A Happy Valentine’s to Kathryn Leigh Scott and the legacy of the romantic, tragic figure of Maggie Evans & Josette Dupree 🧡
“I know that you are dead, but still you are alive. I’m not afraid of you, only of living without you.” -Josette to Barnabas
One of the more recent primal rituals we find ourselves indulging in these days is the act of ‘binge watching’ a series in order to escape what ever it is any of us might feel the need to break free from. Though, I grew up in the 1960s and can remember sitting close to our large Magnavox television console when Dark Shadows would come into view on the tv screen, I’d be instantly drawn to composer Robert Colbert‘s evocative score and that symbolic opening with the tumultuous waves crashing beneath the titles. I was lucky enough to watch the show unfold on air in reel time in 1966. It originally aired weekdays on the ABC television network, from June 27, 1966, to April 2, 1971 before the series went into syndication.
It is significant to note that Dark Shadows is one of the few classic television soap operas to have all of its episodes survive intact except one.
In 1966 on June 27th, the prolific master of the macabre Dan Curtis debuted his Gothic soap opera series Dark Shadows – the show still has it’s faithful cult following and had started a mania and love affair with it’s viewers. Dark Shadows was saluted as the first daytime drama styled in the Gothic novel tradition. A spooky, cultivated, suspenseful weekly half hour chamber pieces, that reverberated with Gothic fable like overtones becoming a pop culture phenomenon. The premise centered around the wealthy and tormented inhabitants of the mysterious Collinwood that had a pall that hung over the great estate besieged by curses and dark forces and supernatural narratives. The powerful and self indulgent Collins family, whose ancestors founded Collinsport Maine a small fishing village are seemingly haunted and always on the brink of destruction by scandal and supernatural scourge. Throughout the centuries, generations of the Collins family have their very own built in vengeful spirits and malefic curses. In 1967, when the series faced cancellation, Jonathan Frid joins the cast as the sympathetic vampire Barnabas Collins and revives the show. With it’s 1897 storyline featuring David Selby, as Quentin Collins draws a viewership of 20 million fans. In 1970 MGM released a feature motion picture Night of Dark Shadows. The show became syndicated in 1975 and in 1982 reruns began airing for the first time on PBS. In 1992 reruns on the Sci-Fi Channel ran until 2001, airing the entire run of 1,225 episodes.
Kathryn Leigh Scott and Dan Curtis on the set of House of Dark Shadows (1970)
On the set of the major motion picture spinoff of Dark Shadows-House of Dark Shadows (1970) Kathryn Leigh Scott, Roger Davis and Grayson Hall.
Down the road, I intend on covering in depth all the mythos and classical literary allusions to the groundbreaking show itself here at The Last Drive In. The marvelous cast and crew, the prolific elements of mystery, the supernatural and fantasy, that threaded the show with frightening motifs, melodramatic dread and tragic narratives, tributes to legendary nightmarish tales of the occult, Gothic romantic novels and the paranormal, even Bill Baird’s little bat puppet that made up the shadowy world of Dark Shadows!
For now, like Barnabas Collins I long to show some love for the beautiful woman who captured his heart and ours, Kathryn Leigh Scott as Maggie Evans & Josette DuPrés.
“I refuse to be stereotyped. Look at me. Never mind my color. Please look at me!”
WHY ISN’T THERE A BIOPIC OF DIANA SANDS’ LIFE?
I can’t help being drawn to Diana Sands’ startling equilibrium, her fire. Her complex and multi-layered performances. I see her as a Black Woman. I see her as a woman. I see her as ubiquitous. Diana Sands refused to be typecast in roles that were confining and dishonest. I can imagine that she forged an inroad that would later influence incredible dramatic Black actresses like Alfre Woodard or Angela Bassett, women who exude that similar fire and vibrancy from the depths of their souls.
I think of Diana Sands and I think of an inner strength that burns it’s way to the surface until it’s so bright you feel it pierce your skin. There is an essence of a powerfully self-possessed woman who broke ground with her captivating performances in the early 1960s to the mid 1970s. I don’t like the phrase “color blind” it evokes an irresponsibility not to see inequality. But that is not what Diana Sands is saying in her quote. That’s not what she is asking of us.
So I am using her own words but want to be clear about how I feel in this post honoring one of the great actresses of all time during Black History Month. We need to recognize each other. It’s essential not to try and erase any aspect of who we are and we need to be conscious of those differences in a positive way, while we embrace what we all have in common and can relate to universally.
Diana Sands had to fend off the offensive scrutiny, the “mysogynoir‘ of being referred to by some 70s critics -one whose name I refuse to even give a moment’s attention here except to pluck out two terms from the ignorant context of his entire, misguided and disrespectful review. Who referred to her role as “cute” in terms of her being a Black woman trying to find herself and “afrocentric” in her performance as Beneatha Younger (A Raisin in the Sun). What she was, was a dynamic, courageous woman who aspired to become a doctor. That isn’t cute. That is the story of real passion and possibility and a god-given right.
Diana Sands as Beneatha Younger, seen here with Claudia McNeil, Ruby Dee, Sidney Poitier and Ivan Dixon.
As a white woman writing this post I want to just say one more thing. We need to see our own privilege and not be afraid to acknowledge that racism exists. I hope I am a good ally and when I pay tribute to a person of color, that I remain mindful to honor them fully and respectfully. I do see Diana Sands color. I see it as a strength and a dignity in all her pioneering roles. I see her emerge from a sea of white faces. She will not be marginalized, stereotyped and shut out of the conversation.
I began to follow Diana Sands’ career years ago, compelled by her dramatic, electrifying presence in film and in television. Growing up in New York, I wish my theatre mother would have taken me to see her on stage. She is remembered for her striking performance as Beneatha Younger in Lorraine Hansberry‘s play A Raisin in the Sun about the struggles of a poor black family from the side south of Chicago who have to decide about the direction their lives will take- “What Happens to a Dream Deferred?”
What happens to a dream deferred? by Langston Hughes
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
The title A Raisin in the Sun was inspired by Langston Hughes’ powerful poem. The inspirational masterpiece that is A Raisin in the Sun is made all the more remarkable by the performances of the ensemble cast and standing out for me, though Poitier always grabs me by the guts and strums my heart strings, is his progressive sister Beneatha brought to life by Diana Sands with instinctual contemplation that was her acting style.
She was marvelous as sassy Fanny Johnson, married to a Black activist Copee (Louis Gossett Jr.) in Hal Ashby’s (Harold and Maude 1971, The Last Detail 1973, Being There 1979) The Landlord 1970. The story of Elgar Enders a young wealthy white New Yorker (Beau Bridges) who buys a tenement building in a low-income neighborhood afflicted by white-flight and going through gentrification. Elgar Intends to evict the black residents so he can turn it into a luxury apartment building and live there all by himself. The cast is rich with superb performances by Pearl Baily, Mel Stewart, Lee Grant, Louis Gossett Jr, and Marki Bey as Lanie. In Ashby’s thought provoking method, it’s an interesting meditation on race during the close of the 1960s.
Diana appeared in innovative television dramas, such as the innovative socially conscious series East Side/West Side 1963-1964 that dealt realistically with social problems. The gritty series starred Cicely Tyson, George C. Scott, and Elizabeth Wilson as social workers in 1960s New York City. Sands appeared on several episodes of the 1960s series The Doctors and the Nurses which I am desperately waiting for it to somehow be released on disc. The groundbreaking series surrounded the lives of nurses who in their daily lives confront socially relevant issues. Diana Sands even graced one of my favorite television series The Outer Limits in 1964 as Dr. Julie Harrison in the episode “The Mice”. She also played Dr. Marylou Neeley who went head to head with Chad Everett (who always wore clogs and his scrubs 2 sized too small, but who would mind!) in Medical Center’s episode “The Nowhere Child”. She appeared as Nurse Helen Straughn having an affair with Richard Crenna in George Schaefer’s pulpy Doctors’ Wives 1971, and as Cora in Willie Dynamite 1974 the title played by Roscoe Orman, a nasty piece of work who has a license plate that says Willie on the front and Dynamite on the back! As Cora, Diana Sands played a prostitute turned social worker who helps other prostitutes get out of jail and find a better life, while also trying to battle the badass pimp Willie who is smacking women around.
I am trying to track down a copy of An Affair of the Skin 1963 co-starring Viveca Lindfors and Lee Grant, LOVE them both, and Georgia, Georgia 1972 written by Maya Angelou. If anyone has a lead on where I can purchase either film please drop me a note here at The Last Drive In.
Diana Sands Broke Barriers In Theater and On The Big Screen
“If youre familiar with Sands work at all, its probably owing to her memorable portrayal of Beneatha, the Younger familys willful, progressive aspiring doctor, in the 1961 film adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. But by then, she had already established herself as a living walking testament to the power of risk-taking. Sands grew up in the Bronx with working class parents, her father a carpenter, her mother hatmaker. After high school graduation, she toured with a carnival before returning to New York and joining Greenwich Mews, a multicultural theatre repertory. She worked night jobs to survive, before scoring her first theatre roles (one of the earliest was the stage production of A Raisin in the Sun). By 1964, her star was rapidly rising. She won an Obie for the play, Living Premise, and a Tony nomination for her role in James Baldwins Blues for Mr. Charlie.
This was also the year that Sands became a pioneer in colorblind casting as one of the first ever actresses to earn a role intended for a white actress, without any line rewriting to explain or accommodate her race. She played opposite Alan Alda as his love interest as a would-be actress to his would-be writer. When the film was adapted for screen, Barbra Streisand was cast in her role, but by that time, shed already garnered a great deal of positive press and audience notice. Television came a-courtin and she eventually earned two Emmy nominations. Sands acted through the sixties in various theatre and TV roles. In 1970, she scored her first costarring film role in Hal Ashbys The Landlord. But the early 70s would mark the end of a steady and promising rise toward superstardom.”
Diana Sands was born in New York City, the Bronx to be exact, on August 22, 1934. She was a student at the New York City High School for the Performing Arts and a member of the Actor’s Studio. Nominated twice for a Tony Award and twice for an Emmy. She took risks and challenged racial barriers taking on roles that traditionally would have been performed by white actresses. She also fought against a system that marginalized black actors and their roles, becoming a driving force that saw an integration of the cast members.
In 1953 Diana made her debut in the off-Broadway play “An Evening with Will Shakespeare” She went on to appear in George Bernard Shaw’s “Major Barbara” in 1954, also performing in the theatrical production of “The World of Sholem Aleichem.”
Her striking work is notable as she is the first Black actress to be cast in a major Broadway play. Cast in “Land Beyond the River” in 1957 and then appearing in “The Egg and I” in 1958.
It was in 1959 that Diana Sands made her memorable debut as the astonishingly nuanced Beneatha Younger in Raisin in the Sun, in which she won the Outer Circle Critics’ Award, eventually manifesting that magnetic performance in director Daniel Petrie’s (Resurrection 1980) film adaptation co-starring Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil and Ivan Dixon.
And I want to give a shout out to the incredible contribution by fine actress Claudia McNeil(Bernice Sadie Brown in Member of the Wedding 1958for The Dupont Show of the Month, Mrs. Quincy in The Last Angry man 1959, Mrs. Hill in television series The Doctors and The Nurses 1963, Madam in There Was a Crooked Man 1970, Odessa Carter in Incident in San Francisco 1971 tv movie, Granny Marshall in Tv’s Mod Squad 1972, Sara in Moon of the Wolf 1972 tv movie, Mu’ Dear in Black Girl 1972, To Be Young, Gifted and Black 1972 tv movie, Ethel Hanson in Cry Panic 1974 tv movie, Big Ma in Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry 1978, Sister Will Ada Barnett in Roots: The Next Generation 1979) as the matriarch, Lena Younger in A Raisin in the Sun. An extraordinary actress herself who deserves the spotlight too. Partly what worked for Hansberry’s story is the chemistry and confluence of the entire cast.
Diana Sands returned to the stage in 1962 appearing in “Tiger Tiger Burning Bright.”
In 1964 she took on two outstanding roles onstage as Juanita in James Baldwin’s “Blues for Mr. Charlie” she was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a play. She co-starred with Alan Alda as Doris W. in the The Owl and the Pussycat, originally offered to Kim Stanley another actress I find mesmerizing to watch, when Stanley was unavailable, with the script intentionally not re-written for a Black woman went to Diana Sands and once again she nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.
In 1968, she was back on stage at the Vivien Beaumont Theater as the first Black woman to play Saint Joan of Arc in George Bernard Shaw’s play “St. Joan.”
In the beginning of the 1970s Diana Sands among other notable Black actors such as Ossie Davis and Brock Peters, who wanted to feature more positive roles for African-Americans in films, and so they founded Third World Cinema. One of their first productions was the film Georgia, Georgia written by Maya Angelou. Diana Sands plays Georgia Martin a Black woman artist struggling to find herself.
From a New York Times article printed in Feb 1971, A.H. Weiler writes that Third World Cinema Corporation founder and President actor/director Ossie Davis planned on filming The Billie Holiday Story which would have starred Diana Sands. How incredible would that have been.
In hopes of creating an independent film corporation, Sands and her colleagues hoped to ensure that there would be better opportunities for positive portrayals of African-American and People of Color, that would ensure films that presented Black actors with outstanding roles that were versatile and representational rather than stereotypes and limiting. “A group of black and Puerto Rican actors, writers and directors, backed by union leaders and public officials, have joined to form the minority‐controlled Third World Cinema Corporation, an independent company that plans to produce feature films and train minority group members in the film and television fields.”
Above image from the movie, Georgia, Georgia 1972.
In 1974 Diana Sands was ready to take on the role of Claudine, tragically suffering at this point with pancreatic cancer she was too ill by this time, and the part went to friend Diahann Carroll.
As Beaneatha Younger in 1959 A Raisin in the Sun, as Adelaide Smith in Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright 1962 (Theatre World Award), The Living Premise 1963 (Obie Award Distinguished Performance), Doris W. The Owl and the Pussycat 1964, Juanita in Blues for Mr. Charlie 1964, The Premise 1965, as Ruth in We Bombed in New Haven 1968, as Cassandra in Tiger at the Gates 1968, as Joan in Saint Joan 1968, The Gingham Dog 1969.
As Dr. Julie Harrison in The Outer Limits “The Mice” 1964, in East Side/West Side 1963-1964 as Jane Foster “It’s War, Man and Ruth Goodwin in “Who Do You Kill?” As Sara Harris in Breaking Point 1964. As nurse Ollie Sutton three episodes of The Doctors and The Nurses 1962-1964 and Andrea Jagger in the episode “Night Shift”. In four episodes as Irene Rush along side James Earl Jones (whose wife she played in East Side/West Side episode Who Do You Kill?) In Dr. Kildare 1964, as Dr. Rachel Albert in I Spy 1966 “Turkish Delight”, as Davala Unawa in The Fugitive 1967 “Dossier on a Diplomat” as as Mrs. May Bishop in Bracken’s World 1970 “Will Freddie’s Real Father Please Stand Up” as Cousin Sara in 5 episodes of Julia 1970-1971, as Dr. Marylou Neeley in Medical Center 1971 “The Nowhere Child.”
As Nurse Ollie Sutton from the episode “Imperfect Prodigy” – The Doctors and The Nurses 1964 television series
As Ruth Goodwin in the episode “Who Do You Kill?” from the television series East Side/West Side 1963
As Davala Unawa in The Fugitive 1967 “Dossier on a Diplomat
As Dr. Julie Harrison in The Outer Limits episode “The Mice” 1964
As Dr. Marylou Neeley in Medical Center 1971 “The Nowhere Child.”
As Fanny in Hal Ashby’s The Landlord 1970
As Helen in Doctors’ Wives 1971
As Cora Williams in Willie Dynamite 1974
Appearing in two extraordinary films, Diana Sands still stood out…
Uncredited as a homeless woman in Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd 1957, uncredited as a club hostess in Odds Against Tomorrow 1959, as Beneatha Younger in A Raisin in the Sun 1961, as Janice in An Affair of the Skin 1963, as Mila in Ensign Pulver 1964, as Fanny in The Landlord 1970, Helen Straughn in Doctors’ Wives 1971, as Georgia Martin in Georgia, Georgia1972, as Nancy Newman in The Living End (tv movie) 1972, as Cora Williams who co-stars with Thalmus Rasulala (Dr. Gordon Thomas in Blacula 1972) in Willie Dynamite 1974 and as Laura Lewis in Honeybaby, Honeybaby 1974.
Thank you Diana Sands… You touch me with your powerful presence and I am deeply saddened that you left us at age 39, so young, too soon, and I wonder what might have been.
Directed by Bob Clark (Porky’s 1981, A Christmas Story 1983) Screenplay by Roy Moore (She Cried Murder 1973 tv movie) Cinematographer Reginald H. Morris (When Michael Calls 1972 tv movie, The Food of the Gods 1976, Murder by Decree 1979, Phobia 1980, A Christmas Story 1983)
Reg Morris’ cinematography brings the shadowy moodiness that was the atmospheric style of When Michael Calls a suspenseful made for tv movie in the early 1970s. Cinematographer Albert J. Dunk created Billy’s POV shots by rigging up a camera harness that would mount the camera on his shoulder as he walked about the house and climbed the trellis and attic ladder himself.
Ironically, Clark who has created a deeply dark and disturbing tale set during Christmas, is responsible for one of the most authentically nostalgic, witty and whimsical tributes to Christmas, the most beloved A Christmas Story. For a director to create the most splendid narrative that reminisces about a more innocent time, it remains a huge cult indulgence every Holiday Season, as we all collectively love to watch Ralph maneuver through the obstacles in his way of getting a Red Rider BB gun. Darren McGavin is brilliant as his old man whose expletives are still floating over Lake Michigan, and the soft glow of electric sex in the window from that fabulously kitschy leg lamp. We’ve got one giving off that soft glow as I write this.
Black Christmasstars Olivia Husseyas Jess Bradford, Keir Dulleaas Peter Smythe, Margot Kidder as Barbara. Marian Waldman (When Michael Calls 1972 tv movie, Deranged 1974, Phobia 1980) as Mrs. MacHenry, Andrea Martin as Phyl, James Edmond as Mr. Harrison, Douglas McGrath as Sergeant Nash, Art Hindle as Chris, Lynn Griffin as Clare Harrison, Michael Rapport as Patrick, and John Saxonas Lt. Fuller. As an interesting note-Nick Mancuso plays the caller/intruder/psycho.
Dr. T.S. Clitterhouse-“The greatest crime of all!”‘Rocks’ Valentine-“What’s that?”Dr. T.S.Clitterhouse–“Why, Homicide naturally.”
Directed by Anatole Litvak (The Sisters 1938, Confessions of a Nazi Spy 1939, Out of the Fog 1941, Blues in the Night 1941, Snake Pit 1948, Sorry, Wrong Number 1948, The Night of the Generals 1967) With a screenplay co-written by John Huston and John Huxley. Based on the play by Barré Lyndon – Music by Max Steiner who lends a dark and dramatic flourish to the sinister & mordant essence of the narrative.
Cinematography by Tony Gaudio (The Mask of Fu Manchu 1932, Lady Killer 1933, The Man With Two Faces 1934, Bordertown 1935, The Story of Louis Pasteur 1936, The Life of Emile Zola 1937, The Sisters 1938, Brother Orchid 1940, The Letter 1940, High Sierra 1941, The Man Who Came to Dinner 1942, Larceny, Inc. 1942, Experiment Perilous 1944, Love From a Stranger 1947)
The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse converges into several genres–black comedy with deadly dark overtones, crime drama, the gangster movie, suspense & psychological noir with classical horror elements evidenced by the duality of the schizophrenic hero.
Though absurd it’s an enjoyable Litvak’s direction, Huston’s screenplay and Gaudio’s arousing photography make it an enjoyable film to watch.
While watching Litvak’s film again, it suddenly hit me (smack between my green eyes) there is one significant trope that stood out so obvious, so clearly to me. Strange that I hadn’t realized it during my first viewing.
Dr. Clitterhouse is an archetypal Jekyll & Hyde figure, using his immersion into criminal activity rather than a smoky elixir to drink down his uneasy gullet, that would normally transform his outer appearance into a fiend, Clitterhouse still becomes transfigured as a criminal and a murderer by and because of his endeavors.
The story raises the question of the duality inherent in the protagonist J.T. Clitterhouse, where it is possible to tap into the dark side, the doctor diverges into a classical medical/science horror with personality traits being tainted by the evil/immoral tendencies that people are capable of. When exploring immoral activities that can ‘change a man’s personality’ there is always a fatalistic inevitability. The disambiguation of the situation-there are no horror props, no mysterious mad scientifically developed drug inducement– it is the single act, desire and curiosity of a scientist seeking answers concerning the criminal mind that literally subsumes the nature of the personality examining the questions. i.e. Dr. Clitterhouse becomes not a monster, but a criminal and ultimately a murderer.
Clitterhouse is seduced by the excitement he experiences, and embraces the darker side of himself without the use of a scientific ‘horror’ concoction. While presented as a gangster film, its conceptualization of medical/science experimentation on vicious human nature, aberrations in psychology and the criminal mind elucidates the clear philosophical themes of classical medical-science horror.
Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948) written by Barré Lyndon stars Edward G. Robinson as a phony mentalist haunted by greed and a sense of impending doom. Co-stars Gail Russell and John Lund.
Film genres’ lines were often blurred in the 1930s & 1940s, in particular a few of Edward G. Robsinson and Humphrey Bogart’s films which intersected with crime, noir and horror narratives. In particular director Delmer Daves frightening The Red House (1947) and director Julien Duvivier’s Flesh and Fantasy (1943) and Night Has a Thousand Eyes 1948 starring Edward G. Robinson.
Then Humphrey Bogart’s exploration into the diverging genres were apparent in The Return of Doctor X (1939), and The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947) directed by Peter Godfrey.
Humphrey Bogart in The Return of Dr. X (1939) directed by Vincent Sherman
As far as science horror goes -from the opening edge of The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse -frames smoky bubbling flasks. Gothic science horrors would be replete with such laboratory paraphernalia.
Included in the fabulous cast of characters actors are many other beloved Warner Bros. stock players. Alan Jenkins as Okay, Donald Crisp as Inspector Lane, Gale Page as Nurse Randolph, Henry O’Neill as Judge, John Litel as the Prosecuting Attorney, Thurston Hall as Grant, Maxie Rosenbloom as Butch, Bert Hanlon as Pat, Curt Bois as Rabbit, Ward Bond as Tug, Vladimir Sokoloff as Popus.
The film Warner Bros. released in 1938 is an adaption of a British play performed on stage in London a few years earlier with Sir Cedric Hardwicke in the title role.
Apparently Edward G. Robinson wasn’t happy with his role in the film, and Humphrey Bogart like it even less, referring to it as The Amazing Dr. Clitoris. Both actors appeared in three other gangster films where they played adversaries –Bullets and Ballots (1936), director Michael Curtiz’s Kid Gallahad (1937) and Brother Orchid (1940).
Bogart felt that The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse was not advancing his career playing second fiddle to Robinson. Bogart would finally be taken seriously as a leading man in director Raoul Walsh’s They Drive By Night (1940) and High Sierra (1941) co-starring Ida Lupino.
The film stars the extraordinarily versatile every-man who can play it cruel and ruthless or unassuming and weak– Edward G. Robinson as Dr. Clitterhouse brings the perfect measure of seemingly invulnerable genius driven by his short-sighted crusade to study the criminal mind.
The film also stars the seductive and equally versatile actress Claire Trevor who won The Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress as the tragic Gayle Dawn in 1948 for Key Largo (Dead End 1937, director Robert Wise’s Born to Kill 1947 co-starring Laurence Tierney, Raw Deal 1948, Borderline 1950 ) As the gutsy crime boss Jo Keller who heads a gang of lovable miscreants. Jo finds herself drawn to Clitterhouse, partly because he’s not the kind of man she usually runs around with.
Humphrey Bogart brings his gruff hardened criminal type and mean as spit ‘Rocks’ Valentine, whose implacable toughness cuts through Clitterhouse’s sterile academic objectivity in the narrative. The two clash at every turn, until the force of their conflict creates a final verdict.
Robinson, Trevor and Bogart would reunite ten years later in John Huston’s Key Largo (1948) their working chemistry manifests splendidly in the crime genre. While Key Largo is the grittier story, The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse lends these three stellar actors a playground to exercise their tremendous adaptability to any role.
Edward G. Robinson plays T.S. Clitterhouse an esteemed Park Avenue physician who is invited to some the city’s most affluent cocktail parties. What the polite set doesn’t know about their charming intellectual guest is that he is acting as cat burglar stealing fortunes in jewels (not for money, he is quite well off financially) but for the purpose of conducting his research and gaining insight into the pathology of the criminal mind and the physiological changes in the active criminal’s physical and mental conditioning during the commission of a crime which he hopes to publish in a medical tome that will help inform both psychologists and law enforcement.
To indulge in the criminal atmosphere to the fullest, he insinuates himself into the city’s toughest gang and the head of the organization that is able to fence such expensive quality jewels. Jo Keller (Claire Trevor) is the high stakes fence in charge of her gang of thugs and miscreants led by the gruff and vicious ‘Rocks’ Valentine (Bogart) The gang pulls jobs all the while trying to evade capture by one Clitterhouse’s acquaintances, Police Inspector Lewis Lang played by the wonderful character actor Donald Crisp (Jezebel 1938, Wuthering Heights 1939, How Green Was My Valley 1941, The Uninvited 1944.)
The film opens with dramatic music by Max Steiner, on the title screen there is a laboratory with smoking, bubbling flasks behind the credits to invoke the feeling of science, cut away to…
There is a woman singing opera as she is accompanied on a piano at a high brow cocktail party. The camera pulls back and through a window we see a flashlight and someone taking jewelry out of a safe, the flashlight is the only source of light in an otherwise pitch black room. During Mrs. Updyke’s party, it is Dr. Clitterhouse himself who manages to crack the safe full of priceless gems beating one of ‘Rock’s Valentine’s and Jo Keller’s gang to the vault. He examines the expensive jewels and loads them into his medical bag.
A second man, enters into the nearly black room. Later his identity is revealed as of a thief called Candy (Billy Wayne) who climbs into the already open window and Clitterhouse’s flashlight shines on his bewildered face. He is told to put his arms up and turn around and face the wall. He assumes that it is the police. Then Rocks Valentine (Bogart) appears in the window, and is stunned to see what’s going on — he ducks down then climbs back down to the ground.
Clitterhouse’s (Robinson) distinct voice in the darkness tells him to remain with his hands up, as the first intruder (Dr. Clitterhouse) leaves the room, opening the door, and moves toward the sound of the opera singer.
Dr. Clitterhouse appears amidst the guests now as the opera singer finishes her aria. Mrs.Frederick R. Updyke (Georgia Caine) tells him that she’s in good voice this evening- he humors her “Inspiring, simply inspiring Mrs. Updyke.”
As Clitterhouse has takes a snoot full of brandy and walks away rolling his eyes because the caterwauling vocalist has decided to grace the guests with another moving soprano rendition, he makes a phone call to check in with his service, he’ll be going to the hospital to check in on one of his patients soon. Suddenly he hears a scream from upstairs.
Apparently the maid has discovered the safe has been cracked. He remains on the phone calmly giving some prescriptive advice to his nurse, while the rest of the guests head toward the stairs like a herd of well dressed antelope. The maid, “A burglar -your jewels -he came in through the window.” While the guests and Mrs. Updyke are hysterical, Clitterhouse has an amused and knowing smile on his face, finishing his phone call composed and unaffected by the sudden chaos.
The next phone call Clitterhouse dials –police headquarters – “Hello, Good Evening, I want to report a robbery at Mrs. Frederick R. Updyke’s house.”
The third phone call Clitterhouse makes is for an ambulance– the butler has shot Candy one of Jo Keller’s gang and is now the suspected burglar. The comedy of Clitterhouse’s calm, collected and calculated phone calls is subtle and farcical.
Mrs. Updyke- “Are we all going to be frisked?” Officer-“Yes Ma’am I’m sorry.” Mrs.Updyke answers giddily–“Oh don’t apologize, I think it’s thrilling.”
Laying on the stretcher Candy who was shot in the shoulder insists he didn’t do ‘nothin’.Clitterhouse examines the bullet wound and Candy looks at him strangely and says “Say didn’t you and me meet someplace before?”
Clitterhouse’s pedigree shows-“I hardly think so.” Candy asks a guest standing over him –“Who is this fella?” The guest-“Why, Dr. Clitterhouse of course.” There’s a hand on Clitterhouse’s shoulder, the doctor looks up and it’s Inspector Lane (Donald Crisp) he looks up at him- “Oh, Inspector Lane, Isn’t this a prosaic case for you to be on?”Lane-“It may look like nothing to you, but I’m hoping it’s the end of all my headaches these last few months.” He tells the suspect Candy to hand over the ice, but Candy tells Lane he’s never seen any ice. “I ain’t got no ice on me, your dicks’ll tell ya.”Lane’s officers tell him that they searched him but found nothing. “I’m telling you I never saw it, I never had a chance, somebody beat me to it.” Lane asks him who he’s working with. “Just a lone wolf. What about Rocks Valentine?”Candy tells him-“I never worked,(knowing pause) Rocks who?”“Don’t act dumb you slipped that jewelry to somebody. Come on spill it.”
Lane instructs his men to search everyone, the servants and even the guests. Clitterhouse for a moment looks worried. Lane keeps interrogating the suspect, who insists there was somebody else in the room who was already going through the wall safe when he climbed in the window. “That’s on the level.”
Clitterhouse gets a call, he needs to be at the hospital already for emergency surgery. Lane even gives Clitterhouse a motorcycle escort. Clitterhouse takes his medical bag that was on the floor of the closet from the butler who was certain he had placed it on the shelf above when Clitterhouse first arrived. And as he walks out the —the butler pauses as he ponders a second thought at what just transpired. He knows the bag was on the top of the shelf before the robbery. Curious…
Clitterhouse evades Inspector Lane’s suspicion, all the while holding onto the goods in his medical bag which he brings with him to surgery. His devoted Nurse Randolph (Gale Page) finds the jewels and winds up discovering that it’s been Dr. Clitterhouse who is responsible for all the Park Avenue jewel thefts in order to conduct his research, where he records his blood pressure, pulse, pupil reaction, during and after he commits the crimes.
Nothing hints at the duality of Clitterhouse’s conscience and his Jekyll & Hyde personality more than this cross fade into the next scene. The psychological noir iconography of the mirror symbolic of the dual personae and his conscience represented by the police reflected in the glass.
In the surgical arena Dr. Clitterhouse is about to perform surgery on Counselor Grant who has a serious back problem. Clitterhouse is shown as a highly regarded surgeon having friends in high places, which is convenient for insinuating himself into the investigations for the 4 inexplicable robberies.
Dr. Clitterhouse tells him to relax and not be so jittery. The cantankerous and agitated counselor argues with Clitterhouse- “My dear boy I’ve had over a hundred clients face the electric chair I’ve never been jittery yet.” Clitterhouse-“But your clients were.” Clitterhouse needs his glasses and asks Miss Randolph to fetch his glasses which happen to be in his medical bag.
Nurse Randolph looks in the bag, while the counselor is giving Clitterhouse a hard time about him operating. Randolph finds the bag filled up with a glittering fortune of jewels, she has opened Pandora’s Box. Nurse Randolph watches as Clitterhouse discusses with another doctor how without the elliptical surgery on the counselor’s back, it might result in paralysis. “Oh Miss Randolph…(he sees her with the bag) What are you doing?… aren’t you getting my glasses?”“Yes indeed I have them right here.”“I’m sorry if you had any difficulty finding them?”“Not at all doctor only your bag was unusually full.” Counselor Grant (Thurston Hall) interjects. “Can I interrupt that big medical conference to ask for a cigarette” Clitterhouse-“Oh nurse you won’t forget to keep an eye on my bag.”
He’s already established that Nurse Randolph is an ally, who isn’t planning on turning him in. She is showing her loyalty and respect for him. Nurse Randolph will keep Clitterhouse’s secret.
Helen-(Claire Trevor)“If you go to the police, you’ll see Laury sooner than you think.”
Mrs. Kraft-(Esther Howard)“Are you trying to scare me?”
Helen-(Claire Trevor) “I’m just warning you. Perhaps you don’t realize, it’s painful being killed. A piece of metal sliding into your body, finding its way into your heart. Or a bullet tearing through your skin, crashing into a bone. It takes a while to die, too. Sometimes a long while.”
The seductive Andrea Kingwas born France Georgette André Barry on February 1st, 1919 in Paris, before her mother relocated them to the United States.
Eventually she settled in Queens, NY. King eventually found her way to Broadway at the age of 13 where she performed between 1935-36 in Fly Away Home with Montgomery Clift. At the age of 18 she went to Chicago and worked in the Lilian Gish company’s Life with Father for two years. It was in 1944, that Warner Bros. signed Andrea King to a contract, her first bit part was as a nurse in a scene with Bette Davis in Mr. Skeffington, then she appeared in The Very Thought of You where as Molly Wheeler – she had to be bitchy to Eleanor Parker, which she joked she hated doing “Wait a couple of months baby and you’ll be making double dates with me just like we used to!”King was cast in small roles during the war. The Warner Bros. studio photographers voted Andrea the most photogenic actress on the lot for the year 1945, the year she starred in God is My Co-Pilot. Jack Warner who liked to name his new stars had wanted to change her name to Georgia King to Andrea’s horror she ran to friend director Delmer Daves and cried telling him it was awful, and sounded like a Mississippi burlesque queen!
Andrea King’s portrayal of the angelic and strong minded Julie Holden in director Robert Florey’s Gothic horror The Beast with Five Fingers (1946) was perhaps my introduction to King’s beautiful persona. Co-starring with Robert Alda a year before they were to act together in The Man I Love (1947).
Sophie Rosenstein the acting coach had taken a strong liking to Andrea and when she left Warner Bros. and went to Universal, a lot of roles opened up for Andrea at Universal.
Andrea King’s first major role as Lisa Dorn whom Andrea in an interview with TCM said was a wonderful part, a real leading lady– “She was evil and she was kind. She was two people all in one” in Hotel Berlin (1945) afterwards she played stylish often ‘mysterious’ leading ladies or supporting roles as the ‘bad girl.’
Finally King got bigger, glamorous lead parts and appeared in a cross section of genres throughout the late 1940s and 1950s. She is remembered for five significant film noir roles, Shadow of a Woman (1946), The Man I Love (1947) with the legendary Ida Lupino, Ride the Pink Horse (1947) starring and directed by Robert Montgomery, Dial 1119 (1950) with Marshall Thompson and the even lesser known Southside 1-1000(1950)with Don DeFore, that I decided not to cover at this time.
In the 1965 she appeared in The House of the Black Death, Prescription Murder (1968) tv movie and Daddy’s Gone A -Hunting 1969. Andrea King made the transition to television, most notably she appeared in the original 1953 broadcast of “Witness for the Prosecution” for Lux Video Theatre (1950) co-starring Edward G. Robinson. She worked well into the 1970s, (appearing in genres- horror & exploitation- where so many beautiful starlets inevitably roam-a subject I plan on writing about extensively in my piece “From Glamour to Trauma: Deconstructing the Myth of Hag Cinema in the not so distant future here at The Last Drive In) including appearing in the exploitation film Blackenstein 1973.
Directed by Joseph Santleywith a screenplay by Whitman Chambers and C. Graham Baker based on the novel “He Fell Down Dead” by Virginia Perdue. Cinematography by Bert Glennon (Stagecoach 1939, The Red House 1947, House of Wax 1953) Edited by Christian Nyby. Costume design by Milo Anderson.
The film stars Andrea King as Brooke Gifford Ryder, Helmut Dantine as Dr. Eric Ryder, William Prince as David G. MacKellar, John Alvin as Carl, Becky Brown as Genevieve Calvin, Richard Erdman as Joe, Peggy Knudson as Louise Ryder, Don McGuire as Johnnie, Lisa Golm as Emma, Larry Geiger as Philip, Monte Blue as Mike, J. Scott Smart as Timothy Freeman.
The fan mail poured in about the pairing of Helmut Dantine and Andrea King together in Hotel Berlin 1945 so they tried it once again in Shadow of a Woman.
Shadow of a Woman (1946) is an essentially creepy suspenseful film noir, at the center of the narrative is a small boy that is being starved to death in order for his father to gain the boys fortune. It predates the superior film noir chiller The House on Telegraph Hill (1951) directed by Robert Wise, but the moodiness and the story line are faithful to a familiar trope.
The film is Andrea King’s second leading role under Warner Bros. after her debut as Lisa Dorn the hapless German actress in Hotel Berlin (1945) which unites King with her good-looking Austrian co-star Helmut Dantine who had played the enigmatic wounded Nazi soldier who terrorizes Greer Garson in Mrs.Miniver in 1942.
The role of Brooke was originally turned down by Alexis Smith, so Jack Warner offered the role personally to Andrea King who does a knock out job as the new bride who has been duped by a psychopath to fit into his nefarious plans. Brooke never becomes hysterical and doesn’t buy into her controlling husbands insistence that she is just ‘tired’ or close to a ‘nervous breakdown’. It also doesn’t take her long before she rebels against him.
Andrea King stars as Brooke Gifford who marries an unorthodox doctor who passes himself off as a natural healer. Eric Ryder (Helmut Dantine) treats his patients with strict dietary restrictions and a dash of hypnotism as an extra measure, including a frighteningly rigid diet for his young son Philip, who is only allowed to drink orange juice. (Well… he won’t have to worry about scurvy but he might die of starvation, poor lamb.)
Eric begins to exude a more sinister nature. His son looks properly ghostly and malnourished, so Brooke tries sneaking him toast with jam just to fatten him up a bit and put color and a smile on his cherubic face. It was the end of WWII and Brooke was lonely, as she relates in flashback the story of her threatening mistake. The film deals with the backlash of women who needed to be independent during the war and then were quickly pulled back into the security of domesticity. The irony of the story is how the lonely Brooke winds up with the wrong man, divorced from his wife and obsessed with controlling his sons eating habits, hinting at the evil motive of starvation in order to gain power over his son’s financial legacy.
“I met him in Monterey four weeks ago, our family physician Dr. Norris had sent me there to avoid a nervous breakdown. I just lost my parents and having been with them through their long illnesses… well I was in a bad way, both mentally and physically… Perhaps you’re wondering why I happen to marry Dr. Ryder on such a short acquaintance… But he wasn’t like most men, he was solicitous and charming. I never asked questions who or what he was.”
Shadow of a Woman opens with Brooke relating the story in flashback to the police. It takes place in Post-War California. Andrea King plays the lovely Brooke Gifford Ryder who seeks the American Dream of marriage and a happy home life. She marries Dr. Eric Ryder (Helmut Dantine) after a quickie whirlwind romance. Until the shine of wedded bliss wears off and she begins to suspect that he is hiding a dark side of himself.
Ryder worked in a carnival as a hypnotist and passes himself off as some kind of nutritionist /holistic healer who treats his patients with rigid diets and hypnotizes them not to feel pain when it’s there to alert the body that something is wrong. Ryder considers conventional doctors to be butchers. His regiments include a frighteningly stringent diet for his young son which leaves the boy weak and looking like death is hovering. A few of his patients have apparently already died because they failed to seek outside medical care, when Ryder’s treatments make it too late to save them.
There is a moment of premonition when the newlyweds Brook and Eric ask a Gypsy Fortune Teller to read their palms, She smiles while reading Brooke’s future and she quickly recoils telling Eric she has nothing to tell him.
The newly married couple argue about doctors, especially the doctor who cared for Brooke’s parents who have recently died. There are so many cues that alert us to Eric’s malevolent scheming. When Brooke has written to the family physician Eric takes the letter and puts it in his pocket, telling her he’ll mail it. But we already get the sense that he has no intention of letting her seek outside consultation from another doctor.
At the opening of the film, while the couple are honeymooning , they noticed two men trailing them. Also Eric is almost killed when a boulder drops down and nearly hits him.
When Brooke recognizes the dog from the beach where the rock almost killed Eric, he calmly tells her, “Oh dear, you’ve been closer to a nervous breakdown, than I’ve realized.” He quickly gives her instructions to pack her things and leave at the back exit of the hotel. He decides that they should Honeymoon at his cabin in the mountains where it is more secluded.
Brooke and Eric’s whirlwind romance of a week feels like a baffling eddy, and from the beginning once she marries this mysterious handsome doctor, someone tries to kill him, and they are followed around by two men with a dog who are trying to snap photos of them. Eric’s ex-wife Louise has hired her lawyer and his photographer friend to try and catch Eric doing something that would help her custody case.
Only after they get married does Eric decide to mention on their honeymoon that he’s been married before and is in a nasty custody battle over his son Philip (Larry Geiger) with his ex-wife Louise (Peggy Knudsen –The Big Sleep 1946, Humoresque 1946, A Stolen Life 1946) What Brooke doesn’t know yet is that he has only married her in order to convince the court that he’s the better parent for his son.
Brooke realizes that she is living in the shadow of Eric’s ex-wife Louise who is trying desperately to gain custody of their little boy Philip. The romance between Brooke and Eric feels so impulsive and we wonder why such an apparently intelligent, strong woman would walk into a marriage with a man she doesn’t even know. Granted, she is recovering from the loss of her parents and the lack of eligible men. But immediately after the they wed, strange events emerge. Aside from the boulder that nearly crushes him on their honeymooning, while they now reach his cabin in the mountains, there is the matter of Timothy Freeman (J. Scott Smart) who’s wife died under Ryder’s care–who tries to put a hole in Eric with a shotgun.
They are once again followed in the car by the two men and the dog, while Eric drives recklessly fast in order to lose the tail. Which he manages to swerve around a construction vehicle up on the shoulder, the two men get stuck blocked by it, Eric has thwarted them.
When they almost crash losing the two men who have been tailing them, she asks him who they are, he denies knowing them, she tries to suggest something, but he immediately questions her state of mind. Eric coldly turns it around and makes it about Brooke’s mental state. Though Brooke never acts vulnerable, and is always on her toes, no matter how suspicious and dismissive Eric behaves.
We experience the story as Brooke continues with her voice-over.
Brooke- “What ever it was that he had seen in the window, had made him change his mind quickly.”
On the road. Brook- “Why all the hurry?”
Eric “Am I going to fast dear?”
Brooke- “Oh no, flying too low.”
David (Louise’s lawyer)-“I wish that cheap quack would go to sleep on one of these curves, save someone the trouble of killing him.”
Eric and Brooke go to his cabin in the mountains hoping to elude Louise’s lawyer. While settling into her bedroom, Brooke opens up a drawer and finds an assortment of women’s brushes and hair pins. Brooke’s face relates the worry that washes over her, as the questions start piling up.
Eric “Why don’t you like it here darling?” Brooke-“Well I’m not a prude but I’d feel better knowing that I was the first woman you brought here.” Eric- “So that’s what’s been bothering you… I don’t know how you found out but it’s true. I did let my wife use the cabin after our divorce.” Brooke says in a startled whisper-“Your wife!… I didn’t know.” Eric- “But you saw it on our marriage application. I thought it was very tactful not to make a point of it.” Brooke-“I didn’t read the application.” Eric-“I’m terribly sorry I thought you knew. But it doesn’t make any difference to us does it darling?” Brooke-“No, of course not… Would you rather not tell me about her?” Eric-“I’d like to forget that I ever met her. Her father was a patient of mine. A fine old gentleman. But Louise, (he pauses) Tell me darling, you haven’t got a lot of money have you?”
Once Brooke and Eric arrive at his Gothic house in San Francisco, they are greeted by his sister Emma and his nephew Carl who are not welcoming at all. They act strangely toward Brooke, as if she is an outsider.
Eric brings Brooke home and introduces her as his wife to Emma, who is resistant to shake Brooke’s hand. Eric asks how his son Philip is and Emma hesitates a bit as if she is frightened to answer, then tells him that the boy’s stomach trouble is back. Eric replies-“There shouldn’t be anything wrong unless you’ve been feeding him solids again.” Emma-“I’ve kept him on liquids just as you ordered.”
Carl welcomes his Uncle home. Carl comments sarcastically to Eric-“What’s the matter you look upset. Did something you eat not agree with you?” Eric walks away from him and ascends the staircase-“Nothing I eat- disagrees with me!”
Emma introduces Brooke as Eric’s wife… Eric’s home at first is inhabited with seemingly hostile characters, Lisa Golm as Emma, Eric’s morose and cantankerous sister. His crippled nephew Carl (John Alvin) Emma’s son, who Eric refuses to allow to get the surgery that could correct his leg.
Bert Glennon’s cinematography creates a manifest antagonism of hostile shadows.
The somber Emma tells Brooke with a tone of doubt in her beleaguered voice that she hopes she’ll be happy. Brooke in voice over-“I wondered right then how long I could remain in a house where I was not welcome.”
Brooke gets a jolt of her new reality after she tells Eric that she can see why Philip’s mother wants the child so badly. Eric tells her that Louise is not going to get him, and asks if she’ll stand by him. Brooke says that she’ll do anything she can to help. When he informs her that she already has by marrying him, the awareness that comes over her face is acute as if her blood just turned to ice. Eric supposes, “Don’t you see the judge is much more apt to grant permanent custody of a child to a happily married couple, than to a single man.” But he stresses that they must keep their marriage a secret until the court date so that Louise’s lawyer has no time to counter attack, allowing him to believe that he’s snapped photos of an illicit affair rather than of a newly married couple. “I understand, it’s a very clever plan Eric. When did you think of it?” Eric assures her that he loves her more than anything else in the world.
Carl- “Mother’s the cook tonight, you see servants don’t stay with us very long, neither does anybody else.”
Carl-“Pleasant little household we have here isn’t it.” Brooke-“We could make it pleasant if we try.”
Emma and Carl are at first an odd pair all seemingly living in fear, who appear to know family secrets with menacing looks and a lack of warmth right from the beginning. Maybe it’s their diet which only consists of small amounts of vegetables, while Eric gorges himself on the best steak at his local diner.
Carl-“What a life she’s going to lead.” Emma-“She has only herself to blame. She married him with her eyes open”Carl-“I doubt that… but I think we’re opening them.”
Eric is called out on an emergency to see his patient Mrs. Calvin. Brooke decides to go with him on his call. Eric warns her, “Brooke you’ll possibly hear stories about me. That I’m a faker. I want you to know that they’re not true. And I will prove it to you. Get your things.”
As Brooke and Eric leave, Louise and David MacKellar her lawyer pull up to the house. Louise is there to see her son, but they don’t know that Brooke is actually Eric’s wife yet. Not realizing that Eric was home now, she’ll have to phone Emma who has been secretly letting Louise see her son Philip.
David-“And he’s got the girl with him. How do you like that for nerve.”
Becky Brown plays Genevieve Calvin whose mother is dying. Eric passes Brooke off as his nurse. But Genevieve is obviously in love with Eric.
Leah Baird as Mrs. Calvin is in enormous pain. Eric essentially ignores her physiological illness and controls her pain by hypnotizing her. The result is that the poor old woman dies because she didn’t seek proper medical treatment.
It doesn’t take long before Brooke realizes that her husband is a fraud after all, who might even have a few deaths of his patients on his hands. Brooke finally comes to grips with the true horror that confirms Eric has only married the financially self sufficient Brooke as a way to retain custody of his son, in order to steal his inheritance. Naturally being a sociopath Eric played it smooth at being romantic in the very first few days of their rushed courtship, but his true colors begin to emerge once Brooke is brought into the family home.
Brooke tells Eric’s nephew Carl that she has a very fine doctor friend whom she’ll set up an appointment with so he can look at his lame leg.
Like many good noir suspense thrillers, there is the moment of ‘reversal’ when the contrast between the light and promising beginning turns gloomy and sinister.
When Philip comes into Brooke’s room while she’s eating breakfast in bed, the cute little fella, jumps up and sits with her telling her it looks good. Brooke asks him what he had for breakfast. He tells her orange juice. She asks what he had for supper the night before. He tells her orange juice. She spreads a lovely helping of jam on toast and hands it to Philip who has given himself a jam mustache. Carl comes in and tells him to wipe the jam off his face.
The art direction by Hugh Reticker and Bertram Tuttle is perfectly moody for the menacing atmosphere, and quite the contrast from the opening scenes where Brooke and Eric are honeymooning on the bright sunny spaces of the beach. The Nob Hill mansion is dreary and uninviting.
Carl challenges Brooke asking her why she married Eric. She tells him that she married Eric because she fell in love with him. He gives her the total picture of the family’s finances. That Eric can’t touch Philips money until he’s 25, which gives her many years to butter up the kid.
Genevieve Calvin calls up telling Brooke that her mother is much worse. Brooke gives her the number of her own Dr. Nelson Norris (Paul Stanton) Brooke and Philip hit it off just swell, and she heads out to her house in Burlingame to keep up on the cleaning, and maintain a link to her independence. Smart girl!
Dr. Norris meets Brooke at her house, and informs her that Mrs. Calvin died on the operating table. Brooke can’t believe it because she seemed so comfortable the night before. “Her daughter called me in a little too later. She was being treated by this fellow Eric Ryder who’s the biggest quack in San Francisco” Brooke-“Are you serious?” Dr. Nelson-” Do you know him?” Brooke-“Yes, Yes I know him.”Dr. Norris-“Then for heaven sake don’t have anything to do with him. These quacks have a little superficial knowledge. They’re always very glib and persuasive and helpless people like Mrs. Calvin have to pay for it. This man was entirely responsible for her death. I did everything I could possibly do. But she was too weak. Too far gone.”Brooke-“that’s dreadful”Dr. Norris-“If you know anyone in his hands for heaven sake warn them against him. This man is a menace to the community.”
Andrea In voice-over “I refused to believe this terrible indictment of my husband. But a voice deep inside of me kept saying it’s true….”
Andrea King is brilliant as a woman who is not a wilting violet while her nefarious husband keeps revealing more unsavory parts of himself, Andrea King always manifests an inner strength and intelligence in all her roles. In Shadow of a Woman, Brooke has the mindfulness to maintain her home in San Bernardino which is one way of getting out from under her bizarre marriage that she very quickly learns is a sham.
Eric is a murderer and not just a quack who inadvertently allows his patients to take his dietary course of treatments, while ignoring danger signs of underlying illness. Genevieve Calvin (Becky Brown) comes to Eric’s house and threatens to go to the judge not only about his unethical methods but says she will make trouble for him so he won’t be able to maintain custody of his son, after her mother (Leah Baird) dies from his malpractice.
Eric makes it appear as if the distraught Genevieve commits suicide, when he puts an overdose of pills into her drinking water, knowing that the maid Sarah is off for the night, the police won’t question the circumstances.
Eric’s ex-wife Louise wants custody of their son and her lawyer David G. MacKellar (William Prince) meets Brooke and they form a friendship. Eventually Brooke works with them to expose Eric’s malevolent plans.
When David meets up with Brooke in a diner, he hands her a subpoena telling her she’s exhibit A in the custody hearing. That she spent that weekend with Ryder without the benefit of clergy. “Has Ryder been filling you full of diet theories and orange juice?… Joe (the short order cook), has Doc Ryder been in tonight?” Joe- “It’s a little early for him yet.” David-“Got his steak on ice?” Joe-“Yeah, I’m saving a nice one for him, the juiciest New York cut I seen since Pearl Harbor. I wish I knew where he gets ’em I can’t find steaks like that.” David-“See Ms Gifford, a phony. All those diet theories are sucker bait for his racket.” Brooke-“He has lots of patients and they keep going to him.” David-“Of course people will go to anybody who promises to work miracles.”He tells her that carrots three times a day and fresh air is fine if you’re not really sick but if you need real medical help, and he keeps you from getting tests and treatment from a regular medical doctor then it’s plain murder! “Break it all down and what do you make of our Dr. Ryder, a second rate hypnotist, and not even that. Did you know he used to work for the carnival before he went into the health racket?”
William Prince is wonderfully sharp tongues and amusing as Louise’s attorney David MacKellar with his witty cracks and his likable manner.
Brooke asks David why Louise is so interested all of a sudden in getting custody of Philip when she didn’t want anything to do with him before. David asks her “Who told ya that?” “My husband, Dr. Ryder.” They go back and forth with a humorous repartee , until Brooke shows him her marriage certificate. David-“There goes my appetite and my case. Sister you sure had me fooled. Doc Ryder can turn on the charm when he wants to but marrying the guy for money. Well I wish you luck, all of it bad…”“You’re pretty nervy Mr. MacKellar” She points out that he’s Louise’s attorney and aren’t they interested in Philip’s estate? Telling him from the picture that Eric painted she’s not the grieving mother she pretends to be. David, disgusted with this exchange flings some change on the counter for Brooke’s coffee, passes up his hamburger and leaves.
Brooke’s voice over continues-“It was disloyal to Eric to tell of my marriage, but I no longer cared. I wanted to help Mr. MacKellar. I wanted him to respect me.”
Andrea King does not deliver the role of the vulnerable women-in-peril, but a strong willed and energetic woman whose eyes are wide open as soon as Eric’s charming veneer loses it luster, which is immediate. She isn’t afraid to confront him, nor does she wait to seek out the answers to the mysteries surrounding her new life. She even rejects his kisses instead of accepting them like some women may. In some films, hearing their struggling through dire inner monologues as to why his embraces feel creepy yet she loves him. Brooke now knows why he makes her skin crawl and she doesn’t question her own imagination about it. From the edge of the story she begins to hold him at bay and not become submissive.
At first its had seemed that Emma and Carl would not warm up to Brooke, with Emma’s maudlin, grim expressions and Carl’s sarcastic asides, but after Brooke takes a shine to sweet little Philip, and begins to earn the trust of the family, through her obvious kindness, they open up to her.
When she talks to Emma and her son Carl, she learns how Eric holds them hostage, by depriving them of a means of support to go anywhere else. He won’t let Carl get his leg fixed because it’ll prove he’s a fraud, and Emma hates the way he starves little Philip but she is afraid of her brother and what he’ll do.
Carl –“After all he’s Brook’s husband.”
Brooke-“And something could be done about that!.. Well I’m beginning to see how this household ticks and all the time I was thinking you were the most unfriendly people I have ever met.”
Emma- “I don’t blame you.”
Eric’s ex-wife Louise is desperate to protect her son and get him away from Eric, she and lawyer David G. MacKellar meet with Brooke who wants to help them protect little Philip And they form a friendship, as Brooke works with them to expose Eric’s malevolent plans. I’ll leave it there, so I won’t spoil the suspenseful conclusion of Shadow of a Woman.
Directed by Joseph H. Lewis (Gun Crazy 1950, My Name is Julia Ross 1945 , So Dark the Night 1946) Screenplay by Philip Jordan, Director of photography John Alton who’s haunting chiaroscuro and noir figures in silhouette fill out the landscape of entrapment, corruption and decadence.
From Film Noir: Reflections in a Dark Mirror by Bruce Crowthers
In The Big Combo (1955)“Alton’s dazzling black and white photography starkly counterpoints the film’s perverse sexuality which constantly strains against the limitations of the Hollywood code. Whether exploring the sado-masochistic violence of the hoodlums, two of whom, Fante and Mingo are clearly homosexual or the psycho-sexual domination wielded by gang boss, Brown over the young woman from the right side of the tracks, the scripts and the director’s needs are continually and effectively fulfilled by Alton’s camera.”
Stars Cornel Wildeas Leonard Diamond, Jean Wallace(Jigsaw 1949, The Man on the Eiffel Tower 1950, Storm Fear 1955) as Susan Lowell, Brian Donlevy (The Glass Key 1942, Impact 1949, The Quatermass Xperiment 1955, A Cry in the Night 1956) as McClure, Richard Conte (The Blue Gardenia 1943, Cry of the City 1948, Thieves’ Highway 1949, Whirlpool 1949, Oceans 11 (1960), Tony Rome 1967, Lady in Cement 1968) as Mr. Brown, Lee Van Cleef as Fante and Earl Holliman as Mingo, Robert Middleton as Peterson, Helen Walker as Alicia, Jay Adleras Sam Hill, John Hoytas Dreyer, Ted De Corsia as Bettini, Helene Stanton as Rita
Joseph H. Lewis from Film Noir and the Cinema of Paranoia by Wheeler Winston Dixon-
Lewis abandoned westerns and began a “frenzied round of freelancing that took him from Poverty Row to the majors, with such films as the disquieting horror Universal film The Mad Doctor of Market Street (1942) and the astonishing Secrets of a Coed aka The Silent Witness 1942 for PRC.”
The Big Combo is considered a ‘syndicate’ film noir, where a mob organization is running the urban landscape, in which the organization is ‘all’ but with a difference. According to writer/historian Wheeler Winston Dixon, director Lewis was an “eccentric and he depicts a universe that is as out of kilter as his often imbalanced camera set-ups; the camera sweeps in on the protagonists in their most intimate moments, frames them as silhouettes in wide shots that effectively use fog and a few shadows to disguise the fact that seem to entrap his characters in even tighter compositions.”
At the police station, booked on a phony charge just to harass Brown. Joe McClure-“Mr. Brown is a very reasonable man. You don’t know him.” Leonard Diamond “Oh, is he? Well I’m not. I intend to make life very difficult for you Mr. Brown.”
Joe McClure-“You shouldn’t talk like that, Lieutenant. You’re overstepping your authority.” Mr. Brown-“Joe, the man has reason to hate me. His salary is $96.50 a week. The busboys in my hotel make better money than that. Don’t you see, Joe? He’s a righteous man.”
From FILM NOIR: THE DARK SIDE OF THE SCREEN BY FOSTER HIRSCH
“One of the eroding factors in the fifties thrillers surfaced in such films as the Big Combo and The Phenix City Story where crime no longer springs from the aberrant individual but is instead a corporate enterprise, run like a business. (Or like Murder Inc.) This view of crime is widespread, almost communal undertaking, counters the traditional noir interest in the isolated criminal whose actions are controlled not by an impersonal conglomerate but by a complex interweaving of character and fate.” Hirsch also points out that it represents another level of decadence.
From The Lost World of Film Noir by Eddie Muller-“This gray area between old-school hoodlum and the new “organization man” was fertile turf for noir fables…)… in The Big Combo the gangster picture is distilled into a sexual battle between the saturnine, sensual Mr. Brown (Richard Conte) and dogged but frustrated flatfoot Leonard Diamond (Cornel Wilde) Both men covet the appetizing Susan Lowell (Jean Wallace), whom Diamond has been stalking for months as part of his investigation of Brown’s illegal Combination.”
I have read that chiaroscuro is director Lewis’ domain and that he also liked to use icy blondes the way Alfred Hitchcock did. In Gun Crazy (1950) Lewis had Peggy Cummins, and in The Big Combo it is Jean Wallace, yet Lewis’ women are more overtly ‘sex-kittenish than high class blonde.- From Film Noir: An Encyclopedia Reference to the American Style by Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward
Cornel Wilde does a blunt job playing a righteous cop, Leonard Diamond who will do anything to take down Mr. Brown who represents everything he detests in the world.
“I know his name. The name of a man who will pick up a phone and call Chicago and New Orleans and say “Hey Bill, Joe is coming down for the weekend. Advance him fifty thousand,” and he hangs up the phone and the money’s advanced, protection money. A new all night bar opens, with gambling outside city limits. A bunch of high school kids come in for a good time. They get loaded, they get irresponsible, they lose their shirts. Then they get a gun, cause they’re worried, they want to make up their losses. And a filling station attendant is dead with a bullet in his liver. I have to see four kids on trial for first degree murder. Look at it. First degree murder, because a certain Mr. Brown picked up a phone.”
Robert Middleton who happens to be one of my favorite underrated character actors plays Diamond’s boss, Police Lt.Peterson, who’s trying to convince Diamond not to pursue Brown through his girlfriend Susan Lowell and realizes that after tailing her for months, Diamond might have developed feelings for her. “You’re a cop, Leonard. There’s 17,000 laws on the books to be enforced. You haven’t got time to reform wayward girls. She’s been with Brown three and a half years. That’s a lot of days… and nights.”
Richard Conte is particularly more brutal as Mr. Brown than in some of his other portrayals of the embodiment of the crime aesthetic, possessing the essential flair of the well heeled mobster. The Big Combois one of the most bleak and perverse of all the mid 1950s film noirs. The pace of the film leaves us hanging in a world of perpetual threat and vexation.
Richard Conte infuses the role of Mr. Brown with an unusual intensity even for the enduring tough-guy Conte as he plays a ruthless mob boss who practically holding a society girl Susan Lowell (Jean Wallace) hostage by their odd attraction for each other. Susan has left a budding career as a pianist to be a trophy in Brown’s collections, seduced by his control, and the money he lavishes on her, yet ambivalent about her self-loathing and her attraction to his perverse power over her body and their sexual relationship. In a potent scene he takes Susan in a secret room in her apartment filled with a hidden stash of money and ammunition. Brown to Susan- “This is my bank… we don’t take checks, we deal strictly in cash. There isn’t anybody I’d trust with so much temptation–except myself. Or maybe you.”
Mr. Brown- “Where’d you get that outfit?”Susan Lowell “What’s wrong with it?”Mr. Brown-“I like you better in white. You’ve got a dozen white dresses. Why don’t you wear them? “ Susan Lowell-“White doesn’t please me anymore.” Mr. Brown –“A woman dresses for a man. You dress for me. Go put on something white!”
Brown employs his two exploitable goons Fante (Lee Van Cleef) and Mingo (Earl Holliman) to stay close to Susan and watch her every move, acting as unwanted bodyguards.
Brown’s far-flung organization is under attack by the overzealous hard-boiled detective Leonard Diamond (Cornel Wilde) who is determined to bring Brown to justice. All of Mr. Brown’s associates are figures marginalized by society in some way, all defined by their ‘difference.’ Brown gets his kicks pointing out what everyone else around him lacks while he pats himself on the back like a sadistic narcissist.
The film opens with Susan fleeing a boxing match, pursued by Mr. Brown’s two hired muscle heads, through dark alleys until she is finally caught by Brown, which only symbolizes his sexual dominance over her.
“It was for her I began to work my way up. All I had was guts. I traded them for money and influence. I get respect from everybody but her…”- Mr. Brown
Brown is so fixated on displays of dominance and strength that he fires his boxer after he loses his bout. First he uses the opportunity to belittle his deputy McClure (Brian Donlevy) in front of the young boxer then he smacks Benny across his swollen bloody face waiting for his retaliation, but when it’s obvious the boy won’t hit him back, he cuts him loose.
Brown talking to Benny after the bout- “So you lost. Next time you’ll win. I’ll show you how. Take a look at Joe McClure here. He used to be my boss, now I’m his. What’s the difference between me and him? We breathe the same air, sleep in the same hotel. He used to own it!”
[yelling into McClure’s sound magnifier that is in his ear]
“We eat the same steak, drink the same bourbon. Look–same manicure, cuff-links. But we don’t get the same girls. Why? Because women know the difference. They got instinct. First is first and second is nobody… Now, Benny, who runs the world? Do you have any idea?” Bennie Smith “Not me, Mr. Brown.” Mr. Brown “That’s right, not you, but a funny thing, they’re not so much different from you, but they’ve got something. They’ve got it, and they use it. I’ve got it;[pointing to McClure] he hasn’t. What is it, Benny? What makes the difference…? Hate! Hate is the word, Benny! Hate the man that tries to beat you. Kill ’em, Benny! Kill ’em! Hate him till you see red, and you’ll come out winning the big money, and the girls will come tumblin’ after. You’ll have to shut off the phone and lock the door to get a night’s rest.”
Brown lectures Benny- “You should have hit me back. You haven’t got the hate. Tear up Benny’s contract. He’s no good to me anymore.”
Brown cuts his fighter-Benny loose, telling him he just doesn’t have the killer instinct he needs. Brown is a narcissistic bully whose smooth philosophical meanderings taunt the people who work for him, women and even the cop who is right on his heels.
Brown’s two brawny side-kicks Fante and Mingo are obviously homosexual lovers, who thrive on violence as an enhancement to their sexual arousal like foreplay. Brown’s former boss, the weakened and inadequate McClure must rely on a clunky portable radio sized hearing aid in order to keep up with the gang’s activities.
Lt. Diamond goes after the psychotic megalomaniac Mr. Brown trying to shut down his crime organization. There is conflict already within the organization as Brown is demeaning to McClure and verbally bates him constantly with put downs, to try and get a rise out of him. McClure wants to get rid of Brown all together and take over as head of the mob once again, but in the end he is too impotent, to smack down Brown’s power.
Brown has a prized possession —his beautiful blonde girlfriend Susan who is watched over every minute of the day by his two thugs Fante and Mingo. When Susan finally has a breakdown and overdoses on sleeping pills as a way out, she finally asks Diamond for help.
First Diamond wants to expose Brown’s criminal organization and secondly it would give him great satisfaction to take Susan away from Brown, as he also has developed feelings for her.
When Diamond harasses Brown by arresting him on false charges just to bring him into the station –he goes on a mission to persecute Brown, who retaliates as his credo is “First is first and second is nobody” Brown puts a contract out on Diamond, who is then kidnapped by his two vicious flunky’s Fante and Mingo who are in a surreptitious relationship, with each other Mingo showing his sexual attraction and love for Fante in a rather covert yet palpable way. Though toward the end, while they’re hiding out, he does make mention that he’s sick of Salami. A thought, make of it what you will!
In a shocking scene Fante and Mingo torture Diamond, it is particularly brutal and vicious as they use McClure’s hearing aid turned up to full volume amplifying sound to the point it could blow his ear drums out. The pain on Diamond’s face is tangible. Then they begin pouring alcohol down his throat poisoning him, leaving him to appear as if he’s been off on a bender, thank god his boss Peterson (Robert Middleton) is there to help Diamond recover.
Mr. Brown-“I think Mr. Diamond needs a drink. Got any liquor?” Fante-” How about some paint thinner?” Mr. Brown-“No, that’ll kill him. Anything else?” Fante- “Hair tonic, 40% alcohol.” Mr.Brown-“Fine.”
Once he recovers from his torture, Diamond is even more determined to bring Brown down. Diamond starts to put the pieces together and find clues that point to Brown’s involvement in the murder of a racket boss who disappeared a while ago, and whose place he took over in the organization. He discovers some of Brown’s old associates, Dreyer (John Hoyt) an Austrian who runs an antique and import business and Bettini (Ted De Corsia)a nice Italian man who owned a pizza parlor in the city and is now hiding out, fearing for his life.
Fante and Mingo go to Diamond’s hotel room intending to kill him, and wind up murdering his sometime lover night club singer Rita who went there to surprise him with a date, but becomes an unfortunate casualty being at the right place at the wrong time she is caught in the fray. Even Rita had laid things out for Diamond about the reasons why Susan would stay with a creep like Brown- “Women don’t care how a man makes his living, only how he makes love.”
After Diamond finds Rita’s body gunned down in his apartment- “She came to see me in her best shoes!” I treated her like a pair of gloves. I was cold… I called her up.”
Brown tries to school Diamond in the ways of the world, “You’d like to be me… You’d like to have my organization, my influence, my fix. You think it’s the money. It’s not–it’s personality. You haven’t got it. You’re a cop. Slow. Steady. Intelligent. With a bad temper and a gun under your arm. With a big yen for a girl you can’t have. First is first and second is nobody.
Brown- “You’re a little man with a soft job and good pay. Stop thinking about what might have been and who knows–you may live to die in bed.”
Brown starts to get paranoid and panicky, getting rid of McClure who is a weak link in the mob, and then his two henchmen who know too much about his double dealings and can be linked to McClure’s murder. Adding to Brown’s worries, his ex-wife Alicia (Helen Walker) comes back into the picture after hiding out in a sanitarium aiding Diamond in Brown’s capture. Ultimately leading to a showdown at an airplane hangar where Diamond corners Brown. Alicia “I’d rather be insane and alive, than sane… and dead.”
When McClure tries to double-cross Brown by using his own thugs against him, Fante and Mingo pretend to go along and wind up turning their machine guns on him instead, while Brown sardonically watches grinning like the sadist he is. With a flair of evil embellishment Brown walks over to McClure who has two machine guns trained on him, and takes out his hearing aid. Brown-“I‘m gonna give you a break. I’m gonna fix it, so you don’t hear the bullets.” It is a stunning scene we are watching from McClure’s perspective the flashing lights and smokey tendrils from the gun fire happen at us, but it is all done in eerie quiet and darkness. We are experiencing the frightening moment when he is shot to death. We become McClure at that moment.
Later Brown wants to dispose of his two thugs so there is no evidence of murder, he hands them a package while they are hiding out in an old building in the basement that used to be a speakeasy, They think the package is filled with food, guns and their share of the money they heisted from the bank, but it’s filled with dynamite. As the two men are blown up, leaving Mingo alive for a brief moment just enough to give a death bed confession to exact revenge for his lover’s death and point the finger at Brown.
Richard Conte is icily ruthless as the film’s antagonist, Mr. Brown who is not known by any other name, signifying an enigmatic symbolism for abject violence and immorality. As Dickos states “his imaginative brutality, Lewis bridges violence to the audience’s darker, vicarious desire to see pain inflicted on the screen”
There is a sense of noir fatalism and an underlying current of deviant and provocative sexual appetite within The Big Combo. Much of the violence is influence by a strong element of sadism. The relationship between Susan and Brown is structured by fatalism, as she is sullen and submissive to his neurotic controlling fixation, while she wants to escape she shows no strength or determination other than to give in to it. Brown is obsessed with Susan as an object, preoccupied with her body. This is illustrated in one scene where he devours her with studied kisses, he worships her ,objectifies her with salacious flattery in a way that perversely brings her to ecstasy. It might be this odd sexual attraction to Brown that keeps her passive to his controlling behavior toward her.
From Film Noir Encyclopedia: Edited by Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward “The Homosexuality of Mingo and Fante is smothered in an atmosphere of murder and sadistic torture , as they refine the conventions of violence into a sexual ritual. Joseph H. Lewis’s direction strongly points to a crude sexual bias throughout the film. Even Diamond appears to be sexually frustrated and compensating for impotence. Much in the same way as Lewis’s classic Gun Crazy, there is an affinity between sex and violence.; and the exploration of futility presents an ambience strangely reminiscent of an earlier period of noir films, such as Scarlet Street and Woman in the Window. These attitude combine with John Alton’s photography to create a wholly defined film noir, as striking contrasts between the black and white photography and Lewis’s sexual overtones isolate The Big Combo’s characters in a dark, insular universe of unspoken repression and graphic violence.” -Carl Macek
From Street With No Name by Andrew Dickos
“The Homoerotic violence in the Mingo-Fante relationship, unencumbered by misguided sociological sentiments, is still stereotyped psycho-sexuality —offensive enough on another score—but it is raw and consistent with the noir world. The privilege of noir cinema, as distinguished from other genres, lies in the latitude these films were permitted in exploring sexual power and its ambiguity, and the reason is apparent; as the cautionary cinema of the great negation of a “healthy’ puritanical American vision, the film noir almost mandates a depiction, however perverse, of those repressed impulses reigning hand-in hand with the anarchy that drives its protagonists to violence and paranoia. Unrepressed sexuality alongside these characteristics is far too messy to contain, so it must be vanquished. When it is particularly threatening, one may be sure that there is a woman involved.”
Lewis’s The Big Combo- “where it becomes almost pornographic to see Susan Lowell hopelessly submit to what is surely suggested to be an act of oral sex performed by her crime-lord boyfriend, Mr. Brown. But Lewis is no pornographer, he is a sensualist in the most serious way. No other works in American film until the 1960s broached the acknowledgment of these carnal hungers as a life-enhancing dimension of dangerous living—indeed, in living a short, intense life unto quick death.”
Both Lewis’ film noir masterpieces Gun Crazy and The Big Combo are sexually defined by the discursive violence of the external world—so much a corollary for the violence of passion that Lewis and screenwriter Philip Jordan can barely mask the story of The Big Combo as merely another sensational example of the extend to which organized crime corrupted postwar American Life.
Your EverLovin’ Joey saying there’s an underlying current of shadows and light here at The Last Drive In, but no worries, you got what it takes to stick around -no need to turn up the volume for you to hear how much I appreciate you all!
Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten)-to Teresa Wright (Charlie Newton)
“You think you know something, don’t you? You think you’re the clever little girl who knows something. There’s so much you don’t know… so much. What do you know really? You’re just an ordinary little girl living in an ordinary little town. You wake up every morning of your life and you know perfectly well that there’s nothing in the world to trouble you. You go though your ordinary little day and at night you sleep your untroubled, ordinary little sleep filled with peaceful, stupid dreams… and I brought you nightmares.”
Your EverLovin Joey saying there’s not a shadow of a doubt that I’ll be back with a more indepth look at Hitchcock’s masterpiece of psychological terror!
Your EverLovin’ Joey saying The Last Drive In is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge!
Life’s Rough: Three Strong Anti-Heroines of 1950 Film Noir
“You see kid, in this cage, you get tough or you get killed. Better wise up before it’s too late!” – Kitty Stark, Caged (1950)
The 1950 films, Caged!, The Damned Don’t Cry, and The File on Thelma Jordon, contain three women performing female masculinity. A common thread these characters possess is ‘metamorphosis.’ They are forged by male institutions and they must adapt to survive. Each woman is thrust into a noir narrative.
In Caged!, Eleanor Parker leaves innocence outside the prison bars and is transformed into a hardened, jaded criminal in order to survive. Joan Crawford, a poverty-stricken mother in The Damned Don’t Cry rises as a high-powered opulent underworld mistress to prevail and support herself. Barbara Stanwyck is predatory, manipulating a weak man to gain access to her Aunt’s fortune in The File on Thelma Jordon — Stanwyck ultimately becomes a fallen figure of remorse and redemption.
Like their noir male counterparts, they become anti-heroines as past actions come back to haunt them.
Film noir of 1950 desired realism, decadence, and transformation. Femme-fatales thrive using sexuality to claim independence from weak, damaged, sexually-obsessed men, unable to resist dangerous influences. These women master patriarchal organizations, taking control of their bodies and identities to avoid gender enslavement in a male hetero-driven society.
In most noir films men are the central figures–isolated from their surroundings, closed in by circumstances beyond control, but married to fatalistic visions with stoic passivity. By flipping this trope on it’s battered head, these women invoke female masculinity driving their characters. As anti-heroines they adopt masculine armor to navigate masculine institutions. They’re placed in situations that impose a definition of what a woman is and should be. They adopt feminine masculinity to survive.
“Female masculinity is framed as the rejected scraps of dominate masculinity in order that male masculinity may appear to be the real thing… Masculinity in this society inevitably conjures up notions of power and legitimacy and privilege; it often symbolically refers to the power of the state and to uneven distributions of wealth.” — Halberstam, Female Masculinity
You don’t know women until you know them without men!
Directed by John Cromwell, Caged! is set in a women’s prison and plays out like a savage dance with “unremitting pessimism” (Crowther) with the women performing masculinity to gain power. It is a “dames in the hoosegow” film (New York Herald Tribune), indicative of socially conscious 1950s noir. The women are demeaned in prison, and to prevail they appropriate masculine primacy.
Caged! boasts an incredible ensemble. Eleanor Parker’s persuasive performance as Marie Allen, a delicate young woman subjected to cruelty by the sadistic degenerate Matron Evelyn Harper (punctuated to the hilt by imposing 6’ 2” Hope Emerson).
Wonderful character actors include Betty Garde as Kitty Stark, Ellen Corby as Emma Barber, Jan Sterling as Jeta Kovsky (aka Smoochie who loves to kite checks, buys pretty shiny things, and can’t stay out of prison), Olive Deering as June Roberts, Gertrude Michael as Georgia, and Lee Patrick as ‘vice queen’ Elvira Powell.
The film opens with the police van door swinging opening —“Pile out, you tramps. This is the end of the line”— to reveal the ‘new fish’ in the fatalistic incarceration cycle. The central figure is a timid, pregnant and nervous 19 year old Marie who gets the book thrown at her for helping her husband commit armed robbery- “For that forty bucks I heisted I certainly got myself an education.” Her role as an accomplice, sitting in the car waiting for the bum, lands her 15 years in prison. With a doe-eyed shocked gaze, she is thrown into a primal world. The intake nurse’s examination reveals she is ‘expecting company’ — with her dead husband’s child. Marie, number 93859, is sweet candy for the cold-blooded, menacing Matron Harper.
Marie doesn’t fall for Harper’s charms, thus she is subjected to dehumanizing torture by Harper, the bon bon-eating, romance novel-reading dyke who enjoys personal comforts and flaunts luxuries (as a grotesque phony femme) to the women prisoners who don’t have any privileges.
Harper brutally beats Marie causing her to lose her baby, thus her motherhood is taken away.
Removing her femininity, her identity, Harper shaves Marie’s hair. When vice queen Elvira distributes lipsticks at Christmas, Harper cruelly takes them away. Harper, embedded in the masculine system, creates an environment where the weakest women must become predatory cons, shedding their femininity.
Sympathetic warden Ruth Benton (Agnes Moorhead) allows them to keep cosmetics as a connection to the outside world. Believing in rehabilitation, Benton bucks bureaucracy, but her altruism blinds her from the vicious brutality.
The mood at the prison heats up and Kitty kills Matron Harper. Marie is worn down by the inhumanity of prison life and disillusioned by Harper’s corrupting influence over inmates. She changes from a shivering innocent to a smart-mouthed hard-bitten con. Her efforts to go straight are sabotaged by the sadistic Harper. Marie learns the hard way how to earn parole, but she’s already stigmatized and changed by the system.
Jan Sterling, Ellen Corby, Marjorie Crossland, Olive Deering, Betty Garde, and Eleanor Parker in Caged (1950)
Through Marie’s eyes we experience the dehumanization and objectification, from the moment she is processed, to her release. Influenced by other miscreants and malcontents Marie evolves into a criminal by the system constructed to rehabilitate. She sheds her victimhood and takes on a powerful masculine approach, but not with ruthlessness of a femme fatale. Marie becomes a criminal. She’s independent, as only a man could be in 1950.
When released at the gates, she gets into a fancy sedan with shady characters. She’s become a prostitute for her butch mentor Elvira who has given up on men completely. “If you stay in here too long, you don’t think about guys at all. You just get out of the habit.” –Elvira
Warden Benton keeps Marie’s file open as she watches out the window “Keep it active, She’ll be back” summarizing the Sisyphean absurdity of prison, hardening and transforming women without any hope.
“Call me CHEAP?” Nothing’s Cheap When You Pay the Price She’s Paying!
Directed by Vincent Sherman, with a screenplay by Harold Medford and Jerome Weidman. Cinematography by Ted D. McCord (The Treasure of the Sierra Madres 1948, Johnny Belinda 1948, I Died a Thousand Times 1955, The Sound of Music 1965) (wardrobe Sheila O’Brien who worked on all of Joan’s pictures, Sudden Fear 1952, Flamingo Road 1945, Female on the Beach 1955)
Stars Joan Crawford as Ethel Whitehead, David Brian as George Castleman, Steve Cochran as Nick Prenta, Kent Smith as Martin Blackford, Hugh Sanders as Grady, Selena Royle as Patricia Longworth, Jacqueline deWitt as Sandra, Morris Ankrum as Jim Whitehead, Edith Evanson as Mrs. Castleman, Richard Egan as Roy.
Joan Crawford is Ethel Whitehead/Lorna Hansen Forbes, a woman from harrowing poverty, who leaves her husband, Roy, after their son Tommy is tragically killed. She starts over in New York City first as a cigar store clerk, and model for a cheap fashion wholesaler. She eventually climbs to the top of the high society/criminal underworld wearing a facade of respectability. While usually men abandon families, Ethel is the one to leave. Crawford perfectly performs the role of power and masculinity.
The Damned Don’t Cry portrays a bleak, dark, corrupt world. The story is told in flashbacks. Directed by Vincent Sherman (All Through the Night 1942, Mr. Skeffington 1944, Nora Prentiss 1947, Affair in Trinidad 1952, The Garment Jungle 1957) The film co-stars Steve Cochran as Nick Prenta, David Brian as George Castleman, and Kent Smith as Martin Blackford, and Jacqueline de Wit as Sandra.
Ethel begins as unsophisticated modest woman, married to an oil field worker, dirt poor, plain looking, and beaten down. An oppressed housewife and mother, judged harshly by her misogynist father, and husband Roy who says “You’ll never do enough for her.” She becomes an elegant ambitious society climber who dismisses suggestions her life is corrupt and immoral. Crawford manifests her signature cunning in the ferocious pragmatic transformation.
Ethel lives with her parents and beloved son Tommy, who wants a bicycle but Roy says it’s too much money. Wanting her son to be happy, she makes a down payment on the bike. Furious, Roy demands it be returned. On his way to the store Tommy rides down the road, and is hit by a truck, and killed. His death ends their marriage, and Ethel leaves.
Roy says he’s “done the best he could.” Ethel answers “Well it ain’t good enough.”
Unlike male protagonists with more choices, in this narrative Ethel can only be a model or prostitute. She performs female masculinity by adopting independence. Ethel creates power to choose her own fate, possessing what Hirsch calls ‘a lonely man’ trope.
Another model, Sandra, introduces Ethel to a new world, convincing her to go out with wealthy businessmen. She becomes the glamorous mistress of gangster George Castleman, showered with riches— fur coats, diamonds, and haute couture. George helps Ethel’s metamorphosis into a wealthy socialite, Lorna Hansen Forbes, and she enters the inner circle of gangsters.
Ethel now known as Lorna, exploits her beauty, relying on rich men to pay for the privilege of her company. She learns she must selfishly grab for herself. Negotiating her body for wealth is a means to an end. Lorna’s selfishness emerges.
Lorna surpasses Sandra’s petty schemes to aim for the brass ring of ultimate luxury.
She befriends mild mannered Martin Blackford, an account who falls for her. Encouraging him to become Castleman’s bookkeeper, she uses him to get ahead. Martin brings a dark brooding presence into Lorna’s life which is visually actualized in a scene where Lorna is sunning herself at the pool, Blackford casts a symbolic dark cloud over her light-hearted sexually care free embodiment. The closeup shows Ethel’s face as the sun’s rays emblematically reflect in her sunglasses. Taking them off, she turns off the sunlight, and is confronted with Blackford’s bitterness.
The jaded Lorna tells the neutered Martin “You’re a nice guy, but the world isn’t for nice guys. You gotta kick and punch and belt your way up cuz nobody’s going to give you a life. You’ve got to do it yourself. Cuz nobody cares about us except ourselves… It’s that stuff you take to the bank, that filthy buck that everybody sneers at but slugs to get.” Martin is afraid he’ll lose self-respect. “Don’t tell me about self-respect!”Ethel snaps. “That’s what you tell yourself when you got nothing else!”
Her glamorous life ultimately comes at a price. Castleman wants to use Lorna to spy on Nick Prenta, as he suspects Prenta of killing one of his men Grady (Hugh Sanders) and making it look like a car accident planting a bottle of alcohol at the scene. Castleman fears Nick Prenta is organizing the men against him. He sends Lorna to insinuate herself with Nick Prenta in order to find out what he is up to and report back to him. Setting him up for a hit. Instead Lorna starts falling in love with the handsome rogue gangster who has a reputation for his womanizing. Lorna winds up defying Castleman by not staying in touch and actually falling for the guy instead.
Martin then shows up telling Lorna, (though he still refers to her as Ethel out of spite) that George Castleman has sent him to check up on her, he hasn’t heard from her in a while. The moment we see Martin’s scruples have eroded is during the pool scene which illustrates Martin’s own transformation from a nice decent guy to one of George’s thugs, with his smug tone and his dark sun glasses. He warns Lorna not to hold out on George. He boasts about how powerful he’s become and that people listen to him. He offers her some ‘sound advice’ “Has he promised you the world too!?” referring to Nick Prenta and sneaking in a good dig at how she used him at one time. “He means nothing to me, except he’s a human being.” “Don’t tell me that disturbs you.” Martin has become so jaded and embittered.
Later Nick Prenta asks Lorna to marry him, she is moved to tears as she embraces him. Lorna asks, “Do I really mean that much to you?” Nick tells her, “Everything, why is that enough?” Lorna –“Then get out of this, Nick, I’m scared about what you’re doing, what you’re planning, what it will lead to, if you don’t give this up.” “If that’s what it takes to get you, you’ve got a deal. I can get out of this inside a year” “No, it’ll be too late then” “But I can’t get out now Lorna, this is a big jump I’ve got to see it through.”
Lorna begs him to give it all up, but he kisses and sends her back to her hotel room where she finds Martin and Castleman waiting for her. Castelman is sitting in the dark, giving off a sense of menace from the shadows. “Hello Lorna” he puffs on his cigar then rises from the couch. “Aren’t you glad to see me?” Suddenly he begins grilling her about Nick Prenta’s meeting, but she tells him that she doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Castleman tightens his fist and smacks Lorna across the face, his paranoia about the meeting and his gang aided by Prenta out to get him is driving him into a frenzy.
In his fury, even Martin gets worried about Castleman’s sudden violent outburst. Then he hits Martin and knocks him down, and begins beating Lorna brutally as she tries to convince him that she’s not in love with Nick Prenta, it’s just that she doesn’t want anyone to get hurt. She tells Castleman that she’s still in love with him. But he growls at her, “You’re lying, you’re so used to lying and cheating and double crossing that you almost make it seem good.”
Castleman throws Lorna into the glass window that shatters. Martin tries to defend her, and calm Castleman down, telling him it’s enough. Castleman says “She’s no good, not even to you” yet Martin thinks fast on his feet, “But she is to you, she can still help, she can still be useful.” Castleman tells Martin looking down at the battered Lorna, “There’s only one thing to do with dirt, sweep it up.” Martin tells him, “Listen to me, you want Nick don’t you? She can get him” Castleman responds, “You got a brain Marty, best kind, the kind you don’t got go out and buy.” As Castleman says this he looks disdainfully at poor Lorna lying in a pile of broken glass all bruised and sobbing.
Martin convinces Lorna to call Nick Prenta and get him over to the hotel room. Prenta shows up already knowing her true identity, he must have heard it from Eddie Hart. She is lost in shadow, beaten down and crying, Prenta sarcastically tells Lorna, “I want to apologize for busting in on you like this Mrs. Forbes, but a friend of yours, Eddie Hart said it would be okay, he said Castleman might not like it, but Ethel Whitehead would go for anything.” But when he sees how badly beaten Lorna is he comes to her side, until he is confronted by Castleman, who emerges out of the shadows and tells him that while Prenta likes to be in the headlines he’s gonna move him over to the obituary column. Prenta turns to Lorna, “You dirty tramp!”
A fight breaks out and Castleman shoots and kills Prenta. In the turmoil, Lorna takes off in her car. Castleman tells Martin that they’ll have to dispose of Prenta first and then “I want her.”
Once Lorna fails to stop Castleman she is transformed once again through resignation and redemption having gone full circle through her own journey of hell.
Martin tries to protect Lorna from Castleman, by telling the police that it was George Castleman who killed Nick Prenta. In the meantime, Castleman wants her dead. And he knows the truth about where Lorna comes from, where she was probably heading and he’s on his way there.
Lorna now home in Bakersfield, arrives at the broken shack with her fur coat and her Ray Foreman coif. Her parents first reject her. The bitter Martin has shed his anger by now, hopelessly in love with Lorna, he shows up to try and protect her from the vicious Castleman. In the films ironic rhythm of fate, she symbolically comes full circle, winding up on the same road where her son died.
Martin tells her that she needs to move on and keep running before Castleman catches up with her, but she’s worried that he’s unfinished business now too, since he’s turned on Castleman. He reminds her “We do what we do– what was it you once said?, because we can’t help ourselves.”
Castleman shows up at Lorna’s home. She quietly walks out of the house, so as not to endanger her mother and father and Martin who are talking in the kitchen.
In the brutal climax Lorna calmly, stoically and courageously confronts the vicious George Castleman.
He asks for Martin but Lorna lies and covers up for him, saying she hasn’t seen him. She boldly with new resolve walks right up to George Castleman. He asks if she’s been waiting for him. “Strangely enough George there was a time when I did wait for you. And no one else. but that’s over now.”
In a struggle to take the gun away from Castleman, Lorna gets shot and wounded, lying in the dirt wearing her fur coat, –hows that for symbolism! Then Martin comes out of the house and shoots Castleman down and his getaway car leaves without him, while he’s lying there dead.
The police and the press show up pushing for all the answers to Lorna (Ethel’s) involvement.
Two cops outside the house start talking about the case. Cop one-“Pretty tough living in a place like this” Cop two–”Tougher to get out” Cop one– “Wouldn’t you?” Cop two shakes his head “Yes!”
Having traveled through her journey performing the code of female masculinity she has reclaimed herself, found her empowerment and emerged as her own woman again. We are left wondering what the future holds for Lorna/Ethel, now not only emancipated, if not redeemed, as the anti-heroine of The Damned Don’t Cry!
Thelma Jordon: “I’m no good for any man for any longer than a kiss!”
Directed by Robert Siodmak, written by Marty Holland with a screenplay by Ketti Frings. Cinematography by George Barnes (Rebecca 1940, Jane Eyre 1943, Spellbound 1945, Mourning Becomes Electra 1947, Force of Evil 1948, War of the Worlds 1953) Costumes designed by Edith head
Starring Barbara Stanwyck as Thelma Jordon, Wendell Corey as Cleve Marshall, Paul Kelly as Miles Scott, Joan Tetzel as Pamela Blackwell Marshall, Stanley Ridges as Kingsly Willes.
Barbara Stanwyck plays Thelma Jordon who uses a gullible attorney to cover up her crimes of murder and larceny, secretly in cahoots with her sleazy husband. As in Double Indemnity,Stanwyck masterfully plays a ‘vice-ridden murderess.’ She performs female masculinity, playing the aggressor— pursing lovers, greed, and power.
Directed by Robert Siodmak, the film opens with Thelma in a small town district attorney’s office reporting burglary attempts at the mansion she shares with her aunt. She begins an affair with DA Cleve Marshall (Wendell Corey), who is in a loveless marriage. Thelma is also married to the sinister Tony Laredo. An icy femme fatale who desires danger, she’s drawn to Tony’s equally nefarious nature and devours Cleve who is weakened by her magnetism. Thelma starts out the femme fatale, her fatal flaw is falling in love with Cleve, feeling remorse, and sacrificing herself to become redeemed in the end.
Thelma’s aunt is murdered in an apparent robbery and her emerald necklace is missing. Fearing Tony will be implicated, she cleans up the evidence, and calls Cleve to help. Thelma is cold and calculating, casting Cleve as her lover and accomplice known only as Mr. X. Cleve tells her to shut the lights and pretend she was asleep when the police arrive. Cleve leaves, making sure to seen but unrecognized by the butler who discovers Aunt Vera’s body.
When Tony’s alibi checks out, Thelma is arrested for murder. While the police try unsuccessfully to prove her guilt, she and Tony plan to leave town. By now Cleve has uncovered Thelma’s checkered past.
He accuses her of duplicity and Thelma admits he was part of the plot. When Cleve confronts her, Tony’s dark presence looms. The camera shows both men juxtaposed in the room, Tony’s dark presence looms— he is too irresistible to let go.. Cleve is too normal and unselfish to be stimulating for her deviant desires. With both men framed in contrast, Thelma realizes she belongs with the dark and dangerous Tony. Tony beats Cleve to a pulp, leaving with Thelma.
But driving down a winding mountain road, Thelma’s pang of conscience gets the better of her and she causes the car to plunge off the cliff. It’s a darkly romantic gesture, suicide by flaming car crash is her attempt at redemption. She hopes with her death, Cleve can repair the ruination of his life. But this is noir, and he cannot wake from the nightmare.
Tony dies but Thelma lives long enough to confess her crimes. She does not give away Cleve as Mr. X, but Miles (Paul Kelly) is suspicious. His career in shambles, Cleve walks off into the uncertain shadows of noir. Thelma dies, redeemed. It’s noir universal justice, Thelma cannot get away with her Aunt’s murder and continue her affair. She must be brought down by fate’s hand.
Miles: ”She’s confessed everything except who her Mr. X is.”
Cleve looks at her “Why don’t you tell him?”
Thelma: “I love him, that’s why. I couldn’t go on with him Cleve. You did that for me. I’m glad I told. All my life struggling, the good and the bad.”
Cleve: “Save your strength darling.”
Thelma: ”Willis said I was two people, he was right. You don’t supposed they could just let half of me die?”
This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying, it’s great to spend time in the darkness of noir’s shadows & under the influence of fate’s pointed finger, but you gotta come out into the light til the next time around!