Chapter 4 – Queers and Dykes in the Dark: Classic, Noir & Horror Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters:

CODED CLASSIC HORROR THEORY “The Uncanny & The Other”

“Scenes of excessive brutality and gruesomeness must be cut to an absolute minimum…”

“As a cultural index, the pre-Code horror film gave a freer rein to psychic turmoil and social disorientation because it possessed a unique freedom from censorship… the Hays Office admits that under the Code it is powerless to take a stand on the subject of ‘gruesomeness.‘(Thomas Doherty)

Horror films in particular have made for a fascinating case study in the evolving perceptions of queer presence; queer-horror filmmakers and actors were often forced to lean into the trope of the “predatory queer” or the “monstrous queer” to claim some sense of power through visibility and blatant expressions of sexuality.- Essential Queer Horror Films by Jordan Crucciola-2018

Though Hollywood execs refused to show explicit queerness, they were willing to pay for scripts that dealt with characters that were social outcasts and sexually nonnormative. The horror genre is perhaps the most iconic coded queer playground, which seems to have an affinity with homosexuality because of it’s apparatus of ‘otherizing’ and the inherent representation of difference. The horror genre crosses over boundaries that include transgressions between heterosexuality and queerness. The villain, fiend or monster plays around with a variety of elements that while usually separate, might merge male and female gender traits.

The horror film in particular, found it’s place asserting a queer presence on screen. The narratives often embraced tropes of the ‘predatory queer’ or the ‘monstrous queer’ in order to declare themselves visible while cinematic queers were elbowed out of the way. Filmmakers had to maneuver their vision in imaginative ways to subvert the structure laid out for them by the Code.

As Harry M. Benshoff explains in his book Monsters in the Closet: Homosexuality in the Horror Film, “Immediately before and during the years of World War II, Universal Studio’s horror films began to employ a more humanistic depiction of their monsters,” and the films of Val Lewton, like Cat People, reflected “a growing awareness of homosexuality, homosexual communities, and the dynamics of homosexual oppression as it was played out in society and the military.” So even though Hollywood execs refused to show explicit queerness, during the first true horror boom in American cinema, they were willing to pay for stories about social outcasts and sexually nonnormative figures. Horror fans thus found themselves awash in some of the genre’s most iconic queer-coded characters of all time.

On a Greek Island, Boris Karloff plays Gen. Nikolas Pherides in Val Lewton/Mark Robsin’s Isle of the Dead 1945. Driven insane by the belief that Thea (Ellen Drew) who suffers from catalepsy is the embodiment of an evil vampiric force, is a demon called a vorvolaka. Lewton drew on collective fears, and all his work had an undercurrent of queer panic and a decipherable sign of homophobia.

The Vorvolaka has beset the island with plague. Thea- “Laws can be wrong, and laws can be cruel, and the people who live only by the law are both wrong and cruel.”

The Pre-Code era was exploding with American horror films, that reflected the angst, social unrest and emotional distress that audiences were feeling. Personified in films that used graphic metaphors to act as catharsis, the images were often filled with rage, as Thomas Doherty calls it ‘the quality of gruesomeness, cruelty and vengefulness’. Think of the angry mobs with their flaming torches who hunt down the Frankenstein’s monster, eventually crucifying him like a sacrificial embodiment of their fury. James Whale’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein 1931 was a smash hit for Universal. Other studios were trying to ride the wave of the awakening genre of the horror picture. Paramount released director Rouben Mamoulian’s adaption of the novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson, published in 1886. The film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1931 stars Fredric March and Miriam Hopkins. During the period of Pre-Code, many horror films proposed grisly subject matter that would shock and mesmerize the audience. For example, actor/director Irving Pichel’s The Most Dangerous Game (1932) starring Joel McCrea, Leslie Banks and Fay Wray.

In 1932 Michael Curtiz directed Doctor X starring Lionel Atwill who would become one of the leading mad scientists of the genre.

Michael Curtiz’s macabre horror/fantasy experiment of homosocial ‘men doing science’, crossing over into profane territories and embracing dreadful taboos!

All scenes below from Dr. X (1932)

Fay Wray as Atwill’s daughter who is the only woman surrounded by a group of scientific non conformists.

The adaptation of Bram Stoker’s story of the Eastern European incubus was interpreted by Tod Browning in Dracula 1931, immortalized by Hungarian stage actor Bela Lugosi with his iconic cape and mesmerizing stare. While his nightly visitations were blood driven and cinematically sexual in nature, there is a very homoerotic element to his influence over Renfield (Dwight Frye) and his gaze of gorgeous David Manners as John Harker.

Bela Lugosi looking down upon David Manners in a scene from the film ‘Dracula’, 1931. (Photo by Universal/Getty Images)

Robert Florey directed the macabre Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe. And a film which has no connection to Poe’s story but in name, is one of the most transgressive, disturbing horror films rampant with vile taboos, such as necrophelia, incest, sadism, satanism and flaying a man alive, is the unorthodox The Black Cat (1934). The film stars Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, one of four pictures they would do together. A pair of enemies who have a score to settle, ghosts of a past war, and stolen love all taking place with the backdrop of a stylish Bauhaus set design and high constrast lighting.

Paramount released Murders in the Zoo (1933) with Lionel Atwill a sadistic owner of a zoo, who uses wild animals to ravage and kill off any of his wife’s (Kathleen Burke) suitors. Kathleen Burke is well known as the panther girl in Erle C. Kenton’s horrifically disturbing Island of Lost Souls 1932, an adaptation of master fantasy writer H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau. Incidentally, Welles, Laughton and wife Elsa Lanchester had been good friends earlier on, before the filming of Lost Souls. The film stars Charles Laughton as the unorthodox, depraved scientist who meddles with genetics and nature. He creates gruesome human/animals, torturing them with vivisection in his ‘house of pain.’ The film also stars Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams and Bela Lugosi as The Sayer of the Law.

And in 1933 King Kong shows a giant ape grasping the half naked object of his affection with unmentionable connotations of bestiality between the ape and Fay Wray. With scenes of Wray writhing in his gigantic paws, he lusts after her, until his desire kills him. It’s almost like fastasy noir, the object of your desire, will ultimately kill you!

The 1930s and 1940s — Fear the Queer Monsters

Re-assessing the Hitchcock Touch; by Wieland Schwanebeck -As Rhona Berenstein asserts, the horror genre “provides a primary arena for sexualities and practices that fall outside the purview of patriarchal culture, and the subgeneric tropes of the unseen, the host and the haunted house.”

By the same token, Kendra Bean concludes that Mrs. Danvers is portrayed as “a wraith; a sexual predator who is out to make Mrs. de Winter her next victim.”

Queer characters in horror films during the early period, reveals similarities between Mrs. Danvers and the staging of earlier sapphic characters, such as Gloria Holdens’s well-known portrayal of Countess Marya Zaleska in Dracula’s Daughter 1936. Yet, similiar to the self discipline of Mrs. Danvers, Dracula’s Daughter remains a figure of primacy and pity as Ellis Hanson argues Dracula’s Daughter presents “the possibilities of a queer Gothic” early on in Hollywood history, “rich in all the paradox and sexual indeterminacy the word queer and the word Gothic imply.

There was a revival of the horror craze during the period of WWII. The Hollywood studios, both major and ‘Poverty Row” like Monogram and Republic realized that horror movies were a lucrative business. The studios began to revisit the genre looking for, not only fresh formulas, but they resurrected, the classic monsters, dropping them into new plots. They also envisioned uniting the gangster film with horror films, and this homogenizing, led to a ‘queering’ of the two styles, that demonstrated phallocentric ( guns, scientific penetration) and homoerotic themes and images into a sub-genre.

Public awareness of homosexuality reached a new height during these years, primarily due to the new set of social conditions wrought by war. Slowly , the love that dare not speak its name was being spoken, albeit in ways almost always obscurantist, punitive and homophobic. The linkage of homosexuality with violence and disease remained strong. Monsters in the Closet -Harry Benshoff

Rhona Berenstein in her insightful book Attack of the Leading Ladies, points out that films featuring the mad scientist trope operates with the homosocial principle which speaks of the homo eroticism of males working together in consort subverting science together, as a group of men who hide behind their objectification -the female object of their gaze, are in fact, figures of objectification themselves. They are simultaneously homosocial, homoerotic and homophobic in aspect; … potentially possessing an extra-normative commitment between the two men.

Mad doctor movies are homosocial in nature. The mad doctor movie is a subgenre that below the surface glorifies intimate male camararderie-and male homosexuality, and by the close of the picture, society, the prevailing culture must in turn annihilate, that which is repressed. But it is not exclusively a vehicle to express the homosexuality through homosocial interactions. There is a component not only of male bonding, a world without women, the thrust is a synthesis of misogyny and patriarchal tyranny and oppression of women. Homosocial relationships between men in these science horrors show the man’s desire for connection to other men, even one created by his own hand.

According to (Twitchell) in his Dreadful Pleasures, and Attack of the Leading Ladies (Rona Berenstein) Colin Clive as Dr. Frankenstein in all three Universal pictures, was at least performing bisexuality. Whale’s 1933 Frankenstein might give way to the homosocial realm of the mad scientist trope, of ‘homoerotic indulgence’ as these men exclude women from the pursuit of their fulfillment. Twitchell views the scientist’s fluid sexuality in order to examine the concept of a man controlling women’s primacy of giving birth. This might explain Dr. Frankenstein’s venture into unnatural reproduction. A process he wants to divert to himself without women’s exclusive right to motherhood. In the scene where he is as close to giving birth to a full grown man, he seems to display a sexual arousal, when his creation comes to life. Henry Frankenstein provokes nature and defies his heterosexuality. As Whale was an openly gay director in Hollywood, it can be pondered whether he knew exactly what he was suggesting. Thesiger’s sexually ambiguous, or okay, not so ambiguous Dr. Pretorius, the mad scientist who pressures Henry Frankenstein to revitalize his experiments and create a mate for the monster. Pretorius is the scientist who insists Henry continue his creative efforts in Bride of Frankenstein. Vitto Russo called Thesiger, “man who played the effete sissy… with much verve and wit.”

George Zucco like Lionel Atwill often portrayed the unorthodox scientist who flirted with taboos. He plays mad scientist Dr. Alfred Morris in The Mad Ghoul (1943) As a university chemistry professor, he exploits medical student Ted Allison (David Bruce) with his experimental gas that transforms Ted into a malleable, yielding macabre ghoul, whom Morris directs to kill and remove the victims hearts using the serum to temporarily bring Ted back from his trance like death state. David Bruce’s character is represented as a ‘queer’ sort of young man. Not quite masculine and unable to get his girlfriend Evelyn Ankers to fall in love with him. As the Mad Ghoul he becomes a monstrous queer.

In 1932, director Tod Browning’s Dracula based on Bram Stoker’s story of a fiendish vampire who in a sexually implicit way, violates his victims by penetrating them with his fangs. The story pushed the boundaries of story telling, and there was an inherent subtext of ‘queer’ ravishment when he sucks the blood of Dwight Frye to make him his loyal servant.

In Jonathan Harker’s Journal, the protagonist recounts his impressions of his interaction with the vampire, Dracula “As the Count leaned over me and his hands touched me I could not repress a shudder. It may have been that his breath was rank, but a horrible feeling of nausea came over me, which do what I would, I could not conceal.” For (Noël Carroll) the entry in his diary conveys revulsion by the Count’s closeness and offensive presence, that causes him to become sickened.

But it also could be read that Harker’s ‘shudder’ is not about his revulsion, rather, an uncontrolled sexual response to the vampire’s looming over him which could be interpreted not just as hunger for his ‘blood’ but an expression of repressed sexual desire and the fear it causes.

Horror movies have always pushed the boundaries of normalcy, by virtue of the fact that these films are inhabited by ‘monsters’, something ‘queerly’ different. And it is natural to observe two diverging responses to the impact of the horror genre and often, it’s persecution of what is ‘different’ and the source of what causes our anxiety.

Dracula may appear as the image of a man, but the count is far from human. While monsters in classical horror films are based on systems of maleness, they are split from being actual men. Although there are physical interactions and suggestive contact with the heroine, there isn’t the foundation of heterosexuality, but something quite deviant, with in their aggressively erotic encounters and/or assaults. The understanding of sexuality and the most narrow identifications that are assigned to varying orientation in a large sense is not translatable for the deeper layers of the monster and their relationship to their victims. In Hollywood, horror films can be seen as heterosexuality being invaded by an abhorrent outside force, inherent in the underlying message could be racism, classism, sexism and gay panic. Though it can be interpreted as a landscape of heterosexuality that is in full power of it’s universal presence, horror films are perfect platforms that can illustrate the collapse of heterosexuality, and the subversion of sexuality.

The horror genre is a breeding ground for portrayals of the shattering of heterosexual power. This can be seen in Lambert Hillyer’s Dracula’s Daughter (1936) starring Gloria Holden as the sapphic vampire who lives in a New Village type artist’s den, it signals her outsider status from dometicity and normalcy.

In White Zombie (1932) Bela Lugosi plays the eerily menacing Legendre. He turns men into lifeless workers who run the sugar mill. Legendre also begins to turn the plantation owner, Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer) into one of his zombies. What his motivation for his control over people is ambiguous, though there seems to be a sexual reasoning for both the beautiful Madeline (Madge Bellamy) and Beaumont. The scene where Beaumont is nearly paralyzed, Legendre’s control over his male victim parallels the sexual entrapment of the movie’s heroine.

MAD LOVE (1935) I have conquered science! Why can’t I conquer love?

Karl Freund’s Grand Guignol Mad Love (1935) shifts from gazing at the female to gazing at the male. Here the focus is on a Peter Lorre in his American screen debut as Dr. Gogol, who has an obsession with Frances Drake as Yvonne Orlac an actress who works at Grand Guignol Theatre. To Gogol she is the typified defenseless heroine whom he tries to lure away from her husband Stephen (Colin Clive) using his knowledge of scientific alchemy.

Though Gogol tries to become Yvonne’s master, his Galatea, there are critics who read the struggle between the two men, not just as rivalry for Yvonne’s love, but Gogol’s desire for Stephen as well. Gogol is responsible for grafting new hands onto Stephen’s mangled body after a train crash. Mad Love could fit the criteria for the subgenre of the science/horror films where the male gaze is diverted from the female object toward other men, in this case what connected the two was the preservation of Stephen’s hands. Why then is it not possible that the focus could shift from Gogol’s attraction to Yvonne to the homosocial dynamics between Gogol as doctor and his subject Stephen.

Mad Love possesses some of the horror genre’s most tenacious performances of gender play. (Carol Clover) asks us to take a closer look at Freund’s film, it is less about the “suffering experienced by women, but at a deeper, more sustained level, it is dedicated to the unspeakable terrors endured by men.”

In similar fashion to Waldo Lydecker (Laura) and Hardy Cathcart’s (The Dark Corner) pathology of objectifying Laura and Mari, Gogol worships Yvonne – his Galatea, with a measure of scopophilia that lies within his gaze upon the perfection of female beauty. To control and possess it. The pleasure is aroused by the mere indulgence of looking at her.

Gogol pays 75 francs to purchase the wax statue of Galatea. The seller remarks “There’s queer people on the streets of Monmartre tonight.”

Gogol’s maid Francoise talking to the statue,“What ever made him bring you here. There’s never been any woman in this house except maybe me… “I prefer live ones to dead ones.”

A Time Magazine review of Mad Love in 1933 notes this queer appeal directly, even comparing Lorre’s acting skills to those of another homosexual coded actor: I find the comment about their faces rude and insulting to both Lorre and Laughton, both of whom I am a tremendous fan.

Mad Love’s insane doctor is feminized throughout the film… In fact, the same reporter who noted Gogol’s sadism argues for his feminine demeanor: “Lorre, perfectly cast, uses the technique popularized by Charles Laughton of suggesting the most unspeakable obsessions by the roll of a protuberant eyeball, an almost feminine mildness of tone, an occasional quiver of thick lips set flat in his cretinous ellipsoidal face. This reviewer came closer than any other to articulate the subtext of mad doctor movies. He seems on the verge of noting that Lorre, Like Laughton is an effeminate madman obsessed by unspeakable homosocial desire. Attack of the Leading Ladies: Gender Sexuality and Spectatorship in Classic Horror Cinema by Rhona Berenstein

Frances Drake’s heroine masquerades as a wife who deludes herself into believing that her husband is more masculine than he really is. Gogol has a curious empathy with Stephen, whom he touches frequently and prolonged. Although Gogol pursues the heroine Yvonne, at the theater, forcing a kiss on her, his focus is primarily manipulating Stephen’s body, rejoining his hands and massaging them to stimulate life back into them. When he realizes that Stephens hands cannot be grafted back successfully to his wrists, he turns to another man, the hands of a knife thrower who was executed as a notorious murderer. Once Stephen recovers from the surgery, he can no longer continue as a concert pianist, but does develop the desire to throw sharp knives.

On the surface the plot of Mad Love appears to be a heterosexual obsession, the most unspoken context is the connection between Gogol and Stephen. As is true of Frankenstein’s labor of love in Whale’s first film, Gogol sews men’s body parts together and the result is a monster of sorts. (Berenstein)

In the film’s climax, Yvonne hides in Gogol’s bedroom, and pretends to be the wax statue of Galatea. When Gogol touches the statue, she lets out a scream. In a euphoric daze (as in the origianl story) he believes that he has the power to bring the statue of Galatea to life. Yvonne begs him to let her go as he tries to strangle her.

Stephen then rushes to his wife and holds her in his arms. With his eyes fixed on the offscreen space in which Gogol’s body lies, he croons: “My darling.” The homosocial desire is destroyed when Stephen murders Gogol who intones “each man kills the thing he loves”— echoing on the soundtrack.

In the film’s closing moments, the secret desire is finally spoken out loud…Has Stephen killed the man he loves. Given that the phrase that Gogol mutters was written originally by Oscar Wilde, whose homosexuality scandalized the British social and legal system in 1895, reading the homosocial desire into Mad Love’s within the very last moments we are left to decipher the suspended cues. We are left with Stephen’s gazing at Gogol’s face and his knifed body as he lay dying, he speaks the words, ‘My darling” what the camera frames the two men sharing that moment in the closing scene.

The mad doctor narrative is particularly predisposed to homosocial impulses. “intense male homosocial desire as at once the most compulsory and the most prohibited of social bonds” – Epistemology of the Closet (Sedgwick)

Sedgwick investigated early fantasy/horror novels, Shelley’s Frankenstein 1818, Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1886 and Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau 1895. In the beginning of the 1930s, these stories centered around mad doctors who delved into unorthodox, profane explorations, were all adapted to the screen. All of these nefarious or scientific, inquisitive men, cultivated secret experiments, challenging the laws of nature. What Sedgwick found was that the Gothic literary representations of men performing homosocial collaborations, were ‘not socially sanction and shunned.’

It was considered a necessary narrative element as well as a monstrous possibility that threatened to subvert the status quo. The combination of these two attitudes is expressed in homosocial narratives- male bonding is both horrifying and guaranteed, entailing the simultaneous introjection and expulsion of femininity. (Sedgwick)

“My darling”….

James Whale was a gay auteur who often imbued his work intentionally or with the ‘intentional fallacy’ of a ‘queer’ sense of dark humor. This comical, campy absurdity, was always on the edge of his vision of horror and subtle profanity. In his picture The Invisible Man (1933) adapted from H.G. Wells story and starring Claude Rains, it was classified as a horror film by the Code.

Dr. Jack Griffin (Rains) the antihero, is a frenzied scientist, addicted to his formula as he seeks the ability to make himself invisible. His sanity begins to ‘vanish’ as his hunger for power, delusions of grandeur, and bursts of megalomania grow out of control. He plans on assassinating government officials, and he becomes more belligerent the longer he turns invisible. The idea that he displays radical ideas and runs around in the nude didn’t seem to arouse the censors, In 1933, a letter from James Wingate to Hays states, “highly fantastic and exotic [sic] vein, and presents no particular censorship difficulties.”

What’s interesting about the presentation of the story, is that the coded gay leitmotifs were paraded out, right under the Code’s noses, and didn’t stir any indignation for it’s ‘queer’ humor.

Gloria Stuart and Claude Rains in James Whale’s The Invisible Man 1933

The Invisible Man perpetrates campy assaults on all the ‘normal’ people in his way. With intervals of sardonic cackles and golden wit, and at the same time, a menacing reflection of light and shadow. Claude Rains is a concealed jester who makes folly of his victims.

“An invisible man can rule the world. Nobody will see him come, nobody will see him go. He can hear every secret. He can rob, and wreck, and kill.” –Dr. Jack Griffin (The Invisible Man)

Claude Rains plays Dr. Jack Griffin an outsider (a favorite of Jame’s Whale’s characters) who discovers the secret of invisibility which changes him from a mild yet arrogant scientist into a maniacal killer. The film bares much of Whale’s campy sense of humor, with Griffin’s comic shenanigans abound, until things turn dark and he becomes uncontrollably violent. “We’ll begin with a reign of terror, a few murders here and there, Murders of great men, Murders of little men, just to show we make no distinction. I might even wreck a train or two… just these fingers around a signalman’s throat, that’s all.”

According to Gary Morris (Bright Lights Film Journal) ‘The film demands crypto-faggot reading in poignant scenes such as the one where he reassures his ex-girlfriend, who begs him to hide from the authorities: “the whole worlds my hiding place. I can stand out there amongst them in the day or night and laugh at them.”

Though Griffin’s (Claude Rains) character is unseen at times, there are potent moments, when he is animated as he skips to the tune, “Here we go gathering nuts in May” flitting around like a fairy. It is suggested that The Invisible Man is a metaphor for the way homosexuals are seen/not seen by society – as “effeminate, dangerous when naked, seeking a male partner in “crime”, tending to idolize his fiance rather than love her, and becoming ‘visible’ only when shot by the police…monitored by doctors, and heard regretting his sin against God (i.e., made into a statistic by the three primary forces oppressing queers: the law, the medical establishment, and religious orthodoxy” (Sedgwick)

The Invisble Man [undressing] “They’ve asked for it, the country bumpkins. This will give them a bit of a shock, something to write home about. A nice bedtime story for the kids, too, if they want it”

Continue reading “Chapter 4 – Queers and Dykes in the Dark: Classic, Noir & Horror Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters:”

Nature’s Fury Blogathon: 🐜 Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) Melanie Daniels as Metaphor: Wanton With Wings-“What are you? I think you’re the cause of all this, I think you’re evil!”

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The clever & cheeky Barry of Cinematic Catharsis has summoned this great and powerful idea for a Summer Blogathon! Whether it’s the weather, or giant mutant bugs, blood hungry sharks, large animals run amok, or the elements gone awry–Nature’s Fury can be seen in so many fascinating and awe inspiring feature films and those lovable B movie trends that showcase the natural world in chaos. I immediately thought of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds as it is a film that has stayed burned in my mind since I first saw it as a child. Certain scenes will never lose their power to terrify.

And in celebration of this event, I’ve actually written a song and made a film/music mash up to tribute Tippi Hedren in The Birds, with a montage from the film featuring my song Calling Palundra

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“The Birds expresses nature and what it can do, and the dangers of nature. Because there’s no doubt that if the birds did decide, you know, with the millions that they are, to go for everybody’s eyes, then we’d have H.G.Wells Kingdom of the Blind on our hands.”-Alfred Hitchcock

tippi and crow promo shot

“Why are they doing this? They said when you got here, the whole thing started. Who are you? What are You? Where did you come from? I think you’re the cause of all this… I think you’re evil EVIL!” Actress Doreen Lang playing the hysterical mother in the diner!

This tribute video features my special song written just for this blogathon…. Here’s Melanie Daniels & the birds– with my piano vocal accompaniment, ‘Calling Palundra’

The children’s song “Risseldy Rosseldy” heard at the school when the crows began to unite as a gang is the Americanization of an old Scottish folk song called “Wee Cooper O’Fife”

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Image courtesy of: Jürgen Müller’s colorful Movies of the ’60s

On it’s face The Birds can be taken literally as a cautionary tale about the natural world fighting back against the insensitivity & downright barbaric treatment of nature’s children and the environment at the hands of humankind. Is it a tale of simple unmitigated revenge against the town for the killing of a pigeon? Or is there something more nefarious & psycho-sexual at work? Once you peel back the top layer of the visual narrative there are multi metaphors at work.

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From Dark Romance: SEXUALITY IN THE HORROR FILM by David J. Hogan- “Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) is probably the ultimate expression of this sort of nameless dread. It is a film that cheerfully defies description: it is horror, it is science fiction, it is black comedy, it is a scathing look at our mores and manners. It is a highly sexual film, but in a perversely negativistic way.”

Before the release of The Birds in 1963, Tippi Hedren made the cover of Look Magazine with the heading “Hitchcock’s new Grace Kelly”.

Tippi Hedren in Marnie 1964
Tippi Hedren in Marnie (1964) What Grace Kelly had in pristine beauty and sophistication, Hedren possesses an undertow of sensuality that pulls you into that gorgeous mystique.

As with Hitchcock’s other, worldly beautiful blonde subject — the strong willed socialite Lisa Carol Fremont (Grace Kelly) in Rear Window (1954) The Birds features the stunning Tippi Hedren as the coy, confident and a bit manipulative Melanie Daniels a San Fransisco socialite who descends upon Bodega Bay with a similar uncompromising will. Stiff, stolid and cocky Lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) meets Melanie in a pet shop where the two share shallow, faintly romantic barbs and repartee. Mitch is shopping for a pair of love birds for his sister Cathy’s eleventh birthday and Mitch pretends in a condescending manner to mistake her for the clerk.  Melanie goes along with the mistaken identity as a way to flirt until his slightly mean-spirited joke backfires when she accidentally let’s a canary loose and while it lands in an ashtray Mitch throws his hat on it and places it back in it’s cage smugly saying “Back in your gilded cage Melanie Daniels.” revealing that he not only knew who she was from the very beginning and has quite a snotty preconceived notion about this socialite whom he appears to judge as running with a ‘wild’ crowd and is amoral. He manages to make a bit of a fool out of Melanie. The contrast between the flirty glib and calculating Melanie Daniels and the less interesting, judgemental and arrogant Mitch Brenner kicks off a chemistry that really isn’t as vital to the story as what the two personalities represent. 

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As Melanie is about to enter Davidson’s Pet Shop, she hears and sees a tremendous gathering of Seagulls in the sky. It is a foreboding moment of things to come…
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From the opening of The Birds, devoid of any musical lead-in or further soundtrack, all natural noise of bird sounds are what underscore the films visual story. The Seagulls in San Fransisco are many and loud this afternoon as Melanie takes notice…
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Melanie enters the shop as Alfred Hitchcock exits, giving the customary cameo walking two dogs that happen to be his own white terriers Geoffrey and Stanley!
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Tippi Hedren, Hitchcock’s new beautiful blonde to supplant the other object of his affections/fixation… Grace Kelly.
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Melanie (Tippi Hedren) has come to pick up the Mynah bird that she has ordered, but the shipment is late. She remarks to pet shop owner Mrs. MacGruder (the lovable Ruth McDevitt) “Hello Mrs. MacGruder have you ever seen so many gulls? What do you suppose it is?” Mrs. MacGruder supposes, “Well There must be a storm at sea that drives them inland you know.”

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Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) enters the pet shop and approaches Melanie asking for help in purchasing lovebirds for his kid sister
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Melanie is attracted to this handsome yet smug and polished smart ass in a suit, so she plays along pretending to be the clerk and continues to help him, giving completely ridiculous answers to his snide questions as he grills her about ornithology. The louse!
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Mitch –“I wonder if you could help me?” Melanie –“what?” Mitch –“I said I wonder if you could help me” Melanie “Just what is it you’re looking for sir?” Mitch “Lovebirds…” Melanie “Lovebirds Sir?” Mitch “Well I understand there’s different varieties is that true?” Melanie “Oh Yes there are” Mitch “Well uh these are for my sister for her birthday, and see uh as she’s only gonna be eleven, I wouldn’t want a pair of birds that were… too demonstrative.” Melanie “I understand completely” Mitch “At the same time, I wouldn’t want them to be too aloof either.” Melanie “No of course not” Mitch “Do you happen to have a pair of birds that are… just friendly?…aren’t those love birds? Melanie “no those are red birds” Mitch “Aren’t they called strawberry finches?” Melanie “oh we call them that too…Oh now here we are love birds” Mitch “those are canaries…Doesn’t this make you feel awful?’ Melanie “Doesn’t what make me feel..?” Mitch “Having all these poor little innocent creatures caged up like that” Melanie “Well we can’t just let them fly around the shop you know” Mitch “No I guess not, is there an ornithological reason for keeping them in separate cages?” Melanie “Well certainly it’s to protect the species” Mitch “Yes I expect that’s important especially during the molting season” Melanie “Hhm that’s a particularly dangerous time” Mitch “are they molting now?” Melanie “some of them are.” Mitch “how can you tell?” Melanie “well they give a sort of tang dog expression” Mitch “yes I see well what about the love birds?” Melanie “Are you sure you wouldn’t like to see a canary? We have some very nice canaries this week” Mitch “Alright, alright may I see it please? (he holds out his hand)”
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An ornithology lesson. These are strawberry finches not ‘red birds’

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Melanie tries to hold a canary to show Mitch, but the little yellow bird flies out of her grip and starts fluttering all around the shop.

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Mitch utters this insult at Melanie… “Back in your gilded cage, Melanie Daniels!” The louse!!!
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Melanie feels a sting… realizing that she has been made a fool of by this cocky fella she doesn’t even know but she wants to know him…
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Melanie “What did you say?” Mitch “I was merely drawing a parallel Miss Daniels” Melanie “How did you know my name?” Mitch “A little birdy told me” Melanie “Hey wait a minute, I don’t know you” Mitch “Ah, but I know you” Melanie “how?” Mitch “We met in court” Melanie “We never met in court or any place else” Mitch “Oh that’s true let me rephrase, it I saw you in court” Melanie “When?” Mitch “Don’t you remember one of your practical jokes that resulted in the smashing of a plate glass window” Melanie  “I didn’t break that window” Mitch “Yes but your little prank did–Judge should have put you behind bars!” Melanie “What are you a policeman?” Mitch “I may know a little about the law and I’m not too keen on practical jokes” Melanie “Well what do you call your Lovebird story if not a practical joke?” Mitch “Oh I really wanted the Lovebirds” Melanie “Well you knew I didn’t work here, you deliberately…” Mitch interrupts “Right! I recognized you when I came in I just thought you’d like to know what it’s like to be on the other end of a gag, what do you think of that?” Melanie  “I think you’re a louse.” Mitch  “I am, good day Miss Daniels” Melanie “I’m glad you didn’t get your Lovebirds” Mitch “Oh I’ll find something else… see you in court”

Melanie runs after Mitch and catches sight of his license plate number, getting his information from her father’s contacts at the newspaper. She decides to follow him 60 miles up the coast with a pair of Lovebirds to see him at his mother’s home in Bodega Bay where he spends his weekends.

And one of the popular theories is that it’s her driving impulse to seduce Mitch that has sparked the inexplicable terror that takes siege upon the residents of the sleepy little seaside community.

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Once at Bodega Bay, she asks a storekeeper where to find Mitch’s little sister and is given Annie Hayworth’s address, where Melanie proceeds to drive to.

Now it’s time for two thirds of the triad of grasping women to meet each other. The confident socialite stylish and stunning in pursuit of Mitch, and the brooding beautiful woman he left behind who’s sullenness is as palpable as the surrounding sea. Though Annie winds up being a very good person, loves her students, and though she’s in pain and sees Mitch moving into a dynamic relationship with a outre sophisticated blonde, she winds up being a true friend, to the point of ultimately sacrificing her own life.

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Annie in an ironic tone “I guess that’s where everyone meets Mitch.”

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Annie meets Melanie at car
Annie “Did you drive up from San Fransisco by the coast road?” Melanie “Yes” Annie “Nice drive” Melanie “It’s very beautiful” Annie “Is that where you met Mitch?” Melanie “Yes” Annie “I guess that’s where everyone meets Mitch” Melanie “Now you sound a bit mysterious Miss Hayworth” Annie “Do I, actually I’m an open book I’m afraid , or actually a closed one” She looks down at the cage of Lovebirds Annie “pretty, what are they?” Melanie “Lovebirds” Annie with a pain that stretches deep across her face “I see… good luck Miss Daniels.”

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Melanie rents a boat from Doodles Weaver credited as the boat rental guy.

She starts up the motor and begins to head across the bay just to bring Mitch a ‘practical joke’ present in kind, what else but… a pair of Lovebirds. She has written him a letter which she winds up tearing up, instead placing a card for his sister Cathy presenting the Lovebirds as the originally intended birthday gift for her.

Melanie moves across the bay toward the object of her desire adorned in Edith Head’s glamorous boating attire, a luxurious mink, that stunning green suit and high heels, (yes! it’s a very understated chic outfit for the occasion of man hunting) Tippi’s gorgeous green suit she is seen wearing throughout the film was referred to by multi Academy Award winning fashion designer Edith Head, as “Eau de Nil” or Nile water!

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Tippi-Hedren-Edith Head and the boat ride 1

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Melanie gets out of the motor boat, surrounded by beauty and serenity, the mood, peaceful, the quiet before the storm… she proceeds to sneak into the Brenner farmhouse to leave the Lovebirds for Mitch, or well eh Cathy, yeah Cathy.
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Melanie waits until Mitch is in the barn, sneaks into the house and leaves the cage of Lovebirds in the den, ripping up her original letter to Mitch and instead just placing a birthday card for his little sister Cathy. How cagey.. oops sorry for the pun guys!

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the tranquility and romantic game-play is about to shift, from this moment on…

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Melanie is attacked by a crazed sea gull who swoops down from the cloudy blue sky to put a nice gash in her beautiful head, messing up that very coiffed blonde hair with the faint trickle of blood dripping down her face and a spot on her glove.

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Mitch helps Melanie taking her into the diner to get her wound cleaned up, “That’s the damnedest thing I ever saw, it seemed to swoop down at you deliberately.”

Continue reading “Nature’s Fury Blogathon: 🐜 Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) Melanie Daniels as Metaphor: Wanton With Wings-“What are you? I think you’re the cause of all this, I think you’re evil!””

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)

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Tura Satana, Haji, and Lori Williams in Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! 1965
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Françoise Dorléac and Donald Pleasence in Roman Polanski’s Cul-de-sac 1966
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Constance Towers kicks the crap out of her pimp for shaving off her hair in Sam Fuller’s provocative The Naked Kiss 1964
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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.”

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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!”

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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.”

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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.
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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
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Victor Buono is a deranged mama’s boy in Burt Topper’s fabulous The Strangler 1964
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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”

A Symphony of Dark Patches- The Val Lewton Legacy 1943

This post is a feature…As part of the CLASSIC MOVIE HISTORY PROJECT BLOGATHON hosted by the fantastic gang over at- Movies Silently, Silver Screenings & Once Upon a Screen– Visit these wonderful blogs during this historic event and fill your head with a collection of fascinating movie memories.

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From Dreams of Darkness-Fantasy and the films of Val Lewton by J.P. Telotte:
“{The audience} will populate the darkness with more horrors than all the horror writers in Hollywood could think of… if you make the screen dark enough, the mind’s eye will read anything into it you want. We’re great ones for dark patches.” – Val Lewton

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Jane Randolph as Alice Moore in Val Lewton’s Cat People 1942 directed by Jacques Tourneur
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A scene from Bedlam (1946) directed by Mark Robson 

During the 1940s Val Lewton and his ‘Lewton Unit’ used the essential vision of fantastic darkness to recreate a very unique style of horror/fantasy genre, one which challenged Hollywood’s notion of the tangible monsters Universal studios had been manufacturing. Lewton, while working at RKO Studios, produced an exquisite, remarkable and limited collection of films that came face to face with a ‘nightworld.’ Lewton used our most deepest darkest psychological and innate fears that dwell within the lattice of shadows of our dreams and secret wish-fulfillment.

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“Our formula is simple. A love story, three scenes of suggested horror and one of actual violence. Fade out” -Val Lewton

Lewton worked at MGM between 1926 and 1932 and then served eight years under David Selznick. He had published nine novels and a number of short stories. In addition he produced regular radio show versions of MGM films. He also had ties in the industry as his aunt was the the very influential silent actress Alla Nazimova.

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the great stage and silent screen actress Alla Nazimova-Val Lewton’s very influential aunt…

But Lewton had left his mark with Selznick and in 1940 rival company RKO was interested in hiring him..It was actually Selznick who negotiated Lewton’s contract.

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“My task is to initiate a programme of horror pictures to be made at the comparatively low cost of 125,000 each. Which should compete successfully with Universal horror films. Which cost anywhere from 300,000 to a million dollars. I feel I can do this quite easily and the Universal people spend a lot of money on their horror product. But not much on brains or imagination.”-Val Lewton

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Lewton put together a team of collaborators with whom he would work closely. He chose Mark Robson to edit. Robert Wise and Lewton worked together on Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons. DeWitt Bodeen had worked him during his time with David O’ Selznick was to write the first screenplay for Cat People.. His old friend Jacques Tourneur whom he became friends with while working on A Tale of Two Cities. was brought on board to direct. He chose Nicholas Musuraca as his director of photography and Roy Webb to compose the musical scores.They all worked on countless RKO films. It was Lewton’s intention to create quality pictures though he was constrained with a low budget. Jacques Tourneur had said that Lewton was an idealist who had his head up in the clouds who would come up with impossible ideas. However for Tourneur his feet were planted firmly on the ground, yet somehow they complemented each other perfectly, Tourneur claims it was a very happy time in his life, and that Lewton’s gift to him was the filmic poetry that he was able to carry with him forever.

Jacques Tourneur is perhaps one of my favorite directors, with his use of shadow and and all together dreamy lens of the world, he’s responsible for one of THE best classic horror films Curse of the Demon & film noir tour de force Out of the Past. 

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Jacques Tourneur directs Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer in Out of the Past 1947
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Jacques Tourneur’s moody horror with Niall MacGinnis and cat Curse of the Demon 1957
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Part of the Lewton Unit- image from the documentary The Man in the Shadows from top left Roy Webb composer, Val Lewton, Nicholas Musuraca Cinematographer, Mark Robson editing/directing, DeWitt Bodeen writing and Robert Wise-director.

“Horror is created in the mind of the spectator. It’s necessary to suggest things. In all my films you never saw what caused the horror. I saw people screaming in the theater when there was a young girl in a swimming pool, but you never saw the black leopard. The lights blaze up at the end. And there’s Simone Simon. Something has definitely happened. -Jacques Tourneur

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Jacques Tourneur looking over the film sketches
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Jacques Tourneur on location for Berlin Express 1948

“Lewton gave us something quite different than what’s known as Hollywood craftsmanship you can say that he presented us with a parallel world in which everything feels both real and a little unreal-familiar but strange. The characters and the viewer slip into a mysterious, troubling gray zone. Where real life and dream life come face to face. And where beauty and destruction merge. Lewton and Tourneur really created a new kind of cinematic beauty”-from The Man in the Shadows Val Lewton documentary

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the golden boy from Bedlam

Learning from his last employer Selznick he made sure to supervise absolutely every aspect of the film’s production, from casting, set design, costumes, the direction, and editing. He even rewrote every script himself without taking credit or under a pseudonym. In this way he developed his own visual style of storytelling, having prepared each detail before shooting.

“My feelings are generated, however by more than my gratitude for that first opportunity. They come from the warm and highly stimulating creative experience I had working with Val. He taught me so much about directing and filmmaking in general…Val Lewton was one of that fairly rare species, a truly creative producer. As such, he was able to achieve an outstanding reputation for the high quality, unusual and interesting “B” pictures he produced at RKO Studios starting in the early 1940s” – Robert Wise, March 1994

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Robert Wise behind the camera
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Robert Wise, Mark Robson & Val Lewton

“I remember him staying up until all hours of the night working on screenplays. He enjoyed having his hand in the writing. I used to that that he went out of his way to pick inept writers so that he’d have to redo their work. He used to write on a Royal typewriter;he used only two fingers but he was very fast. He’d talk out the different parts as he wrote them and, since my bed was just on the other side of the wall, I’d fall asleep listening.”Nina Lewton Druckman from the Reality of Terror by Joel Siegel

Robert Wise was part of the Lewton Unit, one of my favorite directors who would go onto direct some of the most outstanding films in a variety of genres, from musicals like West Side Story 1961, Sound of Music 1965, to Lewton’s Curse of The Cat People 1944 and The Body Snatcher 1945, noir masterpieces, Born To Kill 1947, The Set Up 1949 and The House of Telegraph Hill 1950, I Want to Live! 1958, Odds Against Tomorrow 1959,to sci fi and Gothic ghost story masterpieces Day the Earth Stood Still 1951, The Haunting 1963 and The Andromeda Strain 1971.

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Michael Rennie and Gort in Robert Wise’s Sci-Fi masterpiece The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
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Robert Wise’s boxing noir The Set-Up 1949

Lewton drove himself very hard trying to achieve something beautiful of quality. He and his team were given a very small budget, a cast of veritable unknowns, and evocative titles that were sensationalist and lurid in nature and did not truly represent an accurate account of the narrative. There were no gruesome fiends nor even evidence of malevolent forces at work in his ordinary everyday environments. Yet RKO’s studio head Charles Koerner  dictated such titles as Cat People 1942, Curse of the Cat People 1944, Bedlam 1946, Isle of the Dead 1946, The Body Snatcher 1945, I Walked With A Zombie, The Ghost Ship and The Leopard Man in 1943 and The Seventh Victim.

“If you want to get out now, Lewton told Bodeen, I won’t hold it against you”

The sensationalistic titles lead viewers to expect corporeal horrors, grotesquery and accustomed chills. As critic Manny Farber points out that while Lewton got nicknamed the “sultan of shudders” or the “Chillmaster” they were missing the point entirely. Lewton’s films were purposefully inhabited by the average, the bland, the pedestrian all, so as to populate his world with normal characters. People you’d see on the streets, or doing menial jobs. And amidst this population of ‘normal’ stirred interesting pulp stories that were unorthodox, otherworldly and often grim. Themes like zoanthropy. a derangement in which someone believes they are an animal as in Cat People or the pervasive fear of the Vorvolakas, an undead creature in Greek folklore that drinks it’s victim’s blood in Isle of the Dead. Even when dealing with dreadful English asylums and the sacrilege of body snatching.

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Boris Karloff and Val Lewton on the set of Bedlam

By the way… Bedlam 1946 is perhaps my favorite of the Lewton series. I’ll be doing a follow up to this piece and with an aim at covering the magnificent piece of filmic art that is Bedlam. I’ll also include the remaining films I love, Isle of the DeadThe Body Snatcher and his first Cat People.

Films with subversive themes like zoanthropy. a derangement in which a person believes himself to be an animal as in Cat People or the pervasive fear of the Vorvolakas is an undead creature in Greek folklore that drinks it’s victim’s blood in Isle of the Dead.

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Karloff and Thimig in Isle of the Dead 1946

One of the things I love about Lewton’s films is that he used many either lesser known actors or those who never quite attained stardom yet lived on the fringe. Wonderful character actors such as Ian Wolfe & Edith Barrett (whom I both adore) actor/director Abner Biberman, Theresa Harris, Edith Atwater Sir Lancelot former calypso singer from Trinidad, the unusual beauty of Elizabeth Russell who was a former fashion model. The portly Billy House who played Lord Mortimer in Bedlam had been a star of vaudeville or Skelton Knaggs (Terror By Night, House of Dracula) British actor worked on the stage. The handsome Richard Dix ,Tom Conway, James Bell, Anna Lee, Evelyn Brent, Helene Thimig, Dewey Robinson and Ben Bard.

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Billy House as Lord Mortimer in Bedlam
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The marvelous Ian Wolfe in Bedlam
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Skelton Knaggs as the mute Finn in The Ghost Ship
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Kate Drain Lawson as Señora Delgado in The Leopard Man
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Edith Barrett and Richard Dix in The Ghost Ship
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Anna Lee in Bedlam
Helene Thimig in Isle of the dead
Helene Thimig in Isle of the Dead
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Julia Dean and old Mrs Farren in The Curse of the Cat People

These characters seems to transcend their positions in the background and add layers of depth and a quiet simplicity or realism that made the storytelling more rich. They possessed a certain unique expressiveness that at times eclipsed the lead actors.

RKO known for their capacity to release films that were of the fantastic and original, initially who hired Lewton to organize and run their ‘B’-Film unit. RKO had a reputation for ingenuity and artistic innovation, paying careful attention to the shaping of the narratives. What he endowed them with was his deep understanding of the subtle patterns and symbols that lie within our dreams, psyche and fantasy world. Lewton satisfied the audience’s desire for horror yet what he delivered was swathed in a strange and poetically beautiful style.

At his disposal he had some of the best writers who knew how to tap into this process. Writers like DeWitt Bodeen, Donald Henderson Clarke, Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray art director Albert D’Agostino (Notorious 1946, Out of the Past 1947, The Thing from Another World 1951) cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca & J. Roy Hunt (Crossfire 1947, Might Joe Young 1949) and directors Jacques Tourneur (Out of the Past 1947,Curse of the Demon 1957), Mark Robson and Robert Wise all contributed and helped shape the vision that became the Lewton film.

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Nicholas Musuraca and Jacques Tourneur

And while Val Lewton didn’t direct any of the eleven films he produced for RKO, (in two cases only taking screen credit for his contributions as writer), it’s rather irrelevant in terms of authorship -as collaboratively infused with talent of vision these films possess a distinct frame of reference that lead you into the fantasy realm or genre with an artistic unorthodoxy like no other. Director Jacques Tourneur directed the first three Lewton films produced by the Lewton Unit. He gave Lewton the soubriquet “The Dreamer.”

Joel Siegel from his 1973 book Val Lewton tells us, “His production unit would make only horror movies with budgets limited to $150,000 per picture. The films were to be ‘programmers’ slated for placement on double features in less than key theaters, with a running time not to exceed 75 minutes. {Production Chief Charles Koerner’s office was to dictate the titles of these films, based upon a system of market pre-testing.”

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Mark Robson and Val Lewton

Lewton hid much of the story in his shadow-plays and this allowed his crew to work the landscape by creating symbolism, key sounds (natural ordinary sounds become ominous premonitions and are fatalistic in tone), haunting textures, abstract shadow and a sense of dark absences. Within the more focused frames of the films are incidental point of view shots that fill in the spaces with a rich texture of realism within the fable-like quality, relying on shadow and suggestion to deliver the desired effect.

Lewton himself would usually write a rough draft, an idea adapted from a property to be filmed. Then using his grand ability to visualize a formula, manipulate the structures of conventionality so that he could compose a landscape and narrative that would best articulate his observations. Tourneur emphasized Lewton’s “structure, construction, progression of high points, low points” in the narrative. Director Mark Robson suggested that Lewton had already ‘thought everything out’ in such detail so as not to miss a thing. Jessie Ponitz, Lewton’s secretary relates, “the last draft was always his.”

Lewton and typewriter
Lewton at his typewriter

Lewton’s brilliance and vision are partly due to his understanding of how psychoanalytic symbolism, myth, dreams and archetypes influence our intimate fear of what lies invisible to the eye. The Lewton Unit embraced the collective nightmares of the human experience, bringing our dream-work into the cold light of daily life bounded to the material world. He presents us with irrational unseen forces, in particular those that lurk in our subconsciousness or dream world. His films transport his protagonists by contrasting them from the open, sense of security from daylight- immersing them into the dark regions of shadows, and the black patches of uncertainty. They do not confront conventional monsters, vampires, ghouls and malevolent spirits of the classic Universal plots- but actually come face to face with their own internal nightmares. A mechanism that emerges from the shadows of the mind. We see these images of fantasy and it triggers our most basic and personal need to belong to that which is created, however disturbing those visions are, these fantasy/horror films possess an enigmatic kind of darkness. His characters never ran away from the darkness and dread that was so pervasive they actually ran head on into it, in order to demystify it and lead themselves & us to understand it a little better.

PSYCHE OR SOUL- THE LEGACY OF THE FANTASTICAL

CapturFiles
Jean Brooks as the mysterious Jacqueline in Val Lewton’s The Seventh Victim

Lewton and his associates understood the principles of fantasy, and utilized them in the complex visual structures they created in their series of films. In writing about Lewton’s use of fantasy, J.P. Telotte informs us that these films “are not mere horror stories or exercises in terror, yet ‘redeem’ or reunite us with a repressed side of the human experience.” And this is what makes Lewton’s fantastical work so unique.

As in his book America in the Dark, Thomson implies that unlike the films that consist of vampires, werewolves, and other alien presences “The Fantasy genre {…} draw fundamentally on a realm of darkness and psychic imagery for it’s existence. Such films typically evoke a dreamlike environment or nightworld in which, as if it were our own sleep, we can pleasurably and profitably immerse ourselves. {…} I wish to call attention to their ability to reveal how we also might come ‘to life with the dark’ finding an important, even life enhancing meaning in the fantastic’s dream realm. {…}”

The Body Snatcher
The Body Snatcher 1945
A Palladist The 7th Victim
a Palladist from The Seventh Victim

Lewton’s fantasy reworks our perspective to let us ‘see’ the dark spaces even within the light. As Todorov writes in The Fantastic 1975, fantasy evokes an ‘indirect vision’ that allows us to see what is usually not visible in the ordinary world. Lewton uses this ‘indirect vision’ to transgress and transcend normal perception. Lewton’s works suggest a disparity between the expected and reality. From this disparity, the greatest threats come from the most ordinary occurrences, objects, and the commonplace.  He populates his films with figures of authority who interpret their world incorrectly, harshly or inharmonious. The sudden revelation of the ordinary frightens and disorients the viewer in unexpected ways, forcing them to be more reflexive, to show the menace in the every day. As Carl Jung believed, fantasy precedes our normal sense of reality- “The psyche creates reality everyday. The only expression I can use for this activity is fantasy.”

Drawing on the psychologist James Hillman who specialized in archetypes, Lewton’s films evoke a dream-like nightmarish world in contrast to the realm of truth. The style of these films are often lensed as seductive and mysterious journeys, where the audience can escape the ordinary for a while. They seduce us by taking a path which follows our hidden desires within the psyche.

This is the proper aim at fantasy, as James Hillman explains; it should challenge our normal “literal perspective, its identity with material life,” since that perspective is usually “stuck in coagulations of physical realities. This perspective of reality needs to break down and fall apart, to be skinned live and sensitized, or blackened by melancholic frustration.”

Isle of the Dead-Karloff
Isle of the Dead 1946

This fantasy forces us to look at our own limitations of vision, and how difficult it is to describe the structure of something that has no’ structure’ It’s easy for the grey areas of fantasy to ‘lapse’ into absence and dissolve from a narrative field of a nightworld/dreamscape using the device of voice-over narrative or subjective camera. Lewton’s images make us ask are we seeing what’s really there, or are we merely informed by the dark spaces both inside the film and tapping into our individual and collective psyches. As Telotte cites Rosemary Jackson– 

“Objects are not readily appropriated through the look; things slide away from the powerful eye/I which seeks to possess them, thus becoming distorted, disintegrated, partial and lapsing into invisibility.”

Val Lewton had a special insight and grasp of formulas and mythic structures so that he could envision within the complex narratives, the presence of the most significant archetypal patterns. Lewton said “If you make the screen dark enough, the mind’s eye will read anything into it you want! We’re great ones for dark patches.” What those ‘dark patches’ suggest is something innate in all of us, a dark region within the ‘self’ that gets lost, or hidden away, or even denied as we go about our daily lives doing ordinary things in the guise of normalcy.

DARK PATCHES AND THE ABSENCE OF KNOWING

The Seventh Victim

In a Lewton film there is a sense of ‘Lack’ as an absence in the lives and environments seems to be at the core substance of these films. This play of absence and presence operates as a structural principle in Lewton’s films. For the benefit of this post I will point particularly to I Walked With a Zombie, The Leopard Man  and The Seventh Victim, the prior both directed by the great Jacques Tourneur. In his two films that ‘lack’ translates into a disturbing landscape of openness in the narrative style.

The everyday, whether it be modern urban city streets, islands in the Caribbean or the nineteenth century, there is an attentive eye for detail that weaves a texture of daily life that the Lewton unit worked so hard to achieve. Be it the costumes, the architecture and the general look of the place during it’s particular time period. So much research went into developing the landscape of reality with a distinct verisimilitude. By looking at books, paintings and photographs they would try to capture the perfect light and shadow of the piece.

Although I won’t be covering Bedlam in this piece, the film is a perfect example of how The ‘Lewton Unit’ employed this research approach prior to filming. Several shot compositions were based on William Hogarth’s illustrations. Much emphasis was placed on ‘context’ as Lewton characters can so evidently be characterized by their station in life or occupations living in the seemingly natural world that is commonplace. Writer DeWitt Bodeen notes that Lewton “always insisted that all his characters have special occupations or professions and be shown working their jobs.”

Lewton’s films are populated with a texture of normalcy, people living in a visibly conspicuous and commonplace field of reality so that when the presence of the mysterious, and irrationality poke through it shatters the veil of normalcy and settles down to become abnormal and disturbing for the protagonist and us the viewer. These characters must journey through a field that is rife with coded messages, where they are not believed by the people around them.

Telotte explains, “What results is a subtle dialectic between ‘substance and lack’, presence and absence, replacing that of the more traditional horror films, where in the ‘self’ as the audience’s surrogate, is opposed by a threatening otherness in the shape of a monster or murderous apparition. The tension is no less. Though it’s source is different it is more disturbingly lodged in the individual  and the way in which he perceives and conceives of his world.”

The Body Snatcher Karloff

Like the protagonists, we are laid bare with our vulnerability to the abnormal. The threat comes as an external challenge to our lives, exposing our human weakness and fears and forces us to see life in an unsettling way. Everything falls out of harmony that which is usually so ordinary. And the sense of ‘otherness’ fills the screen and taps into our own psyche as the formidable shadows move about with an anima. The dark patches set themselves outward as props, while strange sounds and eerie low key lighting color the screen’s canvas as dark and mysterious.

Psychoanalyst Hillman refers to a ‘vesperal’ motion that leads us into the darker regions of the self and the human psyche with it’s ‘fantasizing impulse.’ Lewton’s Curse of the Cat People (you can read an earlier feature I did on this film-click on the link) is a more conventional initiation story focusing on the nature of innocence and ‘otherness’ and how it often challenges our rational perspectives of the world because it evokes the ‘unknowing.’

All of Lewton’s films are structured with a careful eye on the sequential narrative. Val Letwon referred to scenes heightened by shadows as signifier of something foreboding he called them “horror spots.” These “horror spots’ were carefully spaced through out his films in sequential scenes, as if each frame were its own visual narrative. Many potent moments though brief partly due to the limited time constraints yet remain with you forever.

I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE

These scenes were preceded by scenes of an alternating tone designated to bring relief to the audience, utilizing some form of imagery that could be very beautiful or lyrical. Joel Siegel talks about this approach as “fragmented, mosaic-like structure” of the films, with their dependence on a “series of tiny, precise vignettes which do not so much tell the story as sketch in its borders and possibilities. For film historian Robin Wood in his “Return to the Repressed,” Lewton’s series of films is distinct for their “often illogical poetic structure.” 

Early Lewton films display a narrative style which recalls Jean-Paul Sartre’s prescription for fantasy storytelling: “In order to achieve the fantastic, it is neither necessary nor sufficient to portray extraordinary things. The strangest event will enter into the order of the universe if it is alone in a world governed by laws.”

Frances Dee, Tom Conway, Edith Barrett in I Walked with a Zombie (1943)

Lewton films do not simply strip the world of the laws which Sartre describes, as many horror films do, rather they manipulate the context within which even the most commonplace actions are perceived. In I Walked With a Zombie, the players are often viewed through a veil of elaborate shadows cast by wooden lattice, brush and thicket, Very sensual images and very flowing. The eye for detail… every frame is so well thought out. And while we as spectators have truly seen nothing tangible, there is that ‘lack’ reinforced by structural repetition. Drawing us in depends on our ability to fantasize and tap into the deep-rooted fears that we unconsciously embrace. This portrayal of Lewton’s mysterious yet mundane environment becomes utterly frightening. Lewton explained how this process reveals the viewer’s participation in that which he sees, establishing that given these kinds of visual narratives man himself “will populate the darkness with more horrors than all the horror writers in Hollywood could think of.”

Robin Wood’s The American Nightmare chapter of Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan.–
It is built on elaborate set of apparently clear cut structural oppositions : Canada-West Indies, white-black, light–darkness, life-death, science-black magic, Christianity -Voodoo, conscious -unconscious, , etc–and it proceeds  systematically to blur all of them. JEssica is both living and dead.; Mrs. Rand mixes medicine, Christianity and voodoo, the figurehead is both St. Sebastian and a black slave, the black-white opposition is poetically undercut in a complex patterning of dresses and voodoo patches; the motivation of all the characters is called into question; the messenger-zombie Carrefour can’t be kept out of the white domain.”

Lewton’s work absolutely inspired and trained Robert Wise to scare the hell out us with his adaption of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting in 1963, when in reality we never see a malevolent presence. Wise’s use of absence and presence, sequential stages of darkness and shadow, odd angles, and the process of what we ‘don’t see’ became one of the greatest ghost stories on film and I would dare to say one of the best films ever made. Wise learned this film philosophy from his time working as part of the Lewton Unit, whose contribution to film rippled outward for decades.

Robert Wise The Haunting Julie Harris
Julie Harris climbs the menacing spiral staircase in Robert Wise’s masterpiece of Gothic ghost storytelling The Haunting 1963

Lewton’s most accomplished manoeuvre was making the audience think much more about his material than it warranted. Some of his devices were the usual ones of hiding information… he hid much more of his story than any other filmmaker and forced his crew to create drama almost abstractly with symbolic sounds, textures and the like which made the audience hyper-conscious of sensitive craftsmanship… He imperiled his characters in situations that didn’t call for outsized melodrama and permitted the use of  journalistic camera. {…}Je would use a spray-shot technique that usually consisted of oozing suggestive shadows across a wall, or watching the heroines’ terror on a lonely walk {…} The shorthand allowed Lewton to ditch the laughable aspect of improbable events and give the remaining bits of material the strange authenticity of a daguerreotype.” Manny Farber criticquoted from 1951 in Jeremy Dyson’s book Bright Darkness

There is an overall unsettling revelatory pattern to each of the Lewton narratives. While I’m only covering the 4 contributions Lewton made during the year 1943, all of his 9 fantasy/horror films isolate the commonplace through the story, the patterns, the symbolism of innocence, and the rigidity of authority. In his films our roots in proven reason and sanity are given a different value. This contrasting shadowplay create the ultimate texture and environment of fantasy/horror.

A SYMPHONY OF DARK PATCHES :

Continue reading “A Symphony of Dark Patches- The Val Lewton Legacy 1943”

Val Lewton’s Curse of The Cat People (1944) “God should use a Rose Amber Spot!” Seeing the darkness thru the ‘Fearing Child’ and ‘The Monstrous Feminine’ Part II

http://thelastdrivein.com/2012/10/23/begin-the-bagheeta-val-lewtons-fantasy-reality-world-of-curse-of-the-cat-people-fearing-the-femalefeline-monster-and-the-engendering-child-part-i/ 

This post is continued from Part 1: at the link above!

And now Part II

From page 112 Chapter 7 J.P Telotte Dreams of Darkness

FANTASY as REALITY, REALTY as FANTASY

The Curse of the Cat People (1944)

-The child per se makes us uneasy, ambivalent ; we are anxious about the human propensities concentrated by the child symbol. It evokes too much of what has been left out or is unknown, becoming easily associated with the primitive, mad and mystical. – James Hillman ” Abandoning the Child” in Loose Ends

The evil little girl in Master of the Macabre Mario Bava’s Kill Baby Kill (1966)
The embodiment of evil in a little blonde girl from Federico Fellini’s segment Toby Dammit of 1968’s Spirits of The Dead
In stark contrast to those 2 iconic evil imps of horror (above), Amy Reed is not supposed evil incarnate, but she does threaten the equilibrium of the ‘normal’ world her father inhabits.

To continue with this blog post about one of Lewton’s very precious stories, less darker than his others, and dealing with childhood, the fears of and by children.

All of Lewton’s works dealt with subject matters that forced us to push the boundaries of ‘the familiar’ and challenged us to face a darker more mysterious reality of the natural world, and the incomprehensible landscape of the human psyche.

Curse of the Cat People (1944) acts as a cinematic continuum to Lewton’s Cat People 1942, featuring Simone Simon once again as the alluring, and sensual Irena Dubrovna Reed, who may or may not have belonged to a race of beings that could shape shift into the physical form of a large cat or black panther, when sexually aroused.

The symbol of Irena synthesized the fear of women’s sexuality, sexual freedom, the women’s body, and often the correlation that is made with women’s emotional existence and madness. What is engendered in Cat People (1942) is far less about a woman who can morph into a predatory feline, and more about the collective fear of ‘The Monstrous Feminine.’

Amy lashes out at the little boy who has crushed her beautiful friend, the butterfly. Fear the woman/child.

While Amy is not Irena’s biological daughter. Amy is truly more of a progeny to Irena and the mystique she embodies, because they are both alienated figures who are frustrated and misunderstood. Who stand outside the social community which is pumped from the veins of ‘rational’, normative thoughts and behaviors. Amy is the figure of ‘The Fearing Child’, an innocent who not only has ‘power’ she can wreak havoc in our ‘normal’ world.

Both characters are imaginative, and rely on their senses. They are more connected to the natural world, to the darkness which is associated with the feminine energy and less intellectual which is considered a masculine marker. They are considered emotional, irrational and dangerously unpredictable. Oliver Reed is just as frightened and moreover threatened by his six year old little girl as he was of his beautiful and tragic wife Irena, who was more a victim than ever the ‘monster’ she was perceived to be.

In Cat People, Curse of the Cat People, I Walked With A Zombie, The Leopard Man, The 7th Victim and Isle of The Dead there aren’t concrete Monsters as in Universal films as in Frankenstein’s creation, Dracula or The Wolf Man.

Universal’s Bride of Frankenstein 1935 Literal monsters in a corporeal world.

RKO studio heads had a mistrust of Lewton’s creative vision, his unconventional approach to some esoteric subject matter or volatile subjects such as a woman’s sexual desires. Lewton, rather than using literal lumbering, fanged or hairy monsters, used the powers of suggestion and shadow to tell the story.

Irena emerging from Lewton’s shadow world in Cat People 1942
Little Amy lost within the emerging shadows of the old dark house in Lewton’s Curse of The Cat People 1944
Barbara Ferran always placed by a door like a bystander, she is bombarded by Lewton’s shadows.

Lewton disliked mask like faces, that were hardly human, the kinds of images that were expected from the horror genre he was infiltrating. Lewton liked to reveal the monsters that were lurking in the subconscious primitive recesses of our own imaginations. Shadows become the monster in these films, they are the mysterious layer that surfaces in world that only makes sense in the light of day. And Amy draws the shadows to her…

They do not have scary faces, they are quite human and in fact ordinary. He takes the ‘familiar’ and inverts it, subverts it, rattles the soundness of an accepted experience, and turns it into either an illusion, a nightmare, or a fit of paranoia. He taps into our childhood fears, and sets those fears on the frightened characters in his shadow plays. Usually because the thing they fear, is uprooting of their own personal desires and the fear of coming face to face with them.

The tragic and tormented Irena in Cat People 1942

Oliver couldn’t handle Irena’s sexual desires, nor her desirability, it triggered too much of his own primal urges, and so he demonized her, a fragile girl in a foreign country who believed in folklore from her very ancient set of beliefs handed down for centuries.

Oliver Reed has a fear of foreign Objects!-Cat People 1942

A story which quite often itself was ambiguous as to whether the threat was real or imagined. RKO wanted to be in competition with Universal, so they added footage of a menacing Panther which was inserted into several scenes of Cat People.

Continue reading “Val Lewton’s Curse of The Cat People (1944) “God should use a Rose Amber Spot!” Seeing the darkness thru the ‘Fearing Child’ and ‘The Monstrous Feminine’ Part II”

Begin ‘The Bagheeta’: Val Lewton’s fantasy/ reality world of Curse of The Cat People: fearing the female/feline monster and the engendering child. Part I

Val LewtonMaster of Shadow

Val Lewton’s short story ‘The Bagheeta’ appeared in Farnsworth Wright’s July 1930 issue of Weird Tales Magazine. Lewton was dabbling in concepts of terror, before he even got to RKO.

The story takes place in the Ukraine (from which MonsterGirl’s people come!) and is a coming of age story about a 16 year old boy named Kolya who helps his Uncle forge armor. Someone comes into the village with a slaughtered sheep, who claims to have seen a Bagheeta, a monstrous black leopard that can change it’s form into a beautiful woman. Only one person can kill a Bagheeta,  and that is a virgin male, for he needs to be able to resist her seductive powers. If he is seduced, the woman will change back into the black leopard and kill the boy and eat him! Lewton would eventually adapt and produce his story for RKO  in the form of Cat People  in 1942 starring Simone Simon  the suggested embodiment of a Bagheeta.

The Panther

His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly–. An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.

-Rainer Maria Rilke

Panther at the zoo, caged in Cat People 1942

CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE 1944

Produced by Val Lewton and directed by Robert Wise and Gunther von Fritsch, scripted by DeWitt Bodeen, and stars Simone Simon as the ghost of Irena, Kent Smith as Oliver Reed, Jane Randolph as Alice Reed, Eve March as Miss Callahan, Julia Dean as Mrs. Julia Farren, Elizabeth Russell as Barbara Farren, Sir Lancelot as Edward, and Ann Carter as Amy Reed.

Ann Carter played Beatrice Carroll in the riveting noir classic  The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947) with Humphrey Bogart and Barbara Stanwyck.

Curse of the Cat People is filled with poignant original music by Roy Webb and with Cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca (Cat People 1942, The Fallen Sparrow 1943, The 7th Victim 1943, The Spiral Staircase 1945 Bedlam 1946 and Out of The Past 1947) It’s no wonder Curse of The Cat People has many of the elements of a classic film noir piece.

CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE (1944) – A synopsis

After the tragic death of his wife Irena, played by the beautiful Simone Simon, Oliver Reed once again played by Kent Smtih has remarried his co-worker Alice (Jane Randolph). They now have a very serious , yet gentle six year old little girl named Amy (Ann Carter) who is taken to day-dreaming and being a loner.

She does not mix in well with the other children at school who do not understand her sensitivity or her private world of fantasy that she has built around her as a survival mechanism.

“My beautiful friend”

Symbolic of Amy’s free spirit, the little boy captures her ‘beautiful friend’ and crushes it. Thinking that this would make her happy, he destroys the very thing that symbolizes her own spirit and her connection to the natural world.
Amy is framed here in absolute alienation from the rest of the world.

Amy’s father, Oliver, is constantly wielding an authoritative criticism of his daughters day-dreaming, and wants her to play with the other children, and exist in the ‘real’ world. Amy has a birthday party for which she invites the children in her class, but no one shows up that day, and Oliver discovers that she has mailed out the invitations by placing them in the magic wishing-tree, which is a hollowed out knot of the large tree out behind the house.

waiting for her classmates to share her birthday wishes. But no one ever comes….

Oliver reaches into the wishing-tree and pulls out the birthday invitations…

.

Amy is admonished once again for believing that the tree was a real wishing-tree. Something he himself had told her not too long ago…

Oliver had told Amy this was a magic spot when she was younger, and she remembers it,understanding it to be true because her father told her it was. She was taught to believe in magic and then without preparation, is expected to denounce all things wondrous without any serious provocation on her part. She is only six years old after all.

Saddened by the absence of her classmates at her party, Oliver, Alice and Edward the manservant from Jamaica throw Amy a smaller party instead, equip with a birthday cake decorated with 6 little candles.

Amy is told to make a wish, but not to tell anyone what it is or it won’t come true. Again, Amy is conflicted by the mixed messages the adults in her life are giving her. She tells her father, that wishes don’t come true. Oliver tells her “some do.” And her mother Alice embellishes by saying that you just can’t say it out loud or it will nullify the magic wish.

Once again, there is a suspension of disbelief on their terms, disavowing Amy and her ability to develop a clearly defined sense of fantasy and reality. How can she properly order her world.

The children at school are furious with Amy for not inviting them as promised. As they shun her, they lead her to an old sinister looking mansion, where someone calls to her from the window. A voice calls out to her to come closer. Amy looks around and the unseen person throws down a white handkerchief threading a gold ring.

Continue reading “Begin ‘The Bagheeta’: Val Lewton’s fantasy/ reality world of Curse of The Cat People: fearing the female/feline monster and the engendering child. Part I”

Coming Soon from Speakeasy The Val Lewton Blogaton!!!!

Kristina of the Speakeasy Blog and Stephen also know as Classic Movie Man will be co-hosting this marvelous event!

There’s just sooo much that can be said for Val Lewton’s contribution and influence on cinema. I have been dragging my feet with a feature, myself, but this years blogathon gives me a chance to talk a little bit about the man who truly created several masterpieces of cinematic history. So join Kristina, and Stephen and all the other bloggers who will be contributing their coverage.

Simone Simon

I am working on a piece for Curse of The Cat People 1944 which was the follow up to Cat People, still appearing is Simone Simon as the ghost of Irena. I’ll be discussing a few things, The Merging of Reality and Fantasy,

The Fear and Threat of Children, the corruption of their innocence, imagination and how their freedom of expression challenges us to either push the boundaries of belief or succumb to Christian myth that would crush it, deem it evil, or call it mental illness.

Also I’ll talk about the Fear of The Female Monster and  The Feminine. Especially in this case, a female child….!

And of course being an avid cat worshiper I’ll address that absurd superstitious malarkey centered around fear of cats being servants of the Devil… in particular black cats. So, stay tuned for a very informative and beautiful ride through the Shadowlands of one of the greatest film makers of all time-

Val Lewton

See it here: Oct 31st 2012

http://hqofk.wordpress.com/val-lewton-event/

See you there-MonsterGirl!

Postcards From Shadowland No.2

BORN TO KILL (1947) Directed by Robert Wise starring Claire Trevor and Lawrence Tierney
CAGED (1950) Starring Eleanor Parker, Agnes Moorehead and Ellen Corby
The Cape Canaveral Monsters 1960
The Spiral Staircase 1945 directed by Robert Siodmak, Starring Dorothy McGuire, George Brent and Ethel Barrymore
Phantom Lady 1944 Directed by Robert Siodmak, starring Ella Raines, Franchot Tone and Elisha Cook Jr.
I Walked With A Zombie 1943 Produced by Val Lewton, directed by Jacques Tourneur, edited by Mark Robson, written for the screen by Curt Siodmak and starring Frances Dee, James Ellison and Tom Conway.
MAN HUNT 1941 directed by Fritz Lang, starring Walter Pidgeon, Joan Bennett and George Sanders
QUICKSAND 1950
The Naked Kiss 1964
PUSHOVER 1954 directed by Richard Quine, starring Kim Novak and Fred MacMurray
The Seventh Victim 1943 Produced by Val Lewton and directed by Mark Robson, starring Kim Hunter, Tom Conway and Jean Brooks.
THE BURGLAR 1957 Directed by Paul Wendkos and starring Dan Duryea, Jayne Mansfield and Martha Vickers
Sunset Blvd. 1950 directed by Billy Wilder, starring Gloria Swanson and William Holden.

Bedlam 1946 Val Lewton’s Shadow Play of Madness: A Golden Boy, A Mistress Trapped, and Bars That Will Not Keep.

Directed by Mark Robson, one of Val Lewton’s masterpieces of cinematic impressionism. Anna Lee as Nell Bowen, thrown into Bedlam by the sadistic Master George Sims uncharacteristically portrayed by the great Boris Karloff who usually bears his soul in more sympathetic roles. Bedlam has a sweet justice that is enforced as they say ” the inmates have taken over the asylum” with an ending that is quite powerful.

Here is my song Wash Away from Hunting Down The Ceremony Volume II. Featuring The Cricket Chance in his first vocal performance. ( he sneaked inside the vocal room with me while I was laying down the track for Wash Away. I left him in there, because it seemed relevant and the right thing to do, since he sang in key!)

MonsterGirl (jogabriel)

Val Lewton’s “I Walked With A Zombie” (1943) Elements of Jane Eyre, Colonialism and The Synergy of Sound

Val Lewton’s Masterpiece on a low budget for RKO. Directed by Jacques Tourneur and story by Curt Siodmak

Jo Gabriel’s “Sway” appears on my album The Amber Sessions

I will be doing a major feature on the work of Val Lewton in the coming months, his masterworks in shadow are some of the most evocative films ever screened.

MonsterGirl (JoGabriel)