadcast a 60-minute radio adaptation of the movie on September 27, 1943 with Ida Lupino reprising her film role. According to contemporary articles in The Hollywood Reporter, Lillian GIsh Judith Anderson, Pauline Lord, Laurette Taylor and Helen Chandler were all considered for roles as one of the demented Creed sisters. 

Though the film is stage-bound, it preserves the feel of the original play, and has a visual moodiness thanks to distinguished and skillful cinematographer George Barnes (Footlight Parade 1933, Marked Woman 1937, Rebecca 1940, Meet John Doe, Jane Eyre 1943, Spellbound 1945, Force of Evil 1948,The File on Thelma Jordan 1949, The War of the Worlds 1953). Barnes started as a still photographer which explains the aesthetic of framing scenes like an arrangement of still lifes. He was nominated 7 times, one for his work on Ladies in Retirement, with over 200 films to his credit, he was a hard working cinematographer from 1935- 1949. 

Responsible for the art direction and interior design that won him an Academy Award is Lionel Banks (The Awful Truth 1937, Holiday 1938, Golden Boy 1939, His Gal Friday 1940, The Boogie Man Will Get You 1942, The Soul of a Monster 1944, Cry of the Werewolf 1944. He designed the South American set for Only Angels Have Wings 1939, and conjured up the turn of the century for the fantasy Here Comes Mr. Jordan 1941 and again for Charles Vidor’s lavish A Song to Remember 1945. Banks added to the stage play atmosphere of the film with it’s collection of sparce surreal, gnarled trees that look fake, fog shrouded heaths, and a heaviness to the interior as a suffocatingly enclosed space. The entire exterior scenes have a look of unreality, the outside appears like a murky dream-scape with painted clouds floating in a painted sky, where there is no departure.

Filmed mostly as a set piece in the parlor of a slowly waning old house on the marshes of the Thames Estuary some ten miles to the east of Gravesend, in 1885. The shots are set up with odd angles and the shadows create a sense of confined spaces with unseen rooms and staircases that go nowhere. Barnes and Banks even made a low stone wall of the cottage, seem to constrain the borderline of the house. 

The actors are positioned as the primary focus on the screen back dropped by the scenery that hints only at the suggestion of dank marshes, melancholy trees and craggy rocks surrounding the house. Much of the set pieces remind me strongly of an episode of Boris Karloff’s anthology series THRILLER, titled ‘THE LAST OF THE SOMMERVILLES’ released in 1961. Elements that are similar are the exterior shots that seem unreal, depicting an  obscuring fog with fake trees and pale grays, with the interiors also as closed in spaces of an antiquated house owned by an equally flitty old dowager (Martita Hunt) like Leonora, who preens and is prone to theatrics. She is taken care of by her dutiful companion played by Phyllis Thaxter who plans to murder the old gal. This perfectly macabre installment of the series happened to be directed by Ida Lupino! Perhaps she drew her inspiration from Ladies in Retirement. The art direction for that episode is done by Howard E Johnson, set by Julia Heron and John McCarthy Jr.

Martita Hunt and Phyllis Thaxter in The Last of the Summervilles 1961

Ladies in Retirement flourishes from it’s tense and stodgy narrative more than the dark humor that Denham could have chosen. Unlike the brisk screwball comedy of Arsenic and Old Lace 1943, by director Frank Capra and screenwriter Julius Epstein which was also based on a play by Joseph Kesserling. That play inspired Denham and Percy to write their own story about a pair of eccentric older women.

The stage play in 1939 went on to receive rave reviews with 151 performances at the Henry Miller’s Theatre. The story was written by Reginald Denham who spent the main part of his career directing Broadway theater, and Edward Percy. The play starred Flora Robson in the role as Ellen. Director Bernard Girard’s psycho-sexual and often grotesque The Mad Room 1969 is a modern re-working of Denham and Percy’s play. The film stars Shelley Winters, Stella Stevens with Michael Burns and Barbara Sammeth replacing the mentally ill Creed sisters. Denham also wrote the screenplay for the 1969 movie. He penned 2 episodes of Lux Video Theatre, ‘Help Wanted’ episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 1956, 4 episodes of Suspense 1949-1950-‘Help Wanted’, ‘The Suicide Club’, ‘Murder Through the Looking Glass’, and ‘Dead Ernest.’ Denham also directed films from 1934-1940.

Continue reading “Ladies in Retirement (1941) Though this be madness”

🚀 Keep Watching the Skies! Science Fiction Cinema of the 1950s: The Year is 1956 — Part One

CapturFiles_7

BODY SNATCHERS, MAN BEASTS AND MOLE MEN

1984

1984 (1956)

Will Ecstasy Be a Crime… In the Terrifying World of the Future?

Directed by Michael Anderson, the film is based on the novel by George Orwell that tells of a totalitarian future society in which a man whose daily work is rewriting history, rebels by doing the unthinkable– he falls in love. 1984 stars Edmund O’Brien as clerk Winston Smith of The Ministry of Truth for the Outer Party who refuses to accept the totalitarian state of 1984, where all the citizens are under surveillance at all times. When Winston meets Julia they bask in their physical pleasures outside of the watchful eyes of Big Brother but are betrayed by a member of the Inner Party, O’Connor (Redgrave). Each state functionary must adhere to their designated positions and Redgrave gives a superb performance as a proud drone who possesses a drive as he demonstrates his responsibilities to the state.

The underrated Jan Sterling plays Julia of the Outer Party, David Kossoff is cast as Charrington the junk shop owner. Co-starring in the film are Melvyn Johns as Jones, Donald Pleasence as R. Parsons, Carol Wolfridge as Selina Parsons, Ernest Clark as Outer Party Announcer, Patrick Allen as Inner Party Official, British character actor Michael Ripper as Outer Party Orator and Kenneth Griffith as the prisoner.

It was in 1954 that Nigel Kneale (writer creator of the Quatermass trilogy, The Quatermass Xperiment 1955, First Men in the Moon 1964, The Witches 1966, Quatermass and the Pit 1967, The Woman in Black 1989 first adapted George Orwell’s dystopian ordeal for BBC television starring Peter Cushing as Winston Smith.

Director Michael Anderson (who would later take on another futuristic cautionary tale, Logan’s Run 1976) unveils Orwell’s bleak vision, it’s passage of vigilance, yet it has been criticized for lacking the deeper essence of his novel and the gravity of its contributions – a premonition of things to come. The ferocious inclinations of man that creates- Big Brother. A destiny intent on tyranny, depersonalization, the all watchful eye of the totalitarian state and the loss of free will.

There were two endings made. The British release that presents Winston Smith (O’Brien) defying Big Brother and dying for his principals. The American version has lovers O’Brien and Sterling brainwashed, reconditioned and ultimately abandoning their relationship.

“Thus, in place of Orwell’s savage satire on the rise of the authoritarian state ( and specifically Stalinism), producer Rathvon and Anderson mount a vapid romance in which beefy O’Brien and mousey Sterling are clearly intended to represent the undying spirit of rebellion. Even the drabness of life in Oceania that Orwell creates so convincingly, is lost in the film which, like so many literary adaptations, centers on the slim storyline of the novel.” -Phil Hardy

 

Continue reading “🚀 Keep Watching the Skies! Science Fiction Cinema of the 1950s: The Year is 1956 — Part One”

Secret Beyond the Door (1947) Freud, Lang, the Dream State, and Repressed Poison

SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR (1947)

“Most people are asleep.”

“Wind was there and space and sun and storm… everything’s beyond the door.”

Fritz Lang’s psychological film noir, Secret Beyond the Door (1947) is suggestive of a dream state, from which the characters never quite emerge. The film draws blurry lines between what is latent and obvious desire. The doors are symbolic of the compartmental anxieties within the dark recesses of the mind. Secret Beyond the Door is steeped in metaphor, sunless and surreal, and an evocative score by Miklós Rózsa. Cinematography is by Stanley Cortez, who is responsible for another dream like milieu in Night of the Hunter (1955). It was Joan Bennett, who insisted on using Cortez as cinematographer.

The film co-stars marvelous character actor  Anne Revere  as Mark’s sister Caroline, Barbara O’Neil, Natalie Schafer, and Paul Cavanagh.

Bosley Crowther, “… Lang is still a director who knows how to turn the obvious, such as locked doors and silent chambers and roving spotlights, into strangely tingling stuff… For all its psycho-nonsense, this film is mildly creepy.”

The screenplay by Sylvia Richardson is based on Rufus King’s novel Museum Piece No. Thirteen, and also appeared in the December 1945 issue of Red Book.

Long ago I read a book that told the meaning of dreams. It said that if a girl dreams of a boat or a ship she will reach a safe harbor, but if she dreams of daffodils she is in great danger. But this is no time for me to think of danger. This is my wedding day. –Celia Lamphere

The film opens with a voice-over by Joan Bennett. Celia Lamphere, (Bennett) journeys through her surreal and sleepy addiction to her new husband, architect Mark Lamphere (Michael Redgrave). Celia’s obsessed with the suspicion that Mark is hiding hideous secrets, she plans to succumb to his murderous compulsions. But Mark is not the only one with creeping psychosis. Celia herself is driven by a troubled, neurotic psyche that initially drew her to his enigmatic nature.

Celia wanders through a corridor literally and metaphorically, first in a reverie and then a shadowy nightmare. She first meets Mark on a trip to Mexico when she is mesmerized by the power of passion which can drive two men to fight each other to the death for a woman (Donna Martell). “How proud that woman must be to cause death in the streets.” She realizes that Mark is watching her excitement in this, his eyes like fingers. At that moment, Celia has a taste for danger. Like Mark, the thrill of death represents a strong aphrodisiac for her.

Celia: Suddenly I felt that someone was watching me. There was a tingling at the nape of my neck as though the air had turned cool. I felt eyes touching me like fingers. There was a current flowing between us… warm and sweet… and frightening, too, because he saw behind my make-up what no-one had ever seen. Something I didn’t know was there.

Throughout the film Celia strays from reality and finds herself adrift within a conscious flowing daydream. Her voice-over shows she is controlled by the intense beating of her heart. She relates the feeling to drowning “When you are drowning, your whole life flashes before your eyes.”

British actor Michael Redgrave made his U.S. film debut as Mark. Initially Lang wanted James Mason in the lead role. Mark turns dark and brooding soon after he marries his new bride. He has been married before and his first wife has died under curious circumstances. Also part of the plot is his serious young son David — who blames him for his mother’s death.

There is also, his strangely loyal secretary Miss Robey (Barbara O’Neil) who wears a scarf over one side of her face having been disfigured In a fire. One thinks of Rebecca later on. The film co-stars character actor Anne Revere as Mark’s sister Caroline.

Celia: I heard his voice and then I didn’t hear it anymore, because the beating of my blood was louder. This was what I’d hunted those foolish years in New York. I knew before I knew his name or touched his hand and for an endless moment, I seemed to float like a feather blown to a place where time had stopped.

Mark: You were living that fight. You soaked it all in – love, hate, the passion. You’ve been starved for feelings – any real feelings. I thought: 20th Century Sleeping Beauty. Wealthy American girl who has lived her life wrapped in cotton wool but she wants to wake up. Maybe she can. 
Celia: Is it as hard as all that? 
Mark: Most people are asleep. 

Mark shows all the telltales signs that he is delusional, having a preoccupation with several murder rooms and one locked door #7 in his estate. He’s filled with macabre declarations, “I have a hobby collecting ‘felicitous’ rooms”, (Celia mistaking the word for happy, not ‘apt’ for murder) “the way a place is built determines what happens in it”, “certain rooms cause violence even murders.”

Mark Lamphere takes his guests on a tour of his murder rooms.

“As an architect Mark Lamphere gives particular credence to the influence of space and human lives. He repeatedly uses the word “felicitous” to describe his theory that elements of particular space make certain human actions possible. And therefor ‘apt’ for that locale.” — The Dark Mirror Psychiatry and Film Noir by Marlisa Santos

Redgrave understands how to walk that fine line between innate intensity and male hysteria — one just needs to see his performance as Maxwell Frere in Dead of Night’s (1945) segment The Ventriloquist’s Dummy, where he wrestles with his ‘dummy partner’ Hugo.

Mark is fascinated by the connection between the action of murder and the significance of his locked rooms as psychological theatre. The film utilizes production design by Max Parker (Chandu, the Magician 1932, Arsenic and Old Lace 1944) who creates a dreamworld of disruptive psychosis. It’s within this fairytale steeped in misogyny that Redgrave wants to act out his fantasist murderous impulses. Secret Beyond the Door is a retelling of Bluebeard, the archetype of the serial killer who desires to annihilate women who dominate him. We see a hint of Mark’s roiling demons when he takes a group of party guests on a tour of his rooms as curios — original replicas of historic murders. One of his guests, a psychology major, associates the murder of a wife or lover to “unconscious hatred for the mother.”

Celia confronts Mark, “It was the way you immersed yourself in those stories you were almost happy about their deaths.”

“Probably the most overt Freudian depiction of noir psychosis is found in Secret Beyond the Door, a film that features various re-castings of fairy tale patterns bound up with the psychoanalytic interpretations of childhood trauma and sexual relationships. From the start, the film makes no artistic attempt to submerge its psychoanalysis frame […] all of Celia’s fears and desires are open for scrutiny from the time that she first encounters Mark.” — The Dark Mirror Psychiatry and Film Noir by Marlisa Santos

She takes a subconscious journey both surreal and substantive as she navigates her new relationship with Mark and her awakened death wish.

During their honeymoon Celia unleashes Mark’s sinister urges when she locks the door to their room. This catalyst brings his childhood trauma to the surface. As a young boy he perceived a painful transgression by his mother. His recollection of this seemingly insignificant incident turned into hatred of all women, that has carried throughout his life. These machinations bring him to homicidal delusion. His memories are locked away just as his morbid rooms are show pieces.

Celia embraces her husband’s impulses, setting herself up within the replica frozen in time of the death room #7 meant for her. But she desires to unlock Mark’s subconscious as well as his locked room.

Celia- “This is my room, waiting for me”

She waits with lilacs, waiting to trespass on the madness that has led him to this dark place. The link between love and death becomes interwoven as Celia prepares to sacrifice herself to Mark if she cannot save him from his tortured sickness. Kelly Oliver and Benigno Trigo cover Freud’s fascination with Eros/Thanatos in in their analysis of Secret Beyond the Door, drawing this connection between love and death. Which “according to the film’s logic, death is love’s uncanny double.” 

“Inasmuch as closed space can be interpreted as ‘cave’, ‘the grave’, a house, woman… entry into it is interpreted on various levels as ‘death’, ‘conception’ ‘return home’ and so on: moreover all these acts are thought of as mutually identical”.-Teresa de Lauretis

Mark’s voice-overs wrestle with the urge to strangle Celia if left alone with her. He imagines what he will say when asked if the murder was premeditated. Redgrave is framed within the scene by the prominent energy of his twisting a scarf as if he is preparing to strangle Celia. Holding the scarf, the murder weapon from Don Ignacio’s room, his voice-over gives us the sense of the film’s prowling subconsciousness.The darker counterpart to Celia’s dream-like twists and turns.

Mark: There’s something in your face that I saw once before in South Dakota. Wheat country. Cyclone weather. Just before the cyclone, the air has a stillness. A flat, gold, shimmering stillness. You have it in your face – the same hush before the storm and when you smile it’s like the first breath of wind bending down the wheat. I know that behind that smile is a turbulence that… 

Mark’s Freudian Oedipal struggle with hatred for his mother and all women with latent murderous desire is never quite explored as deeply as it could be in the film. In flashback we understand that he has been shut out of his mother’s affection in one scene. Though here, murder seems to be an expression of male exasperation, one wonders if this was consequential in creating such a conflicted and disturbed monster?

“The symbolism of shutting Freud’s psychological door is present yet after all the Freudian iconography, the basic motivation lies still in the darkness, with one door closed, leaving us outside the ‘Interior turmoil.’” (Marlisa Santos)

*From Women in Film Noir Edited by E. Ann Kaplan

“In the threatening family mansions of the gothic, or in The Haunting’s evil old Hill House, a door, a staircase, a mirror, a portrait are never simply what they appear to be, as an image from Fritz Lang’s paranoid woman’s film’ Secret Beyond the Door. The title sums up the enigma of many of these films in which the question about the husband’s motives becomes an investigation of the house (and of the secret of a woman who previously inhabited it.) 

Freud believed dreams were masks that disguised wish fulfillment. They are metaphorical inroads that point to our subconscious desires. And dreams— like folklore and images in art— are used as symbolism manifesting these unconscious emotional conflicts. Director Fritz Lang very often infused his films with an appetite for expressionist symbolism. With recurring iconography of doors and corridors, Secret Beyond the Door is perhaps one of his most pronounced visions of Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams cloaked in the cinematic vogue of film noir.

Some Men Destroy What They Love Most!

This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying, there are no secrets between us, here at The Last Drive In! See ya soon!

The Film Score Freak Recognizes: Jacqueline Susann’s two tawdry tales-

Valley of the Dolls (1967) & Once is Not Enough (1975)

When you think of lurid melodrama you think of the gloriously gaudy, flashy & trashy Jacqueline Susann! I’ve been sort of in the mood to watch my guilty pleasure filled with flaming divas, drugs, tragic love, screaming in an alley and walking away with your head held high! Valley of the Dolls works as an exposé of three aspiring beauties who each in their own way are catapulted to stardom, but ultimately pay a price…

Considered a film to walk away from in shame, it was the Gay community who resurrected this showy gem and delivered it to cult status!

Valley of the Dolls (1967) directed by Mark Robson and stars the enigmatic raven beauty Barbara Parkins (who suggested Warwick to sing the tearjerker of a theme song), Patty Duke whose performance as Neely O’Hara is a tour de force, Sharon Tate whose tragic fate is eerily played out in her role as Jennifer North,  Susan Hayward and the extraordinary Lee Grant. See my interview here:  LEE GRANT INTERVIEW

I can’t help getting that exquisite punch in the gut feeling when Dionne Warwick sings the 1967 theme song by André and Dory Previn, composed for the film version of the Jacqueline Susann best-selling novel.

All I see when I hear the theme song is Anne Welles (who could only have been portrayed by Barbara Parkins who falls down the rabbit hole of ‘dolls’ and crawls back out, empowered!) her face gazing out the window of the train, envisioning a new sense of self and freedom, we’re also transported by the power and poignancy of Dionne Warwick’s immortal voice. “Gotta get off, Gonna get. Have to get off from this ride.”

Next, another guilty pleasure of mine, is Susann’s more obscure little potboiler Once is Not Enough (1975) directed by Guy Green and screenplay by Julius J. Epstein (Casablanca 1942, Arsenic and Old Lace 1942, The Man Who Came to Dinner 1942). This sensationalist slice of cake stars Kirk Douglas, Alexis Smith, David Janssen (that’s all I need to know) George Hamilton, Greek siren Melina Mercouri, Brenda Vaccaro and Deborah Raffin as January. Filled with incestuous overtones, clandestine lesbian trysts, a May/December romance and the ambiguity of love and ownership, Once is Not Enough is like a cheap wine that still tastes pretty good.

The theme song with a melody that hauls my heart over a melancholy  mountain of emotion is written by prolific composer Henry Mancini.  Hearing it now, still gives me that shiver of nostalgia for everything wonderful about 70s overwrought romantic fiction.

January (Raffin) returns home to New York from Europe. She indulges herself in the subculture of the city and winds up falling in love with writer Tom Colt (Janssen) a jaded older man who replaces the love she feels for her father, Kirk Douglas.

Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the dolls sung by the leading light of pop & soul Dionne Warwick… scored by Andre Previn lyrics by Dory Previn

Jacqueline Susann’s Once is Not Enough score by Henry Mancini

This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying I’m Verklempt at The Last Drive In!

The Film Score Freak – “like a circle in a spiral”

THE WINDMILLS OF YOUR MIND

One of the composers who has always been able to trace my heart to that sentimental place and transport my soul to a romantic kind of ache is Oscar-Winner Michel Legrand.

Norman Jewison (The Cincinnacti Kid (1965), In the Heat of the Night (1967) a gritty racially-charged detective story set in the South starring Sidney Poitier beat out Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate at the Oscars! Another of Jewison’s visually moody films set as nihilistic cautionary tale is Rollerball (1975), And Justice for All (1979), Moonstruck 1987.) directs The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) which is Michel Legrand’s first American soundtrack and includes The Windmills of Your Mind with lyrics by Marilyn and Alan Bergman, performed by Noel Harrison (son of Rex Harrison). It’s an example of the moody romantic melodies you’ll discover in any of Legrand’s soundtracks.

I couldn’t help post this little flavor of music to sample, as I’ve been singing it all morning to my Siamese cat Daisy, while dreaming of the way the 60s decade in film flickered like a pale yellow haze, dreamy, sexy, languid, just for “Kicks” and romantic in it’s more subtle sensuality.

After watching a five hour rough cut of the film, composer Michel Legrand took a six week vacation during which he wrote 90 minutes of music. The film was then reedited to the music, instead of the other way around. If this experiment had failed, Legrand would have written a second score in the traditional way free of charge.

Windmills is an exquisitely evocative melody with lyrics like poetry that shares an intimate partnership with the story, dancing alongside the stunning Faye Dunaway featuring her gazillion fashion changes (Theodora Van Runkle who designed the costumes for Dunaway’s Bonnie and Clyde 1967) and Steve McQueen with his restrained spirit in an arousing stylized cat & mouse heist caper. McQueen plays an independently wealthy bank robber and Dunaway is the insurance investigator on his tail, literally.

Hopefully you’ll vibe on this a bit of Legrand’s genius, and I dare you to listen just once and be able to get it out of your head the rest of the day! Like a circle in a spiral…

Your EverLovin’ Joey sayin’ circle back to The Last Drive In again!

Quote of the Day! My Darling Clementine (1946)

MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946)

“Mac, you ever been in love?”– Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda)

“No, I’ve been a bartender all my life.”– Mac the Barman (J. Farrell MacDonald)

 

I’ve come late to the party, but I finally got my formal introduction to legendary director John Ford by good friend and notable blogger Aurora at Once Upon a Screen. While I’ve always felt that The Grapes of Wrath (1940) to be a cinematic triumph with memorable performances–  one such is the ubiquitous John Carradine as Jim Casy who also appeared in Ford’s Stagecoach is one of my favorites– I didn’t really focus my attentions to the director himself.  My first real exposure to John Ford was through his immensely beautiful film of pure visual poetry How Green Was My Valley (1941), the poignant story by way of voice over reflected upon through the eyes of young Huw played by Roddy McDowall. The narration is told by a now grown up Huw, recounted using the voice of actor/director Irving Pichel, who tells of the lives of a resilient and decent family in a Welsh mining town, who struggle to get by in the midst of often brutal hardships. It is truly one of the most aesthetically moving films I’ve ever seen.

Donald Crisp, Roddy McDowall and Sara Allgood in How Green Was My Valley (1941)

Ford on the set of My Darling Clementine (1946)

Recently we celebrated Ford’s work by watching an exciting western themed double feature, Stagecoach (1939) and My Darling Clementine (1946). Both are striking in their composition as I’m learning how Ford frames everything we see with explicit detail and thoughtful determination. What strikes me as another essential style of Ford is how the peripheral characters –particularly notable in Stagecoach (1939)– fill out the visual narrative with their presence and their valuable expressions as akin to the material faces found in a classical painting. Character actor Jane Darwell who plays Ma Joad in Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath (1940) makes an appearance in My Darling Clementine.

Jane Darwell plays dance hall owner Kate Nelson, which was her second appearance in a John Ford film. Before Clementine, she previously worked with the director who used her as a voice over actor along side Henry Fonda in the war documentary The Battle of Midway (1942). Darwell worked with Ford in 3 Godfathers (1948) as Miss Florie and was cast in several other of his films. Her last appearance as a Ford regular was in The Last Hurrah (1958).

My Darling Clementine deserves a more thoughtful eye and I can see why it is considered one of the greatest movies of all time. I read that this was his last collaboration with Darryl F. Zanuck at Fox, who unfortunately chopped off a half hour of the film. It is included in the AFI’s list of the 400 movies nominated for the Top 100 Greatest American Movies.

Ford paints each scene of his poetic, folkloric romanticism with vast open spaces and fantastical clouds for miles, that are in contrast and simultaneous to intervals of intimacy in shots that appear like still life. If we are not bathed in the bright sky, we witness carefully orchestrated motion or transfixed images through frames within frames lit by glowing sources of light, like fireflies it enhances figures silhouetted in the darker spaces.

each frame, a photograph…

Ford and MacDonald bring about a fairy tale like realism that is meticulously designed to draw your eyes to each frame, capturing a sense of thoughtful contemplation.

While both Stagecoach and My Darling Clementine are considered his masterpieces, the unhurried pacing of Henry Fonda’s Wyatt Earp leads My Darling Clementine through an astonishingly blithe journey, for such a dark story. Fonda’s quietly measured self-assurance and nonchalant humor works as a buoy to ensure that the film is never bogged down in gloomy spirit.

Ford took liberties with the re-telling of the legend of Wyatt Earp -Doc Holliday partnership and the infamous feud between Marshal Wyatt Earp and the ornery Clanton clan (a young John Ireland as Billy Clanton, Grant Withers as Ike) led by monstrous and malicious patriarch Old Man Clanton (Walter Brennan) whose expressions and mean as spit sparse commentary are as potent as a snake bite.

The boundless, dusty panorama of My Darling Clementine is striking with its haunting skies, incomparable rocky buttes and the vast open isolation of the Old West filmed in Monument Valley, Utah. Cinematographer Joseph MacDonald (Panic in the Streets 1950, Pickup on South Street 1952, The Young Lions 1958, Walk on the Wild Side 1962, The Carpetbaggers 1964, The Sand Pebbles 1966) paints a melancholy landscape depicting the American wilderness of the late 1800s.

Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) and his brothers Morgan (Ward Bond) and Virgil (Tim Holt) head into the unruly fatalism of Tombstone, leaving their younger brother James to watch over their herd of cattle. When they get back to the site, the cattle has been stolen and they find James murdered, shot in the back. Wyatt winds up accepting the job of Marshal, with his brothers as deputies. He is determined to hunt down the men who killed his brother. Shortly after taking over as Marshal he meets the bad tempered Doc Holliday (Victor Mature) who drowns himself in booze, has an unrelenting cough and spreads his brooding disposition around Tombstone. Regardless of Doc Holliday’s heavy-hearted yet sympathetic personality, the two become allies.

each frame, a picture…

From the beginning Wyatt strongly suspects the ruthless Clanton gang of killing his brother, especially after he finds James’ medallion on Doc’s current lover, the sensuous saloon gal Chihuahua (Linda Darnell).

Clementine Carter (Cathy Downs) Doc’s former fiancé comes all the way to see her beau but sadly discovers  he has moved on. Wyatt falls in love with the sweet mannered girl while he sets out to quietly avenge his youngest brother’s murder, culminating in the iconic shoot out with the Clantons at the O.K. Corral.

IMDb Trivia

John Ford, who in his youth had known the real Wyatt Earp, claimed the way the OK Corral gunfight was staged in this film was the way it was explained to him by Earp himself, with a few exceptions. Ford met Earp through Harry Carey.

Walter Brennan disliked John Ford so much that he never worked with him again. One time when Brennan was having a little trouble getting into the saddle, Ford yelled, “Can’t you even mount a horse?” Brennan shot back, “No, but I got three Oscars for acting!”

John Ford wanted to shoot in Monument Valley, UT, which had proven to be the perfect site for Stagecoach (1939) and would quickly become his favorite location and the landscape most closely associated with his vision of the Old West. The real town of Tombstone, AZ, however, lies at the southern end of the state, closer to the Arizona-Mexico border. So he had a set for the complete town built at a cost of $250,000. Ford also chose Monument Valley because he wanted to bring some business to the economically depressed Navajo community there

Jeanne Crain was scheduled to play Clementine. Studio head Darryl F. Zanuck ruled against her, writing in a memo that the part was so small that Crain fans might be disappointed by not seeing her in more scenes. That’s how contract player Cathy Downs got the part instead.

Walter Brennan, John Ireland, and Grant Withers were required to do their own riding and shooting in the scene where the clan rides into town during a dust storm. John Ford used a powerful wind machine and told the actors to fire their guns close to the horses’ ears to make them ride wild.

Vincent Price was considered for the role of Doc Holliday.

The movie was featured in the TV series M*A*S*H episode M*A*S*H: Movie Tonight (1977). It was said to have been the favorite movie of Col. Sherman Potter.

Henry Fonda was John Ford’s first and only choice to play Wyatt Earp.

Tyrone Power was an early possibility for Doc Holliday, but for some unknown reason his name was dropped from consideration early in the pre-casting stage. John Ford was enthusiastic about Douglas Fairbanks Jr., telling Darryl F. Zanuck in a memo, “He might be terribly good in it. He would look about the same age as Henry and as it’s a flamboyant role it is quite possible he could kick hell out of it. Think it over well.” He was not happy with Zanuck’s choice, Victor Mature, and he began pressing for Vincent Price instead. However, after meeting with Mature, Ford told Zanuck he was not at all worried about the actor’s performance. He was never very happy, however, with Linda Darnell as Doc’s Mexican spitfire lover.

Sam Peckinpah considered this his favorite Western and paid homage to it in several of his Westerns, including Major Dundee (1965) and The Wild Bunch (1969).

Two actresses considered for the part of Clementine were Fox contract players Anne Baxter and Jeanne Crain. Instead, John Ford was given Cathy Downs, who was an unknown at the time.

This is your everlovin’ Joey sayin’ I’m not lost and gone forever my darlings! See ya soon back at The Last Drive In…

Sure as his name is Boris Karloff… the legend endures: My Chat with Sara Karloff

Last October I had the incredible opportunity to reconnect with Sara Karloff at the Chiller Theater Convention here in New Jersey. It’s really hard to put into words the feeling you get when you’re actually talking to a gracious, elegant, kind, regal and lovely woman who happens to be the daughter of the man you’ve worshiped since a young child.

I met Sara the year before at the same nostalgic celebration of classic, cult film and retro television royalty (The Chiller Theatre Convention) and she invited me to sit with her and talk for a while. At the time, fans were buzzing around trying to get autographs and buying memorabilia with images of her father’s influential work in horror pictures, or should I say ‘terror’ pictures, as Boris would refer to those kinds of narratives in film.

Boris Karloff will forever be remembered for bringing Mary Shelley’s existential monster to life, embodied with pathos and empathy. Karloff is the infinite soul of the monster. His character was my introduction to horror films and to a whole new world where I experienced a sense of belonging. Meeting Sara was the closest I could ever get to my hero Boris Karloff. I truly never imagined I would have the honor of connecting in this way, with the great man who changed my perceptions by opening up my heart to love the mysteries of life and the thrill of being both scared and delighted.

So there I sat with this striking, dignified woman who shared and shares her life with my idol, Boris Karloff, who appear in over 200 films and television programs during his legendary career. He will always be the never-ending expression of a genre that refuses– like Frankenstein’s monster– to die. Part of Karloff’s great legacy is how he brought us all together and gave horror fans a hero.

During the reign of Universal’s claim to what would become the most famous monsters in cinematic history, Karloff elevated the studio’s output with his limitless beauty by interpreting the genre through great instinct and intellect, not just in James Whale’s tragic monster in Frankenstein 1931 but as Imhotep in The Mummy 1932.

A few of my favorite Boris Karloff films are three of Val Lewton’s psychological metaphors of fear where he showed the range of his acting skills. The masterpieces Bedlam, Isle of the Dead, and The Body Snatcher were sparked ‘alive’ by his gentle soul and his ability to dive into authentically sinister roles manifesting truly dark, menacing fiends and yet it was the exact opposite of who he was in real life, a fine English gentleman who possessed grace and kindness.

Boris as Cabman John Gray in Val Lewton’s The Body Snatcher (1945) directed by Robert Wise

Boris as General Nikolas Pherides in Val Lewton/Mark Robson’s Isle of the Dead (1945)

Some of my favorite performances are the set of three films, The Black Cat 1934, The Raven 1935 and The Invisible Ray 1936, all co-starring Bela Lugosi. These pictures too, showcased Karloff’s ability to elicit chills on a wholly deeper level possessing a true passion and understanding for creating thoughtful scary stories. He could be imposing as the crazed Morgan in The Old Dark House 1932, playing twin brothers good & evil in The Black Room 1935, the tragic pianist framed for murder in The Walking Dead 1936. And I adore his more sympathetic and benevolent characters as well — Before I hang 1940, The Devil Commands 1941, Corridors of Blood 1958, and The Haunted Strangler 1958.

Boris in James Whale’s The Old Dark House (1932)

Boris and Bela in Ulmer’s The Black Cat (1934)

Boris and Bela in The Raven (1935)

Boris Karloff as John Ellman in Michael Curtiz’s The Walking Dead (1936)

Boris as Dr. Janos Rukh in Lambert Hillyer’s The Invisible Ray (1946)

Boris as Dr. Julian Blair in The Devil Commands (1945) directed by Edward Dmytryk

Boris as Dr. Bolton in Corridors of Blood (1958)

I’ve enjoyed his films since I was a girl, and I continually watch everything in his long body of work, as I never tire of seeing his incredible talent, his serious portrayals and his wonderful light that shines through every performance. He has many layers to his persona, but his class, kindness, and thoughtful embrace of the work that are ever present. Boris has the unparalleled ability to Immortalize the sinister only to be counterbalanced by his divine power in other roles, to draw out our sympathy. He will always be the eternal paradoxical face of terror and gentility.

Sara and I had the most warm and welcoming conversation over the course of that day, and I had the chance to tell her about my deep and abiding affection for her dad. I was in a sparkling daze, because I felt like I was talking to her father as well, and I believe she enjoyed spending time with me too. Sara Karloff is so gracious and delightful about her devotion to her father’s fan’s.

One little part of our exchange at Chiller…

I told her, “He elevated each film to a higher level because of the quality of his acting, the dimension to his emotional output, his body language and that exquisite voice. A soft and dream like tone that is both calming and poetic.

His legacy is that he brought honor to the genre of horror. He contributed to the world an incredible body of work, and he will be remembered so dearly by so many of his. I wasn’t exaggerating when I said I wished he had been my grandfather.“ She replied, “He would have like that, he would have been my grandfather.” The words shot through me with warmth and the joy of awaking from a wonderful dream. Because she meant it.

I told her, “He exuded such a gentility, that even with his most brutal characterizations in film, you always knew it was the actor of the man. And quite the grand actor he was. I wanted to mention, how much his voice is so unique. He has a depth, and a pathos that no other actor possesses.”

She replied, “You are correct about his voice. It was remarkable. It not only was his British accent, but the way he could soothe you or scare you with his voice. He was indeed a fine actor and a wonderful human being.”

We had a longer conversation that day, laughing and talking about contributions he made to dramatic television performances aside from the collection of well-remembered films, from silents to drama, his films were not exclusive to the horror genre. Talking about Boris makes me dewy and teary eyed, explaining what I think about his great body of work and the legacy he left us as one of the most memorable cultural icons.

Even though he is the recognized face of ‘horror’, early on Boris Karloff acted in many different films with varying scenarios and narratives that weren’t connected to the classical horror genre. James Whale’s Frankenstein for Universal was Boris Karloff’s 81st picture. He had done theatre and dramatic films, like Howard Hawks’ The Criminal Code 1930 where his brilliant performance as Galloway had a particularly restrained hostility. As neither a monster or bad guy, he created a figure of dark and shadowy apprehension.

He also appeared in the ultra violent Scarface 1932  for Howard Hawks. Aside from being the host of CBS’s Thriller anthology series, where he opened up each episode with his own ominous epilogues for Thriller with his cheeky sense of humor, “Sure as my name is Boris Karloff — this is a thriller!”

Boris’ droll epilogue to Thriller episode Roses Last Summer starring Mary Astor

My most favorite performances were his collaborations with Val Lewton. They are psychological in tone and gave Karloff the highly layered characterizations that allowed him to reveal his dynamic versatility surpassing his monster image in the Universal cycle of horror films. Lewton gave Karloff a place to flex his subtlety of the human psyche and how we all struggle with light and darkness of the soul and he captured that nuance brilliantly. While Universal excelled by manifesting corporeal monsters, Val Lewton played on the monsters of the mind. Here Boris was able to convey these darker complex personalities with depth. Lewton used elements of dark and light within us all, and Boris Karloff was a master at dancing between the shadows of Val Lewton’s complex vision.

And that is what he managed to portray within Jack Pierce’s make up for Frankenstein’s monster. Beneath the fierce snarling innocent that rose from death and was born into a cruel world, judged by his ugliness and his otherness, Karloff imbued the monster with a sadness that evoked pity. He could transmit that to us, through his eyes and his thoughtful movements.

Since the last time we spoke, Sara and I have maintained a connection and I had the great privilege of continuing our conversation where I got to discuss her iconic father a bit more. If COVID-19 hadn’t thrown the world into chaos and changed how we now interact with each other, this month would have been another wonderful celebration- spending the day together regaling Boris Karloff’s career and the man himself.

Sara: Hello

Jo: Hello, Sara?

Sara: Uh-huh

Jo: Hi, it’s Jo Gabriel. How are you feeling?

Sara: I’m better, thank you. I’m still recovering but I’m better.

Jo: Yes, you sound a little bit better.

Sara: Yes, I am. I’m listening to your CD.

Jo: You are! And?

Sara: I am enjoying it immensely!

Jo: Oh, that’s good! I wanted you to like it.

Sara: Oh, it’s marvelous.

Jo: Oh, good!

Sara: It’s so relaxing and it’s so autumnal (I never can say that word). And it’s just like walking through the woods and it’s like listening to a brook babble. It’s just wonderful.

Jo: Are you feeling up to doing a little talking about your Dad?

Sara: Sure, I’d be glad to.

Jo: Ok, wonderful, because as I said, I’m going to start delving into his career and really doing a very extensive feature on him on my website. And in order to do that it’s going to take some time and some research and I really want to do a good job.

Sara: Oh, I’m sure you will.

Jo: Thank you. It’s a labor of love and I think it’s about time that I do it. And now that we have this connection I thought it would be good to include a little conversation with you about a few things I am curious about.

Sara: Ok, that’s fine.

Jo: So, you know, you and I when we were sitting and talking at Chiller, we talked a little bit about how your father loved working with Val Lewton.

Sara: Yes, indeed, he did.

Jo: Yes, Lewton’s work is very visual like poetry and I think a lot of the films showcase the depth of your dad’s versatility as an actor. His performances in those particular films were extraordinary. Do you want to tell me a little bit again about how he felt working with Lewton?

Sara: Well, I think I can only say what I’ve read and heard but my father said that working with Val Lewton and his films saved his soul. You know, he had made so many – well he made 3 Frankenstein films and then by the time he made the Val Lewton films the quality of the films being offered had really diminished. And he said that working with Val Lewton was such a joy. It was such a pleasure and such a joy because he and Lewton got along so beautifully. They were both well-educated and well-read men. And they enjoyed one another’s company. And those scripts were well written and well directed and well shot and well lit. And they were in black and white and they were suspenseful. And he and Val became good friends and my father really enjoyed doing those high-quality films after some of the ones he’d been doing. And they were well-received by the public. They’ve stood the test of time. My father got to certainly prove his acting skills. He enjoyed working with the other actors, working with good scripts. It just was a joy for my father to make those 3 films.

Jo: Yes I was going to ask about that. I know director Mark Robson and director Robert Wise were both really accomplished directors, but is there one particular film out of the three? I mean, I love Bedlam and thought that was extraordinary. But is there one that he talked about more?

Sara: You know my father didn’t talk about his work and he didn’t bring it home. But I do know that he was really very very pleased to have that opportunity. But I never heard him state a preference amongst those 3 films.

Jo: Well that’s interesting and I’m not surprised that Val Lewton was one of his favorites, favorite body of work to put his stamp on. So the other thing I was wondering – I have something written here. It says “Boris Karloff’s gentility and grace show through the monster, the Frankenstein’s monster. Which is partly why he’s so transcendent in that role, because of his embodiment of the monster. And I really think he, the monster, was beloved by your father and beloved by the fans. And he knew when to leave that character with dignity. Can you tell me a bit about his feeling about that role?

Sara: Well, you know, that role made such a pivotal difference in his life both personally and professionally. And he was forever grateful for that difference. And he felt a certain debt of gratitude to that role. He often would in tongue-and-cheek refer to the monster as his best friend. He did say the monster was the best friend any actor could ever have because it made such a huge difference in his life. But, it was his decision to stop playing that role after those 3 films because he felt that the storyline had been developed as far as it could or should be before it fell apart and before the creature became the brunt of bad scripts and bad jokes, as it did. And he just didn’t want to be a part of that because he did feel a debt of gratitude. My father was a very gracious human being. A very gentlemanly human being. He was an English gentleman with a very self-effacing sense of humor. He understood and portrayed the creature with a sense of pathos and elicited empathetic reactions from those viewers at that time. And he said that children got it. They understood the creature was the victim and not the perpetrator, and any acts of violence were reactions more than proactive. So, that’s the way he played it and that’s the way the audience perceived it.

Jo: Yes, and that was my introduction into horror films was feeling that sympathy towards his characterization and feeling empathy and feeling like I was on his side. And he was provoked and he didn’t do anything wrong, he didn’t even ask to be here. And just feeling that kind of camaraderie with the “other.” He evoked that in children and I think we’re all grateful to him for that.

Sara: Well, I think that is the reaction that his roles elicited and that was how he intended to play it. And I think that there were times when James Whale wanted a bit harsher performance and my father stuck to his guns.

Jo: Good, good! And he was right. It was good instincts.

Sara: I think it is proven to be so in cinema history.

Jo: Absolutely. He’s one of the most iconic figures. I think that’s why it’s so eternal and it’s because he was definitely right. And I think that anybody else who might’ve played Frankenstein’s monster, it would have been a who different ballgame.

Sara: Well, it would’ve been a different portrayal. And who knows if it would’ve been better. It would have been different. That’s all one can say.

Jo: Ehhh, I don’t know if it would’ve been better but I’m partial [laughs].

Sara: Well, you know it would’ve been different. [laughs] That’s all we can bet on.

Jo: [laughs] Yes, that’s for sure. Another thing that we talked about was his involvement with the television anthology show Thriller that he hosted and starred in 6 episodes. And he seemed to love his work on that. And his little introductions like little soliloquies, were so wonderful. Can we talk a little about that?

Sara: Oh, sure! He loved doing that show and he was proud of it. And again they were some of the best writers and actors and directors of the time involved with that show. And it was a fine, fine production. I mean, people like Ida Lupino, I mean you can look at the jackets for each show and recognize the names today…

Jo: Yes, John Brahm. They had a host of good writers and actors, and the character actors were wonderful.

Sara: They were indeed. And then as you said, my father’s introduction to each was a bit, not really tongue-in-cheek, but he had a good time doing them.

Jo: And you could see that he really did. And you could see in the beginning they were trying to figure out where they wanted the show to go. Whether it was going to be more crime thriller like Alfred Hitchcock or if it should be more supernatural. And I think once your father took over and started doing the hosting I think it really went in the right direction.

Sara: Well it did indeed. And it captured a large piece of the audience, the viewing audience. And gave Hitch a run for his money.

Jo: Oh yes, I know. I had heard there was something where Hitchcock extended his show to an hour to try to compete with Thriller because it was doing these 50 minute episodes that were like little movies. So I heard there was some kind of, I guess, competition between the two. But I thought Thriller was very unique and very self contained and had it’s own thing going for it. You know I was reading that Boris worked on something like 80 pictures and stage performances before he landed the role of Frankenstein’s monster.

Sara: It was his 81st film.

Jo: Yes, it was his 81st film. That’s incredible. And I was reading in particular that he did a lot of work with director Howard Hawks where he worked on The Criminal Code and Scarface. I know he didn’t bring home his work or talk about it, but it is fascinating that there’s this whole other aspect of him before he played the monster.

Sara: He did a lot of silents, and a lot of serials. He referred to himself as having been an extra 3rd from the left in the 4th row. He was in the business 10 years and nobody knew it. And 20 years, 10 years in British Columbia in theatre and then 10 years in Hollywood. And as he said Frankenstein was his 81st film and nobody saw the first 80.

Jo: [laughs] Right, right. But now they do. Now they go and they revisit a lot of his work, I know I do.

Sara: And they’re trying to redo some of his silents and put them back together.

Jo: Oh, that’s wonderful.

Sara: Yes, that’ll be fun if they’re able to do that.

Jo: Yes, that would be wonderful. Last year, the year before this one, when we first met, we had a good laugh about the picture The Raven which your father costarred in with Vincent Price and Basil Rathbone and how they used to play practical jokes on one another. Do you remember the story you told? They were playing tricks on the set and I just don’t remember quite all of it…

Sara: Well one of the… I can’t remember which of the two films it was, Basil was put in a vat and they thrown all sorts of awful things into that vat of water like cigarette butts and I don’t remember what else. And then they sat one it when he was in there and wouldn’t let him out.

Jo: [laughs] Oh my goodness! So were they always doing things like that?

Sara: Well that’s one example, I don’t know all of them. A lot of them are lost to history. And I know that Peter Lorre had a tendency to not learn his lines and adlibbed which drove my father crazy.

Jo: Oh, really? Oh that’s interesting [laughs].

Sara: And Vincent was much better at handling that than my father. My father was a stickler for himself learning lines and speaking on cue. And Peter, I guess, drove everybody crazy, including Roger Corman, because he didn’t learn his lines and he adlibbed a lot.

Jo: Wow, right. You’d think that Roger Corman would encourage adlibbing because he would just go for broke. He’d do anything on the set. And I could see Vincent Price being… he was a bit of a jokester too, so…

Sara: Oh yes, all of them where. All of them had a wonderful sense of humor.
Jo: Yeah, they must’ve had a fantastic time together as an ensemble of actors with each bringing their own thing to the table.

Sara: Oh, indeed and they had such a good time working together because they’d know each other all for years and respected one another professionally, and liked each other personally. And having a chance to spoof their own boogeyman images in these films was a great treat.

Jo: Yes, definitely. Well I have just one more question for you. Beyond being one of the most beloved icons, he’s definitely the finest caliber of actor. And I think he transcends the ideology of the horror genre.

Sara: Oh yeah, he did some comedy and he guest stared on an enormous number of television shows of the day. He did some drama. He did a Joseph Conrad with Roddy McDowell and he did all sorts of things.

Jo: Oh yes, I’ve seen that performance and it was actually an extraordinary performance. Well, one of the things that strikes me about him is that he gives a very emotional and thoughtful contemplation on the human condition. He seems to tap into—in the most subtle ways—people’s personalities and the inner machinations of people in his performances. And that’s probably why the Val Lewton films were so important to him because they were very psychological and suggestive. But this is the question, and I don’t know if you can answer it. What do you think your father would want his greatest legacy to be?

Sara: Oh, I can’t really answer that. I think that he was a man of integrity and kindness.

Jo: And that’s it. That’s his legacy. Because that’s what seems to remain. I always hear how gentle he was and how gracious he was with the people he worked with. Well, then, putting it this way his legacy definitely lives on through that and through his timeless work. And you travel all over as a curator of his memory. Are there things you hear quite often or most commonly about your father’s legacy? Is there one common thing that comes up when you speak to his fans about him?

Sara: Ah, that he was so different than the roles he played. That he was a man of great kindness and gentleness. And how different that was from his roles. And that he had a sense of humor.

Jo: Well, that’s what strikes me about him. And I say this to you honestly that when I see him, whenever he comes on the screen, I cry because I feel his gentleness coming through. No matter what he’s playing. He could be playing the most nefarious sinister character and yet I know that he’s Boris Karloff and I know he’s acting and I get into the film. But it makes me cry because I feel like there is such a greatness there. And it comes through. And I mean it that I really wished he was my grandfather [laughs].

Sara: [laughs] Well, he was a lovely man, he really was. He was a lovely human being.

Jo: I wish I could have met him. I mean I feel close to him in a way because we’re talking and I see his legacy lives through you. And you keep that alive…

Sara: Well, his fans keep it alive. His fans keep his legacy alive. For which I am extremely grateful.,

Jo: Yes, but you keep it alive too. You do a great job of reminding us that he gave us you and…

Sara: And he gave us his body of work.

Jo: Yes, he did that too. And I will always love him…

Sara: Well, that’s wonderful to hear certainly as his daughter.

Jo: I really want to thank you for spending this time talking with me about him. And I think that the fans are absolutely going to love it. And you have my music to keep you company.

Sara: I do indeed. Thank you so much. It’s just beautiful, I’m enjoying it immensely.

Jo: Thank you, I love playing piano. That’s one of my great passions.

Sara: Well, you can tell from your music.

Jo: Thank you.

Sara: How long have you been playing?

Jo: Since I was 8 years old. For many years I taught myself how to play.

Sara: Did you really?

Jo: Yes, I was going to be trained as a classical pianist and I did have recommendations to Juilliard. But I chose to play my own music and not go the classical route. And I’m happy for that because I play my own work. And I don’t think not training hurt me any…

Sara: Oh heavens, no. It’s beautiful.

Jo: Yes, I wanted to find my own way. And I’m very proud of it.

Sara: Well, I can see why, thank you for sharing it with me.

Jo: Thanks for letting me share it with you. Use it for your healing and I’ll be in touch with you. I’ll send you the finished piece but we’ll speak before that.

Sara: That’s great, thank you so very very much.

Jo: You’re welcome and thank you for spending time.

This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying Grandpa Boris’ Feature tribute is coming your way!