Dark Patroons & Hat Box Killers: 2015 The Great Villain Blogathon!

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IT’S HERE AGAIN… THAT TINGLING ON THE BACK OF YOUR NECK BECAUSE THERE’S FOUL DEEDS AND MURDEROUS MACHINATIONS AFOOT…HOSTED BY SPEAKEASYSHADOWS & SATIN… AND SILVER SCREENINGS… THE GREAT VILLAIN BLOGATHON OF 2015!

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“Sometimes human places, create inhuman monsters.”
Stephen King, The Shining

“What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark? It would be like sleep without dreams.”
Werner Herzog

“Monsters cannot be announced. One cannot say: ‘Here are our monsters,’ without immediately turning the monsters into pets.”
Jacques Derrida

DRAGONWYCK  (1946)

Vincent Price -had said- “I don’t play monsters. I play men besieged by fate and out for revenge…”

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Vincent Price is perhaps one of THE sexiest men in film. Eventually type cast albeit an icon of the horror film industry… enough of us are aware of his range of talent and his sophisticated manner. If I were to have met him, I would have swoon… and that’s not a lie. He possessed a unique sensuality both tragic and dynamic that just drew you in.

Price always could play ONE of the most cultivated, enigmatic and beguiling villains any time….

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-Secret thoughts… That led to secret love… That led to rapture and terror!-

Gene Tierney as Miranda Wells:Nicholas – you do believe in God?”

Vincent Price as Nicholas Van Ryn: “I believe in myself, and I am answerable to myself! I will not live according to printed mottoes like the directions on a medicine bottle!”

The chemistry between Price and Tierney is authentic and captivating. When Miranda Wells feels humiliated by the gaggle of high class snobbish debutantes because she’s from the wrong end of the river, not from the Hudson but The Connecticut River bottom, and Nicholas tells her she’s better then all of them and asks her to dance. He seems so gentle and human… but he has a dark and villainous side!

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“You couldn’t help yourself any more than I”-Nicholas

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“What makes you think you’re so much better than I am!”

DRAGONWYCK 1946 was Vincent Price’s 18th film, after having appeared in The House of the Seven Gables 1940 as Shelby Carpenter opposite Gene Tierney in Laura 1944, Leave Her to Heaven 1945, right after he appeared as the cold blooded Dr. Richard Cross in Shock 1946.

Produced by Ernst Lubitsch uncredited and overseen by one of my favs– Writer/Director Joseph L Mankiewicz. this Gothic & dark romance is based on the novel by Anya Seton… With cinematography by Arthur C. Miller (The Ox Bow Incident 1943,The Razor’s Edge 1946, Whirlpool 1949, The Prowler 1951), Art Direction by Lyle Wheeler and Russell Spencer, Set Direction by the great Thomas Little. The lighting alone is a mixture of noir chiaroscuro and offers dramatic shadings of the best classical elements of horror. The narrative speaks of familial secrets, and twisted vengefulness not unlike Lewis Allen’s spooky debut masterpiece The Uninvited  1944.

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Added to the moodiness is the eerily haunting score by Alfred Newman with Orchestral arrangements by Edward B Powell. Edited by the keen eyes of Dorothy Spencer (Stagecoach 1939, The House Across the Bay 1940, Lifeboat 1944, The Ghost and Mrs.Muir, The Snake Pit 1948.) 

Costumes by Rene Hubert and Make Up by Ben Nye. The film bares shades of Hitchcock/de Maurier’s Rebecca 1940 and Robert Stevenson’s/Charlotte Brontë‘s Jane Eyre 1943. Even a bit of de Maurier’s tautly suspenseful My Cousin Rachel 1952 directed by Henry Koster and starring Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton. The book is a hell of a good read if you enjoy Gothic melodrama.

Gene Tierney and Vincent Price reunite after having appeared in Otto Premingers‘ memorable film noir masterpiece Laura in 1944.

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Otto Preminger brings together these two fine actors in his noir masterpiece Laura 1944

Here-Gene Tierney plays Miranda Wells, Walter Huston is her devoutly christian working class father-Ephram Wells.

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Walter Huston as Ephram Wells reading from his bible to Miranda
CapturFiles_6 I thought so it's got spirits in it. A little bit. Even a little bit of evil cannot be good Mirdanda
Miranda takes a drink of wine. Her father reproaches her-“I thought so, it’s got spirits in it. A little bit. Even a little bit of evil cannot be good Miranda”– Her stifling life with her religious father pushes her further into the arms of Nicholas Van Ryn

This scene foreshadows the dangerous path the Miranda is willing to wander through, as she starts to break free of her puritanical upbringing and reach for a life of being a free spirit. Believing that Nicholas represents that freedom. But there is a hint of evil that her father can sense.

Vincent Price once again manifests a passionate yet conflicted antagonist Nicholas Van Ryn with a magnetism you cannot escape, yet you may despise his cruelty and his self indulgent murderous arrogance.

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“I must not feel like my life is finished as long as you are with me”-Nicholas
CapturFiles_41 You must never be afraid when you're with me Miranda
“You must never be afraid when you’re with me Miranda”

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Glenn Langan is the handsome yet vanilla Dr Jeff Turner, Anne Revere adds a depth of nurture as Abigail Wells-Miranda’s mother who is weary of her daughters intentions to marry such a powerful man.

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Spring Byington is one of the maids-Magda. Connie Marshall is the young melancholy Katrina Van Ryn, Henry Morgan is Bleeker one of the farmers who challenges Van Ryn and fights back against the antiquated laws.

Vivienne Osborne plays wife-Johanna Van Ryn. Jessica Tandy gives a marvelous performance as Miranda’s maid the feisty Peggy O’ Malley. Trudy Marshall is Elizabeth Van Borden. Reinhold Schunzel is Count de Grenier, Jane Nigh is Tabitha. Ruth Ford is Cornelia Van Borden, David Ballard is Obadiah. Scott Elliot is Tom Wells and Boyd Irwin is Tompkins.

DRAGONWYCK is a Gothic suspense melodrama in the grand classical style. It even brushes against the edges of the classic horror film not only because of the way it’s filmed, but there are certain disturbing elements to the story. The shadows and darkness that are part of the psychological climate work almost reminiscently of a Val Lewton piece. There’s even a pale reference to that of a ghost story that is concealed or I should say unrevealed, with the first Mrs.Van Ryn’s spirit playing the harpsichord, and the eerie phantom chords that add to the mystery and gloom that hang over the manor house.

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Katrine-“I don’t like it now The singing’s getting louder now, I’m afraid I’m afraid”

Ghostly Dragonwyck

With swells of atmospheric tension and darkly embroidered romance there’s just the right tinges of shadows and danger. A lush and fervent tale that combines tragic Gothic romantic melodrama with the legitimate themes of social class struggle wrapped within dark secrets and suspense.

As always, Price conveys a tragic pathos even as the story’s villain, he is a man who manifests layers upon layers of feeling. Brooding, charming, sensual, intellectual, menacing, passionate, conflicted, self-loathing, and ego-maniacal all at once.

One of my favorite roles will always be his embodiment of Corman/Poe’s Roderick Usher in House of Usher 1960.

Vincent Price in House of Usher, 1960.

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The film also offers us the sublime acting skill and divine beauty of- Gene Tierney as the heroine or damsel in peril, a simple farm girl living near Greenwich Connecticut, who dreams of the finer things in life, swept up by the allure of a fairy tale existence only to find out that her dream has become a nightmare.

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Once Miranda receives a letter inviting her to come and visit Dragonwyck, she is perhaps at once young and naive when she arrives at the austere place to be a companion to Van Ryn’s despondent daughter Katrine, a lonely sort of isolated child. First triangulated by Van Ryn’s over-indulgent wife Johanna, after her death, the two begin a whirlwind romance that leads Miranda to marry the imposing Nicholas Van Ryn.

Almost in the style of a Universal monster movie, the central focus is the mysterious mansion, surrounded by volatile thunderstorms and restless villagers who want to take action against their oppressor. The film works as a period piece seeming to possess an added heaviness due to the provincial settings and underpinnings of class unrest, which lends itself to the bleak mood.

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DRAGONWYCK’S villain or very human boogeyman is the inimitable & urbane Vincent Price who holds sway over the locals as the patroon–lord of the land, as well as master of all he surveys, and of course his new wife. Driven by his obsession to have a son. He is a brooding dark figure whose dissent into drug addicted madness comes to light like a demon who has escaped from a bottle.

CapturFiles_88 Neitzche quote here

Nietzsche quote

Van Ryn is vain and contemptuous, scornful, condescending and cruel. Eventually driven by his immense pride, love and desire… to murder his first wife who is in the way of his ultimate legacy.

DRAGONWYCK is an interesting film that belies any one genre. And as I’ve pointed out, beyond the dark melodramatic suspense elements, it’s every bit a horror film. And it is also the directorial debut of Joseph L. Mankiewicz 

Ghost Story

Set during the Nineteenth Century when parts of New York were still founded as feudal Estates. It’s a fascinating portrayal of the history of the 19th century Upstate New York Dutch colonies and their struggles between the rich and poor against the reigning yet dying tradition of aristocratic rule over the small family farms which were overseen by ‘Patroons’  A Patroon is the owner of the large land grants along the Hudson River. They are descendants of the original Dutch patroons… “and they’re terribly rich and elegant.“ -Miranda

Yet as in the case of Nicholas, they can be brutal and self-opportunistic land lords who collected the rent from these hard working, exploited and poor farmers.

This is what first impresses Miranda about Nicholas, his power and station in life. Tibby her sister tells her that she’s not anxious to leave home.

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Miranda says “That’s not fair, you know that I love you and pa, all of you and my home it’s just that I try to be like everyone else… and want what I’m supposed to want. But then I start thinking about people I’ve never known and places I’ve never been. Maybe if the letter hadn’t come I’d…. Oh I don’t know I must be loony.”

Nicholas Van Ryn is a brooding and powerful aristocratic patroon who runs all matters with an iron hand. In the Nineteenth Century the upstate New York counties were still dealing with a system run by these Patroons. There began a social uprising of the surroundings farmers who wanted more power over their land and a rule that would abolish the aristocracy that was a tribute to a dying past practice. Soon there would be an end to these ruling Estates.

As seen in Van Ryn’s maniacal demonstration of his being seated in an elaborate throne he remains poised while collecting the farmers rent. Henry Morgan plays the tough and prideful farmer Klaus who has brought nothing with him. “Not rent– nor tribute.”

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CapturFiles_38 I'm a free citizen I take my hat off for no one
“I’m a free citizen I take my hat off for no one”

When Nicholas’ first wife cannot bare him a son as heir to carry on the Van Ryn name, the wealthy and wicked Nicholas Van Ryn secretly plans to poison her with the help of an Oleander plant. Setting his sights on the younger, more beautiful cousin Miranda.

Oleander

He then invites Miranda (Gene Tierney just naturally exudes a uniquely dreamy eyed splendor) to come and visit Dragonwyck. She is an innocent girl fascinated by the urbane Nicholas but by the film’s climax she becomes entrapped in the foreboding and bleak atmosphere of Dragonwyck, a place of secrets, sadness and insanity.

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Nicholas-“The Breeze must feel wonderful indeed on a face as beautiful as yours I imagine.”

Miranda is so taken with the idea of dancing the waltz and how fine a gentleman cousin Nicholas seems. Her father always reading passages from the bible, she hungers for adventure. Miranda craves the freedom to experience a better life.

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Vincent Price is incredibly handsome as Nicholas. Mysterious, his deep blue eyes crystallize   through the stark black and white film. He has a strong jawline, and possesses a vitality… at first he is so charming. Nicholas-“The Breeze must feel wonderful indeed on a face as beautiful as yours I imagine.”

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The first meal at Dragonwyck, is a grotesque scene in which his wife Johanna (Vivienne Osborne) shows herself to be a lugubrious sow, a glutton and a spoiled child who now bores and disgusts her husband. He tells Miranda, “To my wife, promptness at meals is the greatest human virtue.” 

Nicholas is already starting to reveal his cutting tongue by commenting on how his wife over eats and is not refined. A hint of his cruel nature.

CapturFiles_18 I think I'll have the bon bons before going to bed
“I think I’ll have the bon bons before going to bed”
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Look at the detail of this frame. It’s almost the perfection of a Late 19th century painting

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Miranda meets the despondent Katrine… a hapless child

At dinner, Johanna begins to nag him about bringing home the pastries from New York, the Napoleons, she appears to be a glutton, and though very pretty, a most unattractive portrayal of her character is given for the narrative’s purpose of Nicholas justifiably ridding himself of her so that he might pursue Miranda. In contrast to Johanna’s piggishness, Miranda is given a clear bowl of broth for her supper. the scene is set up so we feel a bit of sympathy toward Nicholas.

As Johanna shoves another bon bon into her mouth…

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Cinematographer Arthur C. Miller frames the shot as Johanna is placed in between Nicholas and Miranda. His wife Johanna appears like a fairy tale character–the over-exaggerated plump wife who gorges herself on sweets while Nicholas and Miranda talk of love and loss. Miranda is wildly curious. He is withdrawn and pensive.

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Nicholas plays the harpsichord. Miranda listens contentedly then asks who the woman in the painting is. He tells her it’s his grandmother Aziel –“That’s a strange name… she looks like a frightened child.”

Miranda asks him to tell her more about his grandmother. Was it love at first sight?

Nicholas-“No Van Ryn does anything at first sight” Miranda-“Oh but she must have been happy to live here” Miranda smiles, her face a glow. Nicholas adds, “As it turned out it didn’t matter, soon after her son was born she died. She brought this harpsichord with her from her home. She played it always.”

Johanna “If you listen to the servants they’ll have you believe she still does!“ she laughs. But Nicholas quickly turns around to look at her, a dark shadow creeps along his brow. His eyes raised.

Nicholas-“fortunately we don’t listen to either the servants or their superstitions.”

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Magda (Spring Byington) tells Miranda about Nicholas’ grandmother from New Orleans, the woman in the portrait. That his grandfather never loved her, he never wanted her at all. he wanted their son. he kept her from him… He forbid her to sing and play. He broke her heart. And drove her….” Magda stops short…. “She prayed for disaster to come to the Van Ryns and she swore that when it came she’d always be here to sing and play… She killed herself in this room.”

Magda asks-“Miss Wells why have you come here? Do you think Katrine is in need of a companion? Miranda answers her, “Well that would be for her father and her mother to decide.”
Magda says, “Don’t you think she’s in need of a father and a mother… that was a silly question wasn’t it?” 

The meddling maid pierces Miranda’s innocence with her honesty like venom–causing a bit of shock on Miranda’s face that usually seems as tranquil as a quiet lake of sparkling water.

“You like it here?” Miranda answers–“Of course I do” Magda comments- “Course you do, you like being waited on, I could see tonight it was the first time. You like peaches out of season. You the feel of silk sheets against your young body. Then one day, with all your heart you’ll wish you’d never come to Dragonwyck…”

The handsome young Dr. Turner (Glenn Langan) comes to take care of Johanna who has taken sick to her bed.

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He and Miranda sit and talk by the fire. He tries to imply that living at Dragonwyck has changed her, he tells her that the last time he met her he felt like they had so much in common.. “Frankly right now I doubt you have any idea about the slightest thing to talk to me about.”

Johanna’s illness gets worse, of course we know Nicholas has poisoned her. Lying in bed she tells him that sometimes she thinks he hates her, but asks if they can go away together once she’s better. He says yes because he knows she’ll never get better. In fact she will never leave that bed alive.

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Continue reading “Dark Patroons & Hat Box Killers: 2015 The Great Villain Blogathon!”

Film Noir ♥ Transgression Into the Cultural Cinematic Gutter: From Shadowland to Psychotronic Playground

“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.”
Sigmund Freud

“Ladies and gentlemen- welcome to violence; the word and the act. While violence cloaks itself in a plethora of disguises, its favorite mantle still remains sex.” — Narrator from Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)

Faster Pussycat
Tura Satana, Haji, and Lori Williams in Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! 1965
Cul-de-Sac
Françoise Dorléac and Donald Pleasence in Roman Polanski’s Cul-de-sac 1966
the Naked kiss
Constance Towers kicks the crap out of her pimp for shaving off her hair in Sam Fuller’s provocative The Naked Kiss 1964
Shock Corridor
Peter Breck plays a journalist hungry for a story and gets more than a jolt of reality when he goes undercover in a Mental Institution in Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor 1963
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Bobby Darin is a psychotic racist in Hubert Cornfield and Stanley Kramer’s explosive Pressure Point 1962 starring Sidney Poitier and Peter Falk.

THE DARK PAGES NEWSLETTER  a condensed article was featured in The Dark Pages: You can click on the link for all back issues or to sign up for upcoming issues to this wonderful newsletter for all your noir needs!

Constance Towers as Kelly from The Naked Kiss (1964): “I saw a broken down piece of machinery. Nothing but the buck, the bed and the bottle for the rest of my life. That’s what I saw.”

Griff (Anthony Eisley) The Naked Kiss (1964): “Your body is your only passport!”

Catherine Deneuve as Carole Ledoux in Repulsion (1965): “I must get this crack mended.”

Monty Clift Dr. Cukrowicz Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) : “Nature is not made in the image of man’s compassion.”

Patricia Morán as Rita Ugalde: The Exterminating Angel 1962:“I believe the common people, the lower class people, are less sensitive to pain. Haven’t you ever seen a wounded bull? Not a trace of pain.”

Ann Baxter as Teresina Vidaverri Walk on the Wild Side 1962“When People are Kind to each other why do they have to find a dirty word for it.”

The Naked Venus 1959“I repeat she is a gold digger! Europe’s full of them, they’re tramps… they’ll do anything to get a man. They even pose in the NUDE!!!!”

Darren McGavin as Louie–The Man With the Golden Arm (1955): “The monkey is never dead, Dealer. The monkey never dies. When you kick him off, he just hides in a corner, waiting his turn.”

Baby Boy Franky Buono-Blast of Silence (1961) “The targets names is Troiano, you know the type, second string syndicate boss with too much ambition and a mustache to hide the facts he’s got lips like a woman… the kind of face you hate!”

Lorna (1964)- “Thy form is fair to look upon, but thy heart is filled with carcasses and dead man’s bones”

Peter Fonda as Stephen Evshevsky in Lilith (1964): “How wonderful I feel when I’m happy. Do you think that insanity could be so simple a thing as unhappiness?”

Glen or Glenda (1953)“Give this man satin undies, a dress, a sweater and a skirt, or even a lounging outfit and he’s the happiest individual in the world.”

Glen or Glenda
Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda 1953

Johnny Cash as Johnny Cabot in Five Minutes to Live (1961):“I like a messy bed.”

Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton) Island of Lost Souls: “Do you know what it means to feel like God?”

The Curious Dr. Humpp (1969): “Sex dominates the world! And now, I dominate sex!”

The Snake Pit (1948): Jacqueline deWit as Celia Sommerville “And we’re so crowded already. I just don’t know where it’s all gonna end!” Olivia de Havilland as Virginia Stuart Cunningham “I’ll tell you where it’s gonna end, Miss Somerville… When there are more sick ones than well ones, the sick ones will lock the well ones up.”

Delphine Seyrig as Countess Bathory in Daughters of Darkness (1971)“Aren’t those crimes horrifying. And yet -so fascinating!”

Julien Gulomar as Bishop Daisy to the Barber (Michel Serrault) King of Hearts (1966)“I was so young. I already knew that to love the world you have to get away from it.”

The Killing of Sister George (1968) -Suzanna York as Alice ‘CHILDIE’: “Not all women are raving bloody lesbians, you know” Beryl Reid as George: “That is a misfortune I am perfectly well aware of!”

The Killing of Sister George
Susannah York (right) with Beryl Reid in The Killing of Sister George Susannah York and Beryl Reid in Robert Aldrich’s The Killing of Sister George 1960

The Lickerish Quartet (1970)“You can’t get blood out of an illusion.”

THE SWEET SOUND OF DEATH (1965)Dominique-“I’m attracted” Pablo-” To Bullfights?” Dominique-” No, I meant to death. I’ve always thought it… The state of perfection for all men.”

Peter O’Toole as Sir Charles Ferguson Brotherly Love (1970): “Remember the nice things. Reared in exile by a card-cheating, scandal ruined daddy. A mummy who gave us gin for milk. Ours was such a beautifully disgusting childhood.”

Maximillian Schell as Stanislaus Pilgrin in Return From The Ashes 1965: “If there is no God, no devil, no heaven, no hell, and no immortality, then anything is permissible.”

Euripides 425 B.C.“Whom God wishes to destroy… he first makes mad.”

Davis & Crawford What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Bette Davis and Joan Crawford bring to life two of the most outrageously memorable characters in Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? 1962

WHAT DOES PSYCHOTRONIC MEAN?

psychotronic |ˌsīkəˈtränik| adjective denoting or relating to a genre of movies, typically with a science fiction, horror, or fantasy theme, that were made on a low budget or poorly received by critics. [1980s: coined in this sense by Michael Weldon, who edited a weekly New York guide to the best and worst films on local television.] Source: Wikipedia

In the scope of these transitioning often radical films, where once, men and women aspired for the moon and the stars and the whole ball of wax. in the newer scheme of things they aspired for you know… “kicks” yes that word comes up in every film from the 50s and 60s… I’d like to have a buck for every time a character opines that collective craving… from juvenile delinquent to smarmy jet setter!

FILM NOIR HAD AN INEVITABLE TRAJECTORY…

THE ECCENTRIC & OFTEN GUTSY STYLE OF FILM NOIR HAD NO WHERE ELSE TO GO… BUT TO REACH FOR EVEN MORE OFF-BEAT, DEVIANT– ENDLESSLY RISKY & TABOO ORIENTED SET OF NARRATIVES FOUND IN THE SUBVERSIVE AND EXPLOITATIVE CULT FILMS OF THE MID TO LATE 50s through the 60s and into the early 70s!

I just got myself this collection of goodies from Something Weird!

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There’s even this dvd that points to the connection between the two genres – Here it’s labeled WEIRD. I like transgressive… They all sort of have a whiff of noir.
Grayson Hall Satan in High Heels
Grayson Hall -Satan in High Heels 1962
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Gerd Oswald adapts Fredrick Brown’s titillating novel — bringing to the screen the gorgeous Anita Ekberg, Phillip Carey and Gypsy Rose Lee and Harry Townes in the sensational, obscure and psycho-sexual thriller Screaming Mimi 1958
The Strangler 1964 Victor Buono
Victor Buono is a deranged mama’s boy in Burt Topper’s fabulous The Strangler 1964
Repulsion
Catherine Deneuve is extraordinary as the unhinged nymph in Roman Polanski’s psycho-sexual tale of growing madness in Repulsion 1965

Just like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, Noir took a journey through an even darker lens… Out of the shadows of 40s Noir cinema, European New Wave, fringe directors, and Hollywood auteurs, brought more violent, sexual, transgressive, and socially transformative narratives into the cold light of day with a creeping sense of verité. While Film Noir pushed the boundaries of taboo subject matter and familiar Hollywood archetypes it wasn’t until later that we are able to visualize the advancement of transgressive topics.

Continue reading “Film Noir ♥ Transgression Into the Cultural Cinematic Gutter: From Shadowland to Psychotronic Playground”

Postcards From Shadowland No. 14

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12 Angry Men (1957) Directed by Sidney Lumet Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Edward Binns, Jack Warden, Henry Fonda, Joseph Sweeney, Ed Begley, George Voskovec… also stars John Fiedler, Martin Balsam and Robert Webber
Broken Blossoms
Broken Blossoms (1919) Starring Lillian Gish as Lucy the girl.
C cigarettegirl
The Cigarette Girl from Mosselprom (Moscow) 1924 Directed by Yuri Zhelyabuzhsky -starring Yuliya Solntseva as Zina Vesenina- the cigarette girl
Christmas Holiday
Christmas Holiday (1944) Directed by Robert Siodmak-starring Deanna Durbin & Gene Kelly
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Curse of the Demon (1957) Directed by Jacques Tourneur-Starring Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins and Niall MacGinnis
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Diana Dors as Eunice Higginbotham in My Wife’s Lodger (1952)
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Directed by Lew Landers Harry Woods is Borno in- Call of the Savage (1935)
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L’Inferno 1911, Dante Alighieri “A Divina Comédia”, Directed by Giuseppe de Liguoro.
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The Sea Hawk 1924 Directed by Frank Lloyd
Hodiak and Bankhead in Lifeboat
Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat (1944) cinematic stage play with the vast scope of the Ocean and the claustrophobic air of desperation. Brilliant performances by Tallulah Bankhead and John Hodiak looking his hunkiest best…
Ingmar Bergman's Virgin Spring
The Virgin Spring (1960) directed by Ingmar Bergman-disturbing journey of revenge
J Gilda
Gilda (1946) directed by Charles VIdor and stars the magnificent Rita Hayworth in the title role Gilda Mundson Farrell, here dancing with Glenn Ford. A film noir classic
Last Tango in Paris
Last Tango in Paris 1972 directed by Bernardo Bertolucci-stars Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider as a pair of angst filled lovers whose relationship is based on sex & death
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Man Made Monster 1941 starring Lionel Atwill as the deranged Dr Rigas
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Monsieur Verdoux 1947 directed by and starring Charles Chaplin-brilliant dark comedy of murder and anti-conformity.
Night of the Hunter Gish & Co.
Charles Laughton’s oneric fable of childhood terrors, the bonds of friendship and the plight of Love vs Hate… Beautifully filmed- starring Lillian Gish as Rachel Cooper and Robert Mitchum as the diabolical Harry Powell in Night of the Hunter (1955)
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Jane Eyre 1943 directed by Robert Stevenson starring Peggy Ann Garner is young Jane.
Plunder Road
Plunder Road (1957) directed by Hubert Cornfeld, perhaps one of the most edgy crime story film noirs headed up Gene Raymond and Elisha Cook Jr.
Robert Ryan in The Set Up
The Set-Up (1949) Robert Ryan stars as boxer Stoker in Robert Wise’s extraordinary noir film centered around the boxing ring and a down on his luck fighter that still has a lot of fight left in him. One of my favorite film noir classics, much to do with Ryan’s performance and Milton R. Krasner’s cinematography…
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the Wonderful Norman Lloyd in Alfred Hitchcock’s Saboteur 1942
Seconds
Rock Hudson is psychologically and physically spun around on his head in Seconds 1966 by John Frankenheimer- A story about that precious commodity… one’s identity
Seeds of Sin 1968 Andy Milligan
SEEDS (1968) Directed by Andy Milligan- it’s seedy and low budget and the perfect exploitative indulgence…
Shack Out on I0I
Shack Out on 101 (1955) different styled film noir starring Lee Marvin as Slob.. directed by Edward Dein and co-stars Terry Moore and Frank Lovejoy
ship of fools
Stanley Kramer directs this incredible ensemble of actors in Ship of Fools (1965) Here showing George Segal, Michael Dunn and Lee Marvin
somwhere in the night john hodiak
John Hodiak tries to remember in Somewhere in the Night (1946) -a taut amnesia themed noir with great characters. Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Here with Fritz Kortner as Anzelmo or Dr Oracle.
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Street With No Name (1948) starring Mark Stevens and directed by William Keighly -This film noir also stars Richard Widmark and Lloyd Nolan…
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Sunrise (1927) directed by F.W. Murnau starring Janet Gaynor and George O’Brien-Beautifully filmed silent masterpiece
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Nightbirds 1970 Andy Milligan’s gritty cult journey about two miscreants in London.
Terror From the Crypt
Terror in the Crypt aka Crypt of the Vampire 1964 directed by Camillo Mastrocinque based on the Karnstein saga with Adriana Ambesi and Ursula Davis and the immortal Christopher Lee
The Fiend Who Walked the West
The Fiend Who Walked the West (1958) directed by Gordon Douglas and starring Hugh O’Brian and a really psychotic Robert Evans.
The Scavengers 1959
The Scavengers 1959 starring Carol Ohmart directed by John Cromwell -an obscure film noir also starring Vince Edwards
The Secret Garden Margaret O'Brien
The Secret Garden 1949 starring Margaret O’Brien and a wonderful cast Herbert Marshall, Dean Stockwell, Gladys Cooper, Elsa Lanchester, Reginald Owen, Brian Roper, Aubrey Mather isobel Elsom and George Zucco fill out this fantasy drama directed by Fred M. Wilcox
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The Seventh Sin (1957) directed by Ronald Neame and Vincente Minnelli starring Eleanor Parker and Françoise Rosay Françoise Rosay as Mother Superior
The Soft Skin 1964 Francoise Dorleac
The Soft Skin 1964 Françoise Dorléac directed by François Truffaut
The Stranger 1946
The Stranger 1946 directed by Orson Welles
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The Terrible People (1960) directed by Harald Reinl adapted from the story by Edgar Wallace stars Joachim Fuchsberger
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The Wild Boys of the Road 1933 directed by William Wellman
The Young One 1960
The Young One 1960 directed by Luis Buñuel starring Key Meersman as Evalyn. Also stars Zachary Scott and Bernie Hamilton
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The Exterminating Angel (1962) directed by Luis Buñuel
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The Twilight Girls (1957) by André Hunebelle
To Kill a Mockingbird Jim and Dill
To Kill a Mockingbird 1962 directed by Robert Mulligan -John Megna as Dill and Phillip Alford as Jem. adapted from Harper Lee’s masterpiece

See you soon… Your EverLovin’ MonsterGirl!

Witness Mr. Burgess Meredith, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers.

“I was born a character actor. I was never really a leading man type.” –Burgess Meredith

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WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON 2014

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It’s here again! The most fabulous blogathon honoring those unsung stars that add that certain singular glimmer to either the cinematic sphere or the small screen sky–The character actors we’ve grown to love and follow adoringly. Thanks so much to Aurora at Once Upon A Screen, Outspoken & Freckled and Paula’s Cinema Club  for hosting such a marvelous tribute once again!

This post’s title comes from the opening narrative for Rod Serling’s favorite Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough At Last.”  ‘Witness Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers’ From Season 1 episode 8 which aired on November 20th 1959.

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Directed by John Brahm, “Time Enough At Last” tells the story of a little bespectacled bibliophile bank teller named Henry Bemis ,a bookworm, a slave to the iron fisted hand of time and all it’s dreary inescapable obligatory scars and yearnings.

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Browbeaten by his wife, boss and even the public at large who see him as an outcast because of his ravenous appetite to read books! Henry can’t even sneak away to read a newspaper during work hours. He’s forced to resort to studying the labels on condiment bottles. She won’t even let him read the ketchup. His harpy of a wife Helen ( Jacqueline deWit) even blackens in the lines of his books at home, calling it “doggerel“– One day as fate would have it, he steals away to the basement vault of the bank to catch up on his beloved preoccupation, when –as many Twilight Zone episodes had been infused with a dose of Rod Serling’s nihilism (as much as there is his hopeful message), the feared 50’s bomb annihilates our vision of the world that was swarming just a few moments before. Suddenly poor Henry seems to be the last man on earth. But wait… perhaps not poor Henry.

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As he stumbles through the debris and carefully placed set pieces– the remnants of man’s destructive force, Henry comes upon the city’s public library filled with BOOKS!!! Glorious books…

While he must struggle against the approaching loneliness of the bleak future ahead, he begins to see the possibility of a new world where he could dream, and wander through so many scrawled worlds. Already an outsider he could finally live a life free to be as his boss rebuked him, a “reader.’

Henry starts to amass various piles of selected readings. There was time now. Time enough at last to read every word on the written page without interruption, interference or judgement.

Yet…fate once again waves her fickle finger via The Twilight Zone and leaves bewildered Henry without his much needed glasses, now they have fallen on the great stone steps, crushed by Henry’s own feet. As with every role Meredith brings to life the character of Henry Bemis with so much mirth and pathos.

He’s always just a bit peculiar, idiosyncratic, eccentric, lyrical, salty, sometimes irascible, but always captivating and distinctive, His voice, his persona, his look, his style… Burgess Meredith could always play the Henry Bemises of the world and grab our hearts because he has that rare quality of being so damn genuine.

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Let’s face it even when the prolific Burgess Meredith is playing a cackling penguin– nemesis to the caped crusader Batman or the devil himself (alias the dapper and eccentric Charles Chazen with Mortimer the canary and his black and white cat Jezebel in tow) in The Sentinel 1977 based on the novel by Jeffrey Konvitz and directed by Michael Winner–he’s lovable!

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He always manages to just light me up. Ebullient, mischievous  and intellectually charming, a little impish, a dash of irresolute cynicism wavering between lyrical sentimentalism. He’s got this way of reaching in and grabbing the thinking person’s heart by the head and spinning it around in dazzling circles with his marvelously characteristic voice. A mellifluous tone which was used often to narrate throughout his career. (I smile even at the simplest nostalgic memory like his work on television commercials , as a kid growing up in the 60s and early 70s I fondly remember his voice for Skippy Peanut Butter. Meredith has a solicitous tone and whimsical, mirthful manner. Here’s a clip from a precious vintage commercial showcasing Meredith’s delightfully fleecy voice.

And his puckish demeanor hasn’t been missed considering he’s actually played Old Nick at least three times as I have counted. In The Sentinel 1977, The Twilight Zone and Torture Garden! While in Freddie Francis’ production he is the more carnivalesque Dr. Diabolo–a facsimile of the devil given the severely theatrical make-up, goatee and surrounding flames… he is far more menacing in Michael Winner’s 70s gem as the spiffy Charles Chazin.

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Burgess Meredith as Dr. Diabolo in Torture Garden 1967

And while I resist even the notion of redoing Ira Levin/William Castle and Roman Polanski’s masterpiece Rosemary’s Baby if, and I’m only saying if… I could envision anyone else playing along side Ruth Gordon as the quirky and roguish Roman Castevet it could only be Burgess Meredith who could pull that off!

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Also being a HUGE fan of Peter Falk’s inimitable Columbo– I ask why why WHY?! was Burgess Meredith never cast as a sympathetic murderer for that relentless and lovable detective in the rumpled rain coat to pursue! Could you imagine the chemistry between these two marvelous actors!

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Burgess Meredith all of 5′ 5″ tall was born in Cleveland Ohio in 1907. His father was a doctor, his mother a Methodist revivalist. We lost him in 1997 at the age of 89. That’s when he took his “dirt nap…” the line and that memorable scene from Grumpier Old Men 1993 that still makes me burst out laughing from the outlandish joy of it all!… because as Grandpa Gustafson (Meredith) tells John Gustafson (Jack Lemmon) about how he’s managed to live so long eating bacon, smoking and drinking his dinner–what’s the point…? “I just like that story!”

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Leading man material… Street of Chance 1942

Burgess Meredith said himself, that he wasn’t born to be a leading man, yet somehow he always managed to create a magnetic draw toward any performance of his. As if where ever his presence in the story was, it had the same effect as looking in a side view mirror of the car “Objects are closer than they appear”–What I mean by that is how I relate his contribution becoming larger than the part might have been, had it been a different actor. Like the illusion of the mirrored reflection , he always grew larger in significance within the story–because his charisma can’t help but consume the space.

He took over the landscape and planted himself there like a little metaphysical essence, animating the narrative to a higher level of reality.

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Meredith started out working with the wonderful Eva Le Gallienne joining her stage company in New York City in 1933. His first film role was that of Mio Romagna in playwright Maxwell Anderson’s Winterset 1936 where Meredith plays the son of an immigrant wrongfully executed for a crime he did not commit. He also joined the ranks of those in Hollywood who were named as “unfriendly witnesses’ by the House Un-American Activities Committee finding no work, being blacklisted in the 1950s.  

During the 1960s Meredith found his way back in various television roles that gave us all a chance to see and hear his incredible spectrum of performances. One of my personal favorites, dramatically potent and vigorously absorbing was his portrayal of Duncan Kleist in  Naked City television series episode directed by Walter Grauman (Lady in A Cage 1964Hold For Gloria Christmas

The groundbreaking crime and human interest series THE NAKED CITY– cast Meredith as a 60s beat poet & derelict who is literally dying to leave the legacy of his words to a kindred spirit.

A powerful performance told through flashback sequences that recollect his murder as he storms through the gritty streets and alley ways of New York City  a volatile alcoholic Greenwich Village poet trying to get back his precious manuscript of poems that were stolen as he bartered them away bit by bit for booze -he has bequeathed his work to the anonymous Gloria Christmas. The chemistry between Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart who plays his estranged wife is magnificent. Heckart is another character actor who deserves a spotlight.

 

BURNT OFFERINGS 1976Dan Curtis’ priceless treasure of creepy camp featuring Karen Black, Oliver Reed and once again uniting the incredible Eileen Heckart with our beloved Burgess Meredith as the ominous Roz and Arnold Allardyce.

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Roz & Arnold… charming… creepy!

Another memorable role for me, is his spirited performance as Charles Chazin alias The Devil in one of my all time favorite horror classics The Sentinel. “Friendships often blossom into bliss.” – Charles Chazin. Ooh that line still gives me chills…

Many people will probably love him for his iconic character study of a crusty cantankerous washed up boxing trainer named Mickey in the Rocky series of films. Or perhaps, for his colorful cackling or should I say quacking villain in the television series Batman -his iconic malefactor — The Penguin!

IMDb fact-His character, the Penguin, was so popular as a villain on the television series Batman (1966), the producers always had a Penguin script ready in case Meredith wanted to appear as a guest star.

Burgess Meredith will always remain one of the greatest, most versatile & prolific actors, character in fact… beloved and eternal…

BURGESS MEREDITH TELEVISION & FILMOGRAPHY ON IMBD HERE

BURGESS MEREDITH

 

“Like the seasons of the year, life changes frequently and drastically. You enjoy it or endure it as it comes and goes, as it ebbs and flows.”- Burgess Meredith

“I’ll just take amusement at being a paradox.”- Burgess Meredith

[on his childhood] “All my life, to this day, the memory of my childhood remains grim and incoherent. If I close my eyes and think back, I see little except violence and fear. In those early years, I somehow came to understand I would have to draw from within myself whatever emotional resources I needed to go wherever I was headed. As a result, for years, I became a boy who lived almost totally within himself.”- Burgess Meredith

 

Continue reading “Witness Mr. Burgess Meredith, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers.”

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) Part III: “Cut this hideous story out of her brain!”

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Edwina Williams with little Rose and Tennessee
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Catherine Holly: “Cut the truth out of my brain… is that what you want Aunt Vi ? Well you can’t. Not even God can change the truth that we were nothing but a pair of-“
Mrs. Venable: “Doctor! “
Catherine Holly: “It’s the truth! “
Mrs. Venable: “See how she destroys us with her tongue for a hatchet? You’ve got to cut this hideous story out of her brain. “
Catherine Holly: “How much are you willing to pay for that Aunt Vi?”

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“She’s right about that, I failed him, I wasn’t able to keep the web from breaking, I saw it breaking but I couldn’t save it or repair it.”
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There, now the truth coming out, now maybe she’ll admit what really happened”
“How she killed him, how she murdered him at… ask her!!”
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“Catherine, what did really happen?”

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Continue reading “Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) Part III: “Cut this hideous story out of her brain!””

Tennessee Williams: Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)-Part II : The Kindness of Strangers -William’s Violent Romance with Human Wreakage or Lock Up Your Sons the Cannibals are Coming!

“Most people’s lives…what are they but trails of debris, each day, more debris… more debris… all long trails of debris. With nothing to clean it all up. Finally death.”

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To me no other playwright manifests more compelling characters, turns a phrase or extracts a poignant moment quite like Tennessee Williams. I want to continue discussing Suddenly, Last Summer, however sensationalist the films climax chooses to eradicate any trace of the central albeit unseen character’s transgression of homosexuality, Tennessee Williams the tormented, sensitive genius who’s homosexuality informed much of his work, also wrote short stories that explore isolation and disconnection within the  family dynamic and fringe collections of misfits and loners, somewhat comparative to the characterizations by Edgar Allan Poe or Robert Aldrich.

Tennessee Williams, Paris, 1959 photo by Gisèle Freund
Tennessee Williams, Paris, 1959 photo by Gisèle Freund

In a 1948 essay in The New York Times, Williams wrote about the questions that people would ask him about his plays and his characters: “Why do you always write about frustrated women?”

“To say that floored me is to put it mildly, because I would say that frustrated is almost exactly what the women I write about are not. What was frustrated about Amanda Wingfield? Circumstances, yes! But spirit? See Helen Hayes in London’s Glass Menagerie if you still think Amanda was a frustrated spirit! No, there is nothing interesting about frustration, per se. I could not write a line about it for the simple reason that I can’t write a line about anything that bores me. Was Blanche of A Streetcar Named Desire frustrated? About as frustrated as a beast of the jungle! And Alma Winemiller? (Summer and Smoke) What is frustrated about loving with such white hot intensity that it alters the whole direction of your life, and removes you from the parlor of the Episcopal rectory to a secret room above Moon Lake Casino?

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Geraldine Page as Alexandra Del Lago and Paul Newman as Chance Wayne in Tennessee William’s Sweet Bird of Youth 1962

I think it’s such a seminal piece of work by William’s because it places the conversation in the mainstream of a very culturally conservative 1957. So to continue with my thoughts and impressions about this nuanced melodrama that at times behaves like Grande Guignol.

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Party grotesque because of it’s dealings with American psychiatry and asylums, Williams’ struggle to embrace his homosexuality while entering into psychoanalysis with the famous Dr.Lawrence Kubie whose work included many closeted writers of that time period, it’s been said that it was playwright William Inge who actually made the introductions to Kubie who had also held a position as a military psychologist in the 1940s working to keep homosexuals out of the service.

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Tennessee Williams scaring the pigeons in Jackson Square New Orleans – thank god it’s not a flock of vicious devouring black birds going for the soft under belly!

It was during the arduous therapy sessions that Kubie urged Williams to not only give up his sexual proclivities but to abandon his writing as well. Williams ignored the advice of his analyst and remained with his long time lover Frank Merlo,  In fact as I stated in Part I, he actually finished Suddenly, Last Summer at the end of their work together. It was ultimately his writing that served as catharsis, than any prescribed deprivation by Kubie. The one positive by-product of their discussions about William’s dysfunctional family life helped spark a re-energized creative force that proved prolific.

Williams does seem to charge his story with a negative view of American psychiatry. Using the threat of a lobotomy as a weapon, is pivotal to the narrative. It is not only William’s condemnation of neurosurgery as a tool of eradicating the identity of the self, his sister Rose and Catherine Holly, but it goes to the argument that the mental health establishment was attacking homosexuality by wiping out the ‘desire’, his choice to live his life the way he wanted to, and was too comfortably supported by the norms of a society that would rather have ‘homosexuals’ just disappear, ‘the cure’ essentially being the same as wiping out the ‘disease’ from the soul. Violet insists that Sebastian was “chaste.” In death he could remain so.

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The incarnation of Sebastian Venable- A white silk suit with no face

Suddenly, Last Summer’s protagonist Sebastian is literally and figuratively absent. He has died before the film begins. There is something to the narrative that makes him somewhat of a blank page, not unlike or symbolically like the empty pages of his yearly poetry notebook mother Violet carries around with her like the bible. She assaults Catherine with it, furiously, as testimony to his inability to write his last Poem of Summer without his mother there to support his creative force. The very books of poetry themselves ‘ambiguous.’

In this story, Sebastian’s persona, his physical body haunts the narrative, veiled, disambiguated and elusive. As Violet describes him to Dr Cukrowicz it is as if she is discussing a ‘work of art’, almost unreal, inhuman, superlative and divine.

Sebastian Venable is not present as a stable or unifying entity,he merely represents the fragmented consequence of his desires, therefore you cannot assign any definitive boundaries around his identity. The one constant that is pervasive is that he is an absolute symbol of ‘desire’. He and it, are one in the same.-though veiled in secrecy and only revealed at the end. The only evidence or declaration of his existence is his white silk suit, cultured accoutrements and ob*je d’art cluttering his Atelier.

Since Williams did cease working with Kubie, and he continued to self identify as a queer man, it has to conflict with Williams’ detractors who claim, Suddenly, Last Summer was a condemnation of his own homosexuality. The film creates too much of a negative and sinister environment surrounding Lions View, demonizing lobotomies and it’s inherent medieval barbarism, and rallying against the self-denial of Violet Venable. All factors that explore how the world imposes it’s will on an individual’s personal freedom.

THE SELF LOATHING HOMOSEXUAL AND WILLIAM’S STORY OF THE VENABLES.

THE TRUE MONSTERS OF SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER. The Hollies, Dr. Lawrence J. Hockstader: head of Lions View Sanitarium who seeks funding for barbaric surgeries, the Devouring Mother Violet Venable, the Natural World, the Lady Venus Fly Trap and God himself.

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Norman Bates mom. An archetypal devouring mother, based on historical serial killer from Wisconsin Ed Gein’s domineering yet stuffed mother.

So this leads to another lurking question about the play, the story, and the film’s adaptation. Is Suddenly, Last Summer the ultimate example of The Self Loathing Queer? While Sebastian Venable is a character who might be considered a predator, a parasite, a procurer or user, who ‘baits’ the objects of his desire with the women in his life. The truth is he is not the only focal point of the story, he is the impetus, the catalyst, with which the story sparks.

 “Blondes were next on the menu,” Catherine explains to Dr Cukrowicz, “He was fed up with the dark ones and was famished for blondes….that’s how he talked about people, as if they were – items on a menu. – ‘That one’s delicious looking, that one is appetizing’…”

He is also a figure manifested and manufactured by a devouring mother incestuous and domineering who taught her son well, how to use his social capital to manipulate, exploit and ultimately consume. Even to the exclusion of her deceased husband whom she abandoned while he was dying, just so she could be with her son when he had considered renouncing all his worldly possessions and becoming a Tibetan Monk. We see through a spectrum of maternal monologues the tenuous line between motherly love and oedipal internment. A devouring mother with a goddess complex who intones the ritualistic invocation of his name – “My son, Sebastian” – throughout the film setting forth a solid declaration of ownership to her son as well as giving him a place in the framework of her life’s meaning.

“Sebastian always said, ‘Mother when you descend it’s like the Goddess from the Machine’… it seems that the Emperor of Byzantium – when he received people in audience – had a throne which, during the conversation, would rise mysteriously into the air to the consternation of his visitors. But as we are living in a democracy, I reverse the procedure. I don’t rise, I come down.”

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In fact, William’s portrayal of mostly all the heterosexual characters in the story radiate a nature that can be qualified as reprehensible, greedy, vicious and downright morbid. Violet Venable is as much or more a grotesque character than Sebastian’s homosexuality, she is the striking monster of the story if you will.

Catherine Holly is literally raped surrounded by the wild Oaks, the image evoked as if it were a rite performed by evil spirits emanating from the ancient Oaks themselves, although she was violated by a married man of low stature in the community no less. Catherine’s violation itself is a monstrous aspect of the story, and might harken back to the accusation of rape that William’s sister Rose made toward her own father, the reason, Edwina wanted her daughter quieted.

Catherine’s own mother and brother easily tune out the reality of the invasive and irreversible brain damage that drilling into her skull would cause, just so they can grab their piece of the Venable fortune. The Hollies are all too eager and willing to sign commitment papers from the malevolent Aunt Violet not only to confine her to Lion’s View but subject her to a lobotomy in order to get their hands on Sebastian’s inheritance. Monstrous.

Continue reading “Tennessee Williams: Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)-Part II : The Kindness of Strangers -William’s Violent Romance with Human Wreakage or Lock Up Your Sons the Cannibals are Coming!”

Suddenly Last Summer (1959) Part I -The Devouring Mother, the Oedipal Son & the Hysterical Woman

“I know it’s a hideous story but it’s a true story of our time and the world we live in”- Catherine Holly

SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER (1959)

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Suddenly, Last Summer was a one-act play by Tennessee Williams. It opened off Broadway on January 7, 1958. It was part of a double bill with another one-act play of Williams’ called Something Unspoken. Suddenly, Last Summer is considered one of Williams’ starkest and most poetic works, and I tend to agree.

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American Playwright Tennessee Williams

Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve 1950, A Letter to Three Wives 1949) based on Tennessee William’s play with additional work on the screenplay by Gore Vidal.

While writing this post, I discovered the same story surfacing about the working atmosphere on the set of the film, concerning the tensions between film stars Katharine Hepburn as well as Liz Taylor toward Mankiewicz’s abominable treatment of actor Monty Clift who had been struggling on the set with alcohol and drug use due to a car accident that disfigured his face. The actors had grown increasingly disgusted with the director’s blatant homophobic abuse of Clift who was openly gay.

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Film director-Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Montgomery Clift in I Confess (1964)
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Dr. Cukrowicz talks with Catherine at the convent.
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Liz and Monty on the set of Place In The Sun 1950

Apparently this tension culminated into a moment of rebellion by Ms. Hepburn, who waited til the final scene was shot, and then proceeded to spit in Mankiewicz’s face. I have to say, that while Hepburn is not on my list of actors that I idolize nor whose film career I follow closely, I commend her intrepid defense, and would have expected more of  a face slap with a long white linen glove. I am saddened by the revelation, if it is accurate that Mankiewicz was a homophobe. I just finished watching his film, Letter to Three Wives 1949 with 3 of my best loved actresses Ann Southern, Jeanne Crain and Linda Darnell. Not to mention his contribution to All About Eve 1950. It’s often hard to separate the person from the work, and while I will always admire his work as a director, it does taint the waters to think that Mankiewicz could be a neanderthal in his thinking.

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Letter to Three Wives (1949) starring Ann Southern, Linda Darnell and Jeanne Crain.
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Joseph L. Mankiewicz on the set of Suddenly Last Summer with Elizabeth Taylor

Producer Sam Spiegel submitted Gore Vidal’s screenplay to the MPAA’s review board before production began, the board having expressed objections to the stories subject matter. Spiegel wanted to let Joseph Mankiewicz shoot the film as it was intended. Although the board first refused to approve the film, they gave the go ahead, after a few minor changes were made. Thus, the word homosexual never materialized at any time in the film.

The movie supposedly differs from the stage version, using added scenes, and characters. Also adding a few subplots. Due to the strict Hollywood Production Codes that were enforced, they had to cut out any explicit references to homosexuality.

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Elizabeth Taylor conjures the psychically injured Catherine Holly with a volatile poignancy , Katharine Hepburn icy and filled with misconstructions about the relationship with her son Sebastian, emerges from her gilded elevator like a throne, as Mrs.Violet Venable. Both stars were up for Academy Awards for Best Actress in A Leading Role that year, but both lost to Simone Signoret for her role in Room at The Top (1959).

Elizabeth Taylor as Catherine

Montgomery Clift is the kindly and ruminating Dr. Cukrowicz  Albert Dekker is head of Lion’s View Sanitarium Dr. Lawrence J. Hockstader, who is in desperate need of an endowment to overhaul his crumbling hospital.

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Mercedes McCambridge plays Mrs Grace Holly, Violet’s opportunistic mother, and Gary Raymond plays Violet’s self absorbed brother George Holly. Mavis Villiers is Mrs Foxhill, Violet Venable’s dutiful assistant.

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Mercedes McCambridge as Mrs Holly, Catherine’s Machiavellian mother.

With a dynamic soundtrack by Buxton Orr, (usually working on Sci-Fi films like Fiend Without A Face 1958,First Man Into Space 1959) and Malcolm Arnold. Film editing by William Hornbeck and Thomas Stanford. And cinematography by Jack Hildyard.

Brooks Atkinson of the NY times writes “Mr Williams is at his peak as the poet of the damned” and “his most decisive denial of the values by which most people live, his most devastating statement about corruption in the world.”

In Donald Spoto’s biography – The Kindness of Strangers-The Life of Tennessee Williams, Williams underwent intense psychotherapy in mid 1957 frequently visiting his sister Rose who was institutionalized , eventually completing the play against the advice of Dr Kubie. ” I think if this analysis works” he said as the year drew to a close, “It will open some doors for me. If I am no longer disturbed myself, I will deal less with disturbed people and with violent material…It would be good If I could write with serenity” -Tennessee Williams

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Rose Isabel Williams, sister and tragic figure forced into having a lobotomy.

The intense therapy that Williams underwent with Dr. Kubie, actually triggered an even more violent self purgative exposition of his life’s journey, staying true to himself as a writer who would contribute something more visceral to the American stage. Spoto goes on to say “Williams had hoped at the beginning of his therapy to conform to the prevailing theatrical and cultural coziness of 1958 but the play was neither safe nor easy nor would it be for his audience.”

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Williams with his sister Rose later on in years.

Suddenly, Last Summer essentially acts as confessional, partly out of the guilt he felt about his sister Rose’s treatment, and self reflection of the demons that were made manifest due to his intensive psychoanalysis.

Throughout Suddenly, Last Summer, there are threads of autobiographical allusions to his private life.Williams struggled with the sadness over his own sister Rose who was forced to undergo a lobotomy at the urging of their own domineering mother, not unlike Violet. During the time Williams started writing Suddenly, Last Summer, he began his psychoanalysis before finishing the play.

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Tennessee Williams at age 31 working at his typewriter.

One of the narrative’s main arteries is the looming threat of lobotomy to Catherine Holly mirroring William’s sister Rose’s imposed surgery. Sebastian Venable’s pattern of exploitation was something that he wrestled with about his own behavior. “Yes” says Catherine, “We all use each other and that’s what we think of as love.”

“and for Sebastian/Williams sexual exploitation had masqueraded as love, and had become a kind of human devouring. The final horror of “Desire and the Black Masseur” was at last narrated in the extreme: “We were going to blonds…that’s how he talked about people, as if they were items on the menu. ‘That one’s delicious- looking, that one is appetizing.’ or ‘that one is not appetizing’ – I think because he was really nearly half starved from living on pills and salads.”- Donald Spoto

Apparently the connection between Williams and Sebastian was even made evident using the reference to “popping little white pills” And although Violet claims that Sebastian like the author , “dreaded, abhorred false values that come from being publicly known from fame, from personal exploitation,” she admitted “Time after time my son would let people go, dismiss them.”

As it often reveals itself with many of Tennessee Williams plays, the story uses elements from his own personal life acting as semi-confessional. Sebastian’s persona is one of a counterfeit poet, parasite and exploiter of people, such as his delicate cousin Catherine, ultimately being devoured by street urchins in Spain, literally and metaphorically consumed by the object of his own desire, setting the tone for Williams reflexive portrait of self condemnation and remorse. Suddenly, Last Summer as Donald Spoto once again states, “the perception of derailed creative energies and the abuse of love as any moralist could ever proclaim.” “Obsessed with what the play calls ‘the trails of debris’ that he believed had characterized so much of his life in the 1940s and 50s.”

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Tennessee Williams

Joseph L Mankiewicz had said, “There is something not only of confession in the play, but of wish-fulfillment too. Tennessee might have liked to have a garden with statues like Sebastian’s, a study with paintings like Sebastians’. If he had a distaste for anything, it was for his own aging, and his own humble background and circumstances. Suddenly Last Summer enabled him to have what he despised, in a way. And Mrs Venable is certainly a composite of the women who defended and accompanied him all over the world.”

Violet and Catherine
Violet Venable, looking somewhat like a bird of prey, setting out to destroy her niece who threatens the myth of her perfect son.

It’s 1937 Montgomery Clift plays the sympathetic Dr. John Cukrowicz an upcoming neurosurgeon from Chicago, who has been summoned to the palatial Venable estate an old Victorian Mansion in the Garden District of New Orleans, by the sovereign widow, and wealthy matriarch Violet Venable inhabited imposingly by Katharine Hepburn who portrays Violet’s character like a Dragon Lady in a starched white exoskeleton. Violet is prepared to donate a large sum of money to fund the doctor’s research at the state mental hospital Lion’s View Asylum, with the stipulation that he perform a lobotomy on her supposedly insane niece and poor relation, Catherine Holly portrayed by Elizabeth Taylor in one of her most volatile roles.

Remembering

Suddenly, Last Summer, harnesses integral visions and symbols of a predatory natural world. Overgrown plant life that seems to inhabit the ancient spirits of the forest, statues resembling an Angel of Death, and somewhat like that of a winged maternal bird of prey, a flesh eating bird as mentioned in the story Violet relates to Dr. Cukrowicz. We see Violet in several frames set against the figure of the skeletal harbinger. Violet is the embodiment of The Devouring Mother, as she escorts the gentleman doctor around her dead son Sebastian’s primordial jungle evoking the garden of earthly delights by Hieronymus Bosch.

Williams intended the environment to be a Savage place, the natural world. A domain where human frailty and compulsion breed a ravaging force that consumes not only the spirit, but essentially arouses the carnal, primal need to consume the weaker of the species not only to prevail as the unbounded agency of dominance, but to satiate oneself infinitely.

Primal Garden
The Winged Angel of Death stands ceremoniously between Dr Cukrowicz and Violet Venable, a harbinger of sorts. Watching over Sebastian’s Garden of Earthly Delights.

Continue reading “Suddenly Last Summer (1959) Part I -The Devouring Mother, the Oedipal Son & the Hysterical Woman”

Nightmare Alley (1949) In the cutting room with editor Barbara McLean. See the descent of man, the human condition up close, and throw in a Geek, please.

NIGHTMARE ALLEY 1947Barbara McLean: Groundbreaking Film Editor

Photo from February issue of Vogue 1952 here’s cutter Barbara McLean editing All About Eve

Director William Goulding’s Allegorical Carnival/ Noir masterpiece based on William Lindsay Gresham’s book: an Americana study of the rise and fall of personal morality, that reaches to the lowest depths of show business with sleazy inhabitants and the sinister and shadowy world of  freak- shows, mentalist acts, geeks, alcoholism and the voyeuristic throng that feed off the human suffering of others

Tyrone Power as Stan Carlisle and Joan Blondell as Zeena Krumbein
Ian Keith as the alcoholic, mentalist Pete Krumbein

In Nightmare Alley Barbara McLean contributes to creating a landscape of a distorted reality along side the darkly, clandestine and arcane carnival atmosphere. The film is beautifully woven, as the seamless images flow into one another. McLean blends together the invisible strands that only one’s dreams could effectively manifest. McLean’s editing constructs much of the surreal and tormented ‘movement’ of the film. It’s what transports each scene of the film, making it every bit as if WE were inhabiting someone’s nightmare.

Coleen Gray creating a little electrifying entertainment for the crowd

With 62 film credits to her name, half of which were with filmmaker Henry King, Barbara McLean is a master of cutting and shaping. She’s worked on some of my all time favorite films including this film, Goulding’s Nightmare Alley, Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s No Way Out (1950), Henry King’s The Song of Bernadette (1943), Robert Wise’s The Desert Rats (1953), John Ford’s Tobacco Road (1941) and again Mankiewicz’s All About Eve (1950). McLean also worked as editor on Elia Kazan’s Viva Zapata 1953, and in 1954 with Michael Curtiz’s on The Egyptian. She edited the first movie filmed in CinemaScope, The Robe (1952), directed by Henry Koster.

Bette Davis and Celeste Holm in All About Eve
Jennifer Jones in The Song of Bernadette
Linda Darnell in No Way Out
Gene Tierney in Tobacco Road

Barbara McLean was one of the most recognized editors working during the reign of Darryl F. Zanuck at the 20th Century Fox Studio, from the 1930s to the 1960s. Eventually achieving the honor of division chief of the editing department in 1949. She joined Fox in 1935 as one of only eight female film editors working in Hollywood in the 1930s. McLean was part of a huge team of technicians, writers, directors, collaborators that Zanuck went to for guidance. She was very influential in much of  Zanuck’s decision making process, as she often acted as adviser to the Hollywood movie mogul, helping him coordinate even a single shot.

She won the 1944 Academy Award for Film Editing for her work on Wilson (1944) director Henry King’s biopic film of Woodrow Wilson’s political career. McLean was nominated another 6 times for that award, including her work on All About Eve. I think she should have won the 23rd annual Academy Award for for All About Eve, but she lost to Ralph E Winters and Conrad A Nerig for their work on King Solomon’s Mines. It was a tough year to compete with nominations also going to The Third Man and Sunset Boulevard. McLean’s greatest collaboration was with film maker Henry King, a relationship that spanned over 29 films including Twelve O’Clock High 1949.

Her last editing credit was for Henry King’s Untamed (1955). In later years, McLean acted primarily in a supervisory and administrative capacity, eventually retiring from 20th Century Fox in 1969, due to her husband’s declining health. She received the inaugural American Cinema Editors Career Achievement Award in 1988. McLean died in Newport Beach, California in 1996.

Twelve O’Clock High 1949 with Gregory Peck

Her impact was summarized by Adrian Dannatt in a 1996 obituary in The Independent: McLean was “a revered editor who perhaps single-handedly established women as vital creative figures in an otherwise patriarchal industry.” Writer Tom Stempel, in a piece about Darryl F. Zanuck writes of McLean‘s influence on Zanuck‘s film making; “For all her focus on keeping the narrative moving, McLean’s editing could dazzle if called for. In A Bell for Adano (1945), she took material director Henry King shot on the return of the Italian POWs to their village and put it together with such a pure sense of emotion that when she cut at exactly the right moment to King’s overhead shot of the prisoners and villagers coming together in the square, the cut was more heart-stopping than conventional close-ups would have been.”

McLean brings together the writers and directors vision and gives it a completeness, a cohesion, like alchemy with film footage, she creates cinema gold. According to Bright Lights Film Journal “the basic rules of film editing, first established in the silent era, still govern the industry today: maintain your eye lines, preserve continuity, respect planarity (the rules governing the transposition of three dimensions onto a two-dimensional plane), find a good rhythm, and, most important, always advance the story.” Here is where McLean excels. If you look at the variety of narratives, milieus and landscapes McLean has stitched together in the editing room, you can see how expansive her vision explores the realms of the human condition, moral corruption and redemption weaving together images that shape the story into ‘the big picture’, with all the little pieces of the intricate moments of the framework, revealing an intimate story, a memorable story, a universal notion of people living in a state of transformation.

If I could enter the film industry at this stage of my life, there would be one thing aside from my already being a music composer of course, would be to sit in the editing chair. One of the things I look for in a film, and feel passionately certain about is amongst the cinematography, scoring and casting , if there is one singularly essential component to what makes a film greater…it’s the editing.

We should also celebrate the women working in the very male dominated career of film editing, women like Barbara McLean and even Dorothy Spencer (Lifeboat 1944, Stagecoach 1939 and the film I recently blogged about Valley of The Dolls 1967).

I should also mention, Anne Bauchens, who was Cecil B. DeMille’s editor, cutting nearly all his movies from 1915 until his death in 1959 and Margaret Booth. Two women who haven’t been put in the greatest light in terms of their ‘difficult’ personalities and skill, something I’ll write about in future. But aren’t women always difficult to work with? Geez.

And so let’s raise a toast to Barbara McLean’s contributions to cinema… a pioneer in the industry not only breaking the glass ceiling but taking all the pieces and putting them back together to make a indelible cinematic mural for ages to come.

And now for the Carnival ‘Geek’ in Nightmare Alley: Tyrone Power’s astonishing portrayal of Stanton ‘Stan’ Carlisle the ambitious carney who rises to evangelistic notoriety as a slick and cunning mentalist, only to descend into the realm of self destruction when power corrupts, consumes and destroys his life, ultimately leading him back to side show freakery becoming the very ‘geek’ he once found repulsive. McLean’s treatment of the film’s climatic excursion into the bowels of the carnival and Stan’s diminution into the shadows is quite viscerally staggering.

Tyrone Power’s nightmarish descent into the world of the ‘geek’

According to the book Carny Sideshows by Tony Gangi, a ‘Geek’ is:

An unskilled performer whose performance consists of shocking, repulsive and repugnant acts. This “lowest of the low” member of the carny trade would commonly bite the head off a living chicken, or sit in a bed of snakes. Some historians distinguish between “geeks” who pretend to be wild men, and “glomming geeks” whose act includes eating disgusting things. See the 1949 movie “Nightmare Alley” for a good geek story as well as for an excellent depiction of the mentalist’s technique of “cold reading”. In later years the geek show turned into a “see the pitiful victim of drug abuse” show. “Geek” as a verb (“he geeked”) is one of several terms in use among wrestlers meaning to intentionally cut oneself to draw blood.

A geek who bites the heads off snakes…

Either on the fairway or the cutting room floor, I’ll be there! Your ever faithful -MonsterGirl!