Happy Halloween 2016 from The Last Drive In: Here’s a special Postcards from Horror Land -Color edition

blow-up Michelangelo Antonioni 1966

dont-look-now-1973

psychomania-1973

house-on-haunted-hill-1958

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barbarella-1968

the-stepford-wives-1975

trelkovsky-on-stairs

halloween-1978

alice-sweet-alice-1976

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black-sabbath-1963

suspiria-1977

the-fog-80

play-misty-for-me-1971

the_tenant_1976

rosemarys-baby-1968

the-birds-1963

the-sentinel-1977

barbarella

spirits-of-the-dead-1967

rear-window-1954

planet-of-the-apes-1968

games-1967

the-devil-rides-out-1966

santa-sangre

suspiria-1977

daughters-of-darkness-1971

planet-of-the-apes-1968

the-devils-rain-1975

blacula-1972

salems-lot-1978

lemora-1973

el-topo-1970

pit-and-the-pendulum

spirits-of-the-dead-1967

jodorworskys-santa-sangre

the-pit-and-the-pendulum

burnt-offerings-1976

the-haunting-of-julia

the-changling-1980

the-brotherhood-of-satan

the-premonition-1976

dolls-1987

the-abominable-dr-phibes-1971

brother-hood-of-satan

rosemarys-baby-1968-gordon-and-blackmer

the-dunwich-horror-1970

daughters-of-darkness

lets-scare-jessica-to-death

the-ghost-and-mr-chicken-1966

the-tourist-trap-1978

kill-baby-kill-1966

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🚀 Keep Watching the Skies! Science Fiction Cinema of the 1950s: The Year is 1952

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Continuing with my series on Science Fiction Films of the 1950s, though 1952 seems sparse in comparison to lets say 1956 & 1958, there was definitely a prevailing theme… fear of communist invasion! My favorite picture for this year would have to be watching Hildegarde Knef torment Erich von Stroheim in director Arthur Maria Rabenalt’s ALRAUNE, though Brigitte Helm’s 1928 portrayal of the soulless beauty born of sin is quinteseentially sublime.

WILD WILD UNTAMED WOMEN, POST NUCLEAR TRIBES, SOULLESS TEMPTRESSES CONQUERING PLANETS & STRATIFIED ZOMBIES!

Alraune aka Unnatural aka Vengeance aka Mandragore

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Born outside the laws of God and man!-the fruit of evil!

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Alraune Prologue

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Alraune 1952 Hildegarde

Directed by Arthur Maria Rabenalt, based on the novel by Hanns Heinz Ewers published in 1913. Starring Hildegard Knef as Alraune, Erich von Stroheim as Dr. Jacob ten Brinken, Karlheinz Böhm ( Of  director Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960) ) as Frank Braun, Harry Meyen as Count Geroldingen, Rolf Henniger as Wolf Goutram, Harry Halm as Doctor Mohn.

Viennese director Rabenalt is better known for his Nazi propaganda films and for countless operettas, lederhosen and heimatschmalz. Considered a tech-noir film import from outside the U.S.A., included among Spaceways (England 1953) The H-Man (Japan 1958) and Atom Age Vampire (Italy 1961)

The story was first filmed in 1918 and then in 1928 & 1930 with Brigitte Helm which was a beautifully films version. Brigitte Helm among dolls — Alraune 1928 silent- possesses an eroticism

Brigitte Helm among dolls -- Alraune 1928 silent

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Stroheim broods and over-acts in his inimitable way and Hildegarde Knef is exquisite. ten Brinken (von Stroheim) collects a the semen of a hanged murderer at the gallows, and takes this seed and inseminates a prostitute. What he creates is a ‘daughter’ Alraune–who is incapable of feeling ‘love’ or having emotional human connections with voracious sexual appetites, portrayed as almost demonic or like a succubus.

ALRAUNE Expressionist

the Cinematography of Friedl Behn-Grund (Murderers Among Us 1946, Confessions of Felix Krull 1957 and Titantic 1943) paints an expressionist foray into a moralistic fairytale of good & evil love & hate sin and redemption.

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The film is dark and uncanny as Alraune mesmerizes every male she meets, while ten Brinken becomes more and more perversely sexually obsessed with his beautiful but unfeeling archetypal dark-eve.

The film has an awkward atmosphere about it as if it’s trying to be a the threshold of new medical research blended with the profane and taboo science of artificial insemination, Gothic romance fantasy and man’s desire to conquer reproduction. The fetish of creating life, controlling it as if becoming god-like, the question of individuality, morality and the seed of moral instinct and sin–misfire in shocking and dreadful ways.

Alraune and the gorilla in the lab

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Erich von Stroheim—as ten Brinken shows Karlheinz Böhm or Karl Boehm the diary and where Alraune’s mother came from “I made a long search for her in the convent of Hamburg.”

When ten Brinken (von Stroheim) is in the lab and sees Frank out in the garden with Alraune he asks Doctor Moh (Harry Halm) his associate “Did he kiss her”

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Alraune-“ They were all in love with me and they all died and I killed them… You mustn’t stay I bring destruction. “

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Frank-“You can’t believe that there’s something strange and different about you. You’re a human being like anyone else.”

Alraune- “You could never forget that I’m trained from birth. My life began as a horrible crime that I was part of a foolish experiment.”

Frank –“Alraune how can you say that…  no one is all good or all evil. If only the bad were inherited then the world would be a HELL..”

Alraune-“In me there is no good-look where I came from. I was brought into being by the evil thoughts of a depraved man.”

Frank-“The crime was to bring you into the world and then to raise you without love. The plaything of insanity. Who ever is brought up without love is sick. You were never evil, you were sick. I won’t let you stay here. You must go away.”

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At that moment von Stroheim shoots Alraune being carried by Boehm and Alraune begins to die.

ten Brinken (vonStorheim) says-“No one else should have have!”

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ALRAUNE’S last words before he dies– “Now the toy is broken-the crime against nature that God didn’t want.”

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Alraune

Alraune Gallows

BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA

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BELA LUGOSI FINDS THE PERFECT GOOF TO TURN A GORILLA INTO A HUMAN AND VERSA VISA!

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Directed by William Beaudine who started out doing shorts in pre 1920s and directed several superior police procedural/noir/ dramatic Naked City television episodes in 1958,  (The Living Ghost 1942, The Ape Man 1943, Ghosts on the Loose 1943, Mystery of the 13th Guest 1943, The Face of Marble 1946, Forgotten Women 1949, Billy the Kid vs Dracula 1966)

This is the only film that actually featured Bela Lugosi’s name in the title. It co-stars the comedy team Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo who is trying to take off on actor/comedian Jerry Lewis with several more doses of whiny asininery and though he might actually look like him, is not at all funny.

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Duke Mitchell: You know, someday I’m gonna let you fry in your own grease!

Sammy Petrillo: Could you make it chicken fat, maybe?

Unfortunately the team does not nearly come close to touching the brilliant pairing of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Petrillo only did a handful of bit part appearances, Shangri-La (1961), The Brain that Wouldn’t Die (1962) Keyholes are for Peeping (1972) and Out to Lunch (1977)

As Phil Hardy states about the state of Bela Lugosi’s career at the time, “already bedevilled by management, money, marital and drug problems, is the star of this awful piece.”

Technically a screwball comedy starring, it still seems to want to fall into the mold of science fiction as it involves a mad scientist and a formula.

Mitchell and Petrillo play night club performers who are entertaining the troops in Guam who fall out of an airplane and land on an a South Sea island. Nona (Charlita) finds them and takes them back to her father, chief Rakos (Al Kukime). Nona convinces her father to spare their lives. The unfunny pair also meet Dr. Zabor played by our lovable yet tired actor by this time without some of the nuanced dialogue he had been given in the 30s & 40s… Bela Lugosi. Zabor is a scientist who is performing clandestine experiments on gorillas trying to transform them into people. He is obsessed with Nona, and when Duke catches her eye, Zabor injects him with the serum and turns him into what else but a gorilla!

Sammy at some point figures out that it’s his friend Duke when the gorilla begins singing “Deed I Do” by Walter Hirsch and Fred Rose.

Sammy Petrillo: This looks like Death not only took a holiday, but he got a hangover from taking it.

Captive Women

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1000 YEARS AFTER THE H-BOMB!

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Directed by Stuart Gilmore (44 editor credits including- Sullivan’s Travels 1941, The Palm Beach Story 1942, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek 1944, Two for the Seesaw 1962, Toys in the Attic 1963, and The Andromeda Strain 1971), stars Robert Clarke as Robert, Margaret Field as Ruth, Gloria Saunders as Catherine, Ron Randall as Ridden, Stuart Randall as Gordon, Robert Bice as Bram Paula Dorety as first Captive, Chili Williams as second Captive, William Schallert as Carver. Once again some of the images are courtesy of matte painter Irving Block (Rocketship X-M 1950, Forbidden Planet 1956, Kronos 1957)

Not to be mistaken with Captive Wild Women (1943) starring John Carradine!

Captive Wild Women John Carradine 1943

In a post-apocalyptic New York City, three tribes of mutants (the Norms, the Mutates and the Upriver people) battle each other to survive.

When Aubrey Wisberg and Jack Pollexfen saw they success they had with The Man from Planet X (1951) (incidentally re-using the cast once again, Margaret Field, Robert Clarke and William Schallert) they decided to try another science fiction story which had a British title originally called 3000 A.D. & 1000 Years from Now which reflect a much more science fiction sensibility that Captive Women which evokes that trend of jungle/adventure pictures. Howard Hughes who was running RKO at the time, decided to use the more sensationalist film title.

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After the world is destroyed by an atomic bomb, the survivors in our story concern three tribes who hunt each other down throughout the desolate ruins of New York City. First there are the Norms who by virtue of their name tell us that they haven’t been effected by the nuclear fall out. The Mutates led by Riddon (Ron Randall) , are ancestors who have been deformed by the passing down of their mutated genes, and go on raids of the subterranean tribe of Norms to conquer their women who are portrayed as beautiful and perfect for procreation which the Mutates would like to cleanse their lineage of the mutation they have suffered and begin to have healthy offspring. Then there is the last tribe, the Upriver People who are an evil bunch who are violent and worship the devil- ruthlessly led by Gordon (Stuart Randall)

When the Upriver People attack, the Norm leaders Riddon and Rob (Robert Clarke) take off, finding the Mutates are willing to help them hide out. One of the Norm women Ruth (Margaret Field) falls in love with Riddon.

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William Schallert plays Carver who has been banished by the Mutate tribe, winds up betraying them and showing Gordon the secret passage under the Hudson River, a tunnel that leads to the Mutate’s camp in New Jersey. In an ironic twist, during a battle between the tribes, the Upriver People are drowned. Though the story is very dark and brooding, there is a tinge of hope that with the budding romance between Riddon and Ruth they may begin a new civilization where all tribes work together.

Early on in the 1950s Rocketship X-M (1951) and Arch Oboler’s Five (1951) both dealt with the consequences of a nuclear holocaust, Captive Women plays out less about the effects of the atomic fallout  weaving the story around the different factions of tribes that are trying to forge their own society in a post-apocalyptic world. People have regressed back to a time of primal necessity (well they aren’t much different today are they), to survive, to procreate to prevail over other threatening tribes… the nuclear warfare has changed the look and function of the world and it’s survivors. Humanity is all about biological need and the misogynistic tribal-warfare narrative drives the story. Man vs man, man needs woman, woman gets dragged off like a piece of property. Some tribes are worse than others…

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The Hollywood Reporter said, “Captive Women was a ‘pretentious, long winded dissertation on the bleak future lying ahead… While the intent is certainly laudable, the pompous, hackneyed dialogue  and the stilted performances make this… a long 64 minutes.” In Daily Variety “Is strictly for the exploitation houses.” 

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In The Monthly Film Bulletin called it an ‘unattractive farrago’ they also said- “preposterous story contrives to be both childish and absurd.”

CAPTIVE WOMEN 1952

Invasion U.S.A

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Invasion USA lobby card

THEY PUSH A BUTTON AND VAST CITIES VANISH BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES! (1956 re-release)

Producer Albert Zugsmith worked with director Douglas Sirk on a few classics-was at a time the house producer for Universal -International, including Touch of Evil 1955, Written on the Wind 1956, The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957, The Tarnished Angels 1958,

Invasion U.S.A. is directed by Alfred E. Green (Baby Face 1933, The Jolson Story 1946)

What a cast!!!…Starring Gerald Mohr (Gilda 1946, Detective Story 1951, The Angry Red Planet 1959, Funny Girl 1968) as Vince Potter, Peggy Castle as Carla Sanford, Dan O’Herlihy as Mr. Ohman and Edward G. Robinson as the radio dispatcher. Phyllis Coates as Mrs. Mulfory, Knox Manning as the newscaster.

Albuert Zugsmith’s cheap exploitation film is a bleak journey laced with doom, scaremongering and feasting off of the vitals of paranoia of the McCarthy era Communist invasion scare, and plays off the worst of our fears back in the 1950s –the film did more as a propaganda piece than a truly insightful science fiction thriller. Using stock footage from World War II army training films.

From Bill Warren’s book Keep Watching the Skies–he cites In a letter to the New York Times, Larry Evans said the film seemed to be claiming “that peace is merely a space between wars”

Invasion USA lobby card

A largely forgotten film that plays on the fears about communism featuring Dan O’Herlihy as a mysterious stranger who hypnotizes a group of people in a New York City bar and makes them believe that the Cold War is over and Russians have launched an all out atomic attack.

The film opens in a New York City bar littered with a variety of characters, you know the counter-intuitive groups of people who’s sensibilities will no doubt span the spectrum of American taste. They are involved in a heated discussion about the universal draft. Gerald Mohr plays Vince a television reporter interested in controversy and high octane filled conversations that stoke ideas,while Peggy Castle plays Ruth who isn’t too keen on the idea herself. Then there’s the cross section of America, the tractor manufacturer George Sylvester played by Robert Bice who is too pleased with his own success refusing to convert his plant over so the military in order to make weapons. Then there’s the rancher Ed Mulfory played by Erik Blythe who is on the attack against the system. Illinois Congressman Arthur V. Harroway is portrayed by Wade Crosby who goes off on his own rant about tax increases because of all the defense appropriations.

Dan O’Herlihy plays Mr. Ohman who expresses himself very carefully presenting himself as a ‘forecaster’ and tells the group that the future all depends on how we as a people will act presently.

Suddenly the television set in the bar becomes the focus as there is an emergency announcement that enemy troops have invaded Alaska and are now heading toward Washington to attack! The group in the bar scramble to get to where they need to be, the pall of doom hanging over everyone’s certain fate.

Before the various characters involved wake up from their trance they all die horrible deaths, plunging form the top of a skyscraper, drowning etc.

Vince goes back to his television studio to try and report that the enemy troops are invading Oregon, taking over air bases, bombing cities and devastating important landmarks all over the West.

The rancher returns home and he and his family are drowned when Hoover Dam is A-bombed. The manufacturer is shot dead in his office by his window washer who was actually a spy. The enemy is never clearly specified but the idea that they start their invasion with Alaska which is not far from Russia let’s us know who we are truly afraid of in this film.

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Finally enemy troops not only descend upon Washington D.C. where the Congressman is shot to death while giving a speech, they reach Manhattan and set off another A-bomb- a scene which the film boasts as it’s only special effects sequence. Carla who worked for the Red Cross dies, and so does Vince, unfortunately there was no time for their budding romance to bud…

With many fantasy/horror/science fiction type stories that allow second chances or glimpses into the dangerous tomorrows, the scene at the bar shows all slowly awakening as if from a trance. Mr. Ohman has placed them into some sort of illuminatory stasis now giving them back precious time to go into the world and perform good deeds in the name of “Eternal Vigilance”

From Bill Warren’s Keep Watching the Skies “Russian MiGs are shown and some of the stock footage used is printed reversed left to right so that the letters are backward This was to make them look Cryillic and therefore, Russian According to Larry Evans’ letter quoted earlier , The American Mercury, then the self -appointed mouth piece of anti-communism , Anti-Unamerican fanatics is shown in the film. The message in Invasion U.S.A isn’t just that we should consider the possibility that another war and one with the communist nations in particular will take place, but that we should actively prepare for one to the point of providing arms & trained propaganda newscasters actually here fomenting the inevitable conflict.?

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Hedda Hopper allowed her name to be used with the advertising of the film and it’s posters saying- “It will scare the pants off you” Edwin Schallert in the Los Angeles Times quotes the cheap exploitation picture by saying, ‘there is still a modicum of high suspense running through the production, and perhaps even something to cause audiences to think.”

Newscaster: The big mystery now is why have no cities been attacked? Why did the enemy throw away surprise yet fail to drop a single atom bomb? 

Mr. Ohman: I think America wants new leadership.

Vince Potter: What kind of leadership do you suggest?

Mr. Ohman: I suggest a wizard.

Vince Potter: A what?

Mr. Ohman: A wizard, like Merlin, who could kill his enemies by wishing them dead. That’s the way we like to beat Communism now, by wishing it dead.

MONKEY BUSINESS

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Directed by Howard Hawks and notably considered a screwball–madcap-zany comedy starring Cary Grant, there is an element of science fiction that cannot be ignored and that’s why Monkey Business is viewed by some belonging to the Sci-Fi genre even with all it’s zany antics. Hawks having accomplished the more terrifying yet camp filled The Thing from Another World the year before certainly wears a versatile director’s cap. With a screenplay by writers Ben Hecht, Charles Lederer and I. A. L Diamond.

Referring back once again to Bill Warren’s terrific book Keep Watching the Skies, I could never write as concise and witty as Warren he puts it like this…After Here Comes Mr. Jordan 1941, light fantasy, comedies became popular and a steady Hollywood product. Generally they took the form of fantasies, such as Heaven Only Knows 1947, and You Never Can Tell 1951, but frequently the fantastic elements was actually science fiction…{…} Cary Grant was one of Hawk’s favorite actors- Bringing Up Baby 1938, Only Angels Have Wings 1939, etc–and Grant was often at his best under Hawk’s direction. Hawks seemed to be amused by Grant’s ability to appear stiffly repressed while suggesting banked fires of frivolity. That is the specific subject of Monkey Business.”

Cary Grant plays Dr. Barnaby Fulton (even his name is delicious!)

Grant plays absent minded professor Barnaby Fulton financed by Oliver Oxly played by Charles Coburn who wants his research to find a way to slow down the aging process. Fulton discovers a youth serum-elixir B-4, but when a chimpanzee sneaks out of his cage and mixes chemicals together, and spikes the water cooler,Fulton accidentally ingests the serum himself. Now listen, implausible you say, I’ve heard said that leave a chimpanzee in a room over the course of years he’d paint the Mona Lisa… true story!

Fulton begins acting like a high spirited college rowdy, buys a hot rod and drives Oxly’s secretary the adorable Marilyn Monroe all over town, and I mean drives her wild!
Problem is Fulton is married to sophisticated Edwina who is shocked by his new behavior, but eventually the serum wears off, but everyone from Edwina, old Oxly and his colleagues start drinking a lot of water! As in the end they revert to childish behavior swinging around the laboratory like chimpanzee’s themselves, they are in contrast with the civilized world, the elixir has caused emotional and moral anarchy and flies in the face of being a responsible adult, the message is quite dire. You not only can’t go home again, you can’t be young at heart again… Gee wiz!

There are no special effects, there are no substitute actors representative of the younger characters, the only signifier of youth is the actors behavior. So science fiction—not so much in terms of technology, but it’s always fun to include a comedy in the mix besides, Abbott & Costello and the bad movies that are unintentionally funny.

With the screwball dialogue and shenanigans the film the story resolves itself at the end with a bittersweet message that youth is for the young and we must accept getting older.

“Youth as presented in Monkey Business seems as much nightmarish as it does anything else”

Monkey Business Cary and Ginger

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Barnaby: Hello, Griffith Park Zoo, Snake Department. Sssshhh!

Oliver Oxley: Hello? Hello? What is this?

Barnaby: What do you want?

Oliver Oxley: This is Mr Oxley.

Barnaby: I’ll see if he’s here.

Oliver Oxley: No, I said *this* is Oxley!

Barnaby: Who is?

Oliver Oxley: I am, speaking!

Barnaby: Oh, you’re Mr. Speaking…

Oliver Oxley: This is Mr. Oxley speaking!

Barnaby: Oxley Speaking? Any relation to Oxley?

Oliver Oxley: Barnaby Fulton is that you?

Barnaby: Who’s calling?

Oliver Oxley: I am, Barnaby!

Barnaby: Oh, no, you’re not Barnaby. I’m Barnaby! I ought to know who I am.

Oliver Oxley: This is Oxley speaking, Barnaby!

Barnaby: No, that’s ridiculous! You can’t be all three. Figure out which one you are and call me back!

 

Lois Laurel: {Marilyn Monroe -at her secretrial desk, responding to Barnaby’s remark that she is at work early} Mr. Oxley’s been complaining about my punctuation, so I’m careful to get here before nine.

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Barnaby: Umph! I’m beginning to wonder if being young is all it’s cracked up to be. We dream of youth. We remember it as a time of nightingales and valentines. But what are the facts? Maladjustment, near idiocy, and a series of low comedy disasters. That’s what youth is.

Radar Men from the Moon

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Directed Fred C. Bannon

A Republic Serial in 12 Chapters!

Radar Men from the Moon seria

Starring George Wallace (224 credits to this omnipresent supporting actor) is Commander Cody, Aline Towne as Joan Gilbert, Roy Barcroft as Retik, William Bakewell as Ted Richards, Clayton Moore as Graber, Peter Brocco as Krog, Tom Steele as Zerg.

George Wallace wearing the special rocket suit from Republic’s earlier King of the Rocket Men (1949), is Captain Cody, Sky Marshal of the Universe. It’s cheap, really really cheap serial production– Cody must stop the Moon’s dictator the evil Retik from invading the Earth. Most of the action takes place on the Moon. Wallace doesn’t even need a spacesuit, and the lack of gravity doesn’t seem to effect Cody even after Destination Moon two years earlier showed up the problems with weightlessness. In 1966, the serial was condensed into a feature, Retik the Moon Menace.

George Wallace is Commando Cody, Sky Marshal of the Universe — that fantabulous flying super-hero scientist is fighting evil forces from the Moon who are destroying Earth’s national defenses using a strange and destructive weapon. Scientists Joan Gilbert (Aline Towne) and Ted Richards (William Bakewell) design both a special rocket powered suit and helmet that enables Commando Cody to fly, and a rocket that can reach the Moon. With the aide of security head Henderson (Don Walters) our hero uncovers a race of Moon Men who are using an atomic ray gun to target the Earth in order to invade the planet. When Cody, Joan and Ted travel to the cratered Moon to try and thwart the menacing Moon Men –in their rocket-ship they are captured by the Moon minions led by Retik (Roy Bancroft). The serial also stars Bob Stevenson as Daly, Clayton Moore as Graber, Peter Brocco as Krog, Tom Steele as Zerg, Dale Van Sickel as Alon, Noel Cravat as Robal, Baynes Barron as Nesor and Paul McGuire as Bream.

Radar Men from the Moon

Radar Man from the Moon

"Commando Cody, the Sky Marshal of the Universe," aka, George Wallace, appears to defy the laws of gravity, for a moment at least, as he lands in the arms of a prop man during production of the film " Radar Men from the Moon," at Red Rock Canyon in the Mojave Desert, 80 miles northeast of Hollywood, Calif., Dec. 12, 1951. Gravity may be defied in some the new movie serials based on the fantasies science fiction, but what goes up still comes down, even if the film wont let you see it. (AP Photo)
“Commando Cody, the Sky Marshal of the Universe,” aka, George Wallace, appears to defy the laws of gravity, for a moment at least, as he lands in the arms of a prop man during production of the film ” Radar Men from the Moon,” at Red Rock Canyon in the Mojave Desert, 80 miles northeast of Hollywood, Calif., Dec. 12, 1951. Gravity may be defied in some the new movie serials based on the fantasies science fiction, but what goes up still comes down, even if the film wont let you see it. (AP Photo)

Graber: How ’bout a ride to town, mister?

Motorist: Sure. Hop in.

Graber: There’s a man in a flying suit chasing us. Step on it.

Motorist: Huh?

 

[Commando Cody, Ted, and Joan are about to board ship for the moon]

Commando Cody: I still think this is no trip for a woman.

Joan Gilbert: Now don’t start that again. You’ll be very glad to have someone along who can cook your meals.

Red Planet Mars

Red Planet Mars

Directed by Harry Horner (Beware, My Lovely 1952, Vicki 1953, The Wild Party 1956, production designer on The Hustler 1961)

Written for the screen by John L. Balderston, Anthony Veiller based on the play by John L. Balderston and John Hoare. John L. Balderston had also written the screenplays for Dracula 1931, Frankenstein 1931, Mad Love 1935, Bride of Frankenstein 1935 and Gaslight 1944. Veiller having written the screenplays for The Killers 1946, and  The Stranger 1946.

Stars Peter Graves stars as astronomer Chris Cronyn, Andrea King as his wife Lynda Cronyn, Herbert Berghof as Franz Calder, Walter Sande as Admiral Bill Carey, Marvin Miller as Arjenian, Willis Bouchey as the President, and Morris Ankrum as Secretary of State Sparks.

Based on screenwriter Balderston’s play Red Planet, the film is overtly focused on the fear of invasion and the insidious spread of Communism in the American consciousness in the 1950s.

Martyrs,Miracles,and Martians
Religion and Cold War Cinematic Propaganda in
the 1950s by Tony Shaw

Introduction

Consider this script: Chris, a Californian scientist (played by Peter Graves), has established radio contact with Mars, thanks to the invention of a former Nazi scientist, Calder (Herbert Berghof), now serving Lucifer with Soviet money in the Andes. Consequently, the United States learns that Mars has attained a high level of “civilization,” has developed nuclear power, and has dispensed with coal and oil. The news causes pandemonium on Earth, stock markets crash, depression reigns, and Moscow gloats over the threatened collapse of Western society. On the brink of chaos, the world learns that Mars is also a Christian society, ruled by a “Supreme Authority” whose teachings parallel those of the Sermon on the Mount. This prompts a religious revival on Earth and a revolution in Russia, where a group of pious peasants inspired by Voice of America broadcasts throw out the Communists and crown an elderly patriarch as their new ruler. The story ends on a bittersweet note: Chris, his wife, and Calder are all killed in a laboratory explosion, leaving the U.S. president (Willis Bouchey) to announce that the faith of the world has been saved and that peace now reigns. Few films capture the personal and political paranoia so often associated with “McCarthyite” Hollywood better than Harry Horner’s
Red Planet Mars, described by one critic at the time of its opening in 1952 as “a grotesque, almost insane fantasy, told in deadly earnest.–Even fewer films threw all their Cold War eggs—anti-Communism, an ambivalence toward science.”

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Graves plays a California scientist trying to establish contact with Mars, soon into the film he and scientists at the observatory discover that the Martians have melted the ice caps in order to irrigate their planet. Graves as Dr. Chris Cronyn surmises that Martians are a superior race. His wife Andrea King who plays Lynda feels worried about the findings believing that her husbands research is like “sitting on a volcano.”

Peter Graves whose specialty is radio waves and King play a husband and wife team of research scientists/astronomers who pick up a television transmission from Mars. The message describes the planet as being a utopian society with a god-like higher power in charge. Here on Earth, this news spreads panic among both Western governments and the Russian Communist government. In Russia, the peasants revolt and place a priest like monarchy in rule.

 

Narrator opens “This is a story not yet told….”

Observatory is high on a mountain in Southern California the giant telescope… “Searches the heavens for the secrets there contained…”

Red Planet Mars Observatory

Dr. Cronyn (Peter Graves) is the radio man— Dr. Boulting – Mitchell’s Assistant (House Peters Jr.)  is the guy with the spy glass…

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“Do you seriously think that you’ve established contact with Mars…?”—Dr. Boulting (Peters)
“Well you take pictures of it, why shouldn’t I talk to it?”—Dr. Cronyn (Graves)

Red Planet Mars the team meets

Photos of the canals of Mars that traverse the entire planet–Lynda asks if Dr Mitchell has had his telescope for years –why is he getting these pictures just now. Mitchell explains that Mars’ journey around the sun is an elliptical curve.

After the next batch of photos are taken… it shows the mountains are gone and the poles are level.

Dr. Cronyn- “You can’t wipe out mountains taller than the Rockies in the space of a week!”

Dr. Mitchell the astronomer asks Boulting to look at the canals with his magnifying glass. Lynda says “They’re different now they reflect light like mirrors.” Dr Mitchell (Lewis Martin) ‘Water reflects light”

Cronyn asks “Are you saying you think those pole formations are ice… and in a week these Martians have melted ice caps thousands of feet high and use the water to irrigate the planet?” “Isn’t that what the picture says?”-asks Dr Mitchell

Red Planet Mars "are you saying you think those pole formations are ice?"

Cronyn would love to ask the Martians who they figured out that amazing way to irrigate the planet…
“It’s Mars I’m getting my signal from, but how do I give that signal meaning… how do I find a means of communication.”

Boulting says, “One man who takes pictures, one man who believes he can talk over 35 million miles… it’s like having a grand stand seat to the creation of the world…”

red planet mars lobby card

Red Planet Mars magnifies the canals

Red Planet Mars
Red Planet Mars prof shows the orbit of mars

There is also an ex-Nazi scientist Franz Calder (Herbert Berghof) who has invented a ‘hydrogen tube’ that he brings with him after the fall of Nazi Berlin. Cronyn (Peter Graves) uses this ‘hydrogen tube’ to contact Mars. The Soviets have planted the former Nazi spy  in order to make contact with Mars. “At this point the Christianization of the film begins.” – Bernard F. Dick

red-planet-mars-1952-g

Franz Calder who has believed to been dead since the war, has actually been living in a cabin in the Andes, living in the  ironic and ghostly eclipse of the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer. He taunts his Soviet compatriots —“You can find me only through finding Christ.”

Calder claims that the messages from Mars are actually fakes, telling everyone that he is the one who has been sending them –his plan– to bring about the downfall of capitalism. Calder is being supported by the Russians led by Arjenian (Marvin Miller) urging him to contact Mars before Cronyn in order to help wipe out democracy and bring about the fall of the Western civilization entirely.

Mars is the promised land, powered by cosmic energy. Its inhabitants have a three-hundred year lifespan and enjoy such an abundance of food that rationing is unnecessary. The realization that Mars is the new Eden and Earth is a garden gone to seed results in global chaos  as coalminers and steel mills close and banks default, believing that humankind had suffered enough, delivers an ultimatum: LOVE GOODNESS AND HATE EVIL… {…} Forget the galaxy and the follow the star of Bethlehem. The voice emanating from Mars is none of than God’s, the man of Nazareth and the man of Mars being the same. Suddenly, church attendance rises, and miracles are seen. The Soviet Union which ‘denied God’s word and worshipped false gods” abjures communism, and the patriarch of the Orthodox Church becomes head of the provisional government. – Bernard F. Dick

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RedPlanetMars (46)

Eventually Cronyn does receive messages from Mars saying that there has been incredible scientific advancements, this he deciphers from what looks like bar codes on the television screen. Cronyn has photos showing the ice caps on Mars described as mountainous peaks of ice thousands of feet thick, that are now melting at a faster rate, virtually overnight.

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When Cronyn releases his findings he is persecuted and blamed for the economic collapse in the West. Secretary of Defense Sparks (Morris Ankrum) tries to stop the flow of information in order to avert the disaster saying, “Our civilization is collapsing around our ears like a deck of cards… I can hear the laughter in Moscow now!”

red-planet-mars

In Moscow they are celebrating–“We will build our world on the ruins.”

red planet mars peasants revolt

This is pretty harsh straight forward propaganda that utilizes the elements of science fiction to push the fear and anxiety Americans felt during 1952. The President begs Cronyn not to release the information about the messages from Mars, pleading “You’ve shattered the economy of the free world” in which the scientist who is only interested in revealing the truth about his research and the secrets of the universe tells hims “I’m not interested in economics” as he continues to receive messages from the Martians. Another example of science vs –us against them etc.

Admiral Bill Carey (Walter Sande) responds ‘Science has made the volcano we’re sitting on… you’ll be the next to advance science–and maybe us–right into oblivion.”

Admiral Carey Walter Sande trying to convince Dr. Cronyn not to contact Mars nor refer to it as the more advanced civilization Cronyn tells him,  “Me talking to Mars won’t affect Vesuvius.”

Cronyn learns through their coded messages that the Martians have created their utopian society by following a supreme power much like our Christ figure. “Seven lifetimes ago we were told… to love goodness and hate evil.”

Calder shows up at the observatory claiming that he has been the one all along to be fabricating these transmissions from Mars in order to goad the naive into following them, he has sent them himself in order to sabotage the world. Calder assumes that Dr. Cronyn was responsible for the religious themed messages and that those pious missives never would have occurred to him at all since he only recognizes Milton’s version of a Satan who would rather reign as a king in Hell than follow God in a Heaven. He threatens to divulge his lie saying it’s all been a hoax at a press conference but Dr. Cronyn cannot risk that disaster from happening and so sacrifices himself and his wife to save the world.

Red-Planet-Mars God Speaks

“That’s my god-Satan!” he shouts. “I’ll have beaten God!” when he reveals all to the world. Then he quotes Milton’s Satan.

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“As when of old some Orator renound
In Athens or free Rome, where Eloquence
Flourishd, since mute, to some great cause addrest,
Stood in himself collected, while each part,
Motion, each act won audience ere the tongue
Sometimes in highth began, as no delay
Of Preface brooking through his Zeal of Right.
So standing, moving, or to highth upgrown
The Tempter all impassiond thus began”-Milton’s Paradise Lost

In the end, Cronyn and Calder fight as proof –a final ‘real’message from the Martians comes through the television screen saying that the supreme being on Mars is God himself.

Red Planet Mars - Lobby Card
Red Planet Mars – Lobby Card

Dr. Cronyn and his wife have secretly released hydrogen into the observatory room in order to blow the place up, preserving the message from the Martians and keeping Calder’s lies from getting out and wrecking the progress of the new world order. Lynda asks for a cigarette and begins to light it –Calder is standing there while another message from Mars comes in just to show that these communications are not fabricated by the evil Calder and the Cronyn’s are now vindicated. Calder pulls his gun out and fires at the monitor, the cigarette already ignites the hydrogen and blows the the three and the laboratory to bits.

The final word from Mars being “Matthew 25:23 “Ye hath done well, good and faithful servant… Enter into the joy of your master.” 

It is an act of Martyrdom and self-immolation The wife boasts to Calder that she possesses free will and she proves it by reducing three of them to charred bones. The article states cite again—“Of course one could argue that the lighting of a match is morally neutral but the laboratory setting makes the act at least morally questionable. Was she merely trying to frighten Calder, who panicked when he saw the match? Did the tactic backfire, literally? The biblical text approves her action elevating it to a sacrificial act. Since Calder identified with the Satan of Milton’s Paradise Lost, preferring to reign in hell than serve in heaven, his wish was granted.” – Bernard F. Dick

 

ANCIENT ASTRONAUTS: JESUS WAS AN ALIEN?

Jesus was an alien

Painting “Vintage Contact” by Lawrence Jones

The film bring out an interesting argument that became a cultural fad in the 60s & 70s that pertaining to Erich von Däniken was a leading proponent of this hypothesis in the late …. In Chapter 4 of Chariots of the Gods?, entitled “Was God an Astronaut? … claiming that Jesus was an extraterrestrial, citing John 8:23

The young sons of the scientist Stewart or Roger (Orley Lingren -Bayard Veiller) are later told that their parents were snatched up in a chariot of fire.

After this final message, the people of Moscow dig up old vestments and place their new religious leader in charge toppling the Communist government, a new religious revival arises in Russia taking back their country from the Communists and they place one of the peasants who had been a priest as the new spiritual leader as head of state.

Cronyn now vindicated and becomes a hero with followers who gather around the observatory to applaud and worship him. Then he is reviled as a traitor. By the end he is somewhat of a Christ figure himself being sacrificed, while Calder’s house is destroyed by an avalanche.

During the fight where Calder fires his weapon at the transmitter causing the hydrogen explosion killing Cronyn his wife Lynda and Nazi Franz Calder, Cronyn becomes Christ-like.

The film has an epilogue where the American President (Willis Bouchey) gives credit to Cronyn for delivering the word about the new world order.

The President is making a speech. He says that that final message coming from Mars was “Ye have done well my good and faithful servants.” The rest was silence. We are told the whole Earth is their sepulchre.

During the early 1950s while these anti-communist science fiction narratives were being rolled out, there were religious crusades and sub-texts that bear a trace of what Phil Hardy referred to as ‘religiosity’ lead by high profile preachers like Billy Graham–and politicians like Senator McCarthy who exploited the fear of the spread of communism. This sentiment could be seen in films like Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

From The Screen is Red: Hollywood Communism, and the Cold War by Bernard F. Dick, he writes that Red Planet Mars 1952 is one of the few science fiction films of the fifties featuring Soviets as characters sharing America’s determination to communicate with Mars.

redplanet

red planet mars1952

The final title rolls  “The Beginning” Instead of ray guns, monsters from Mars and rocket ships as Bill Warrens says–“it was sermons and a trip to church…”

From Bill Warren’s Keep Watching the Skies-“The writers concur with this the technological advances on Mars, though Bogus almost demolish Earth’s society through simple shame. When Cronyn’s wife expresses doubts and goes back to the house (probably to make coffee) Cronyn sucks on his pipe and sighs indulgently “Poor Lynda, with all her silly fears” The lab scenery is pretty good for the early 1950s. Calder’s hut is covered with ritual masks, which he occasionally talks to. The director tries to make the astronomer’s family important to him, little homey touches.” Warren calls all the Russians esp. Marvin Miller’s character Franz Calder ‘a swinish boor…. he adds The religious messages those woven into the film are monumentally patronizing… (LOVE and HATE )… bored those who didn’t care about the message, embarrassed those who believed in the message and turned off the rest.”

 

Admiral Bill Carey: I wonder what kind of world we’re opening the door on!

Linda Cronyn: [to Chris] We’ve lived on the edge of a volcano all our lives. One day it’ll boil over.

Franz Calder: He who follows the tyrant’s banner shall wear the tyrant’s chains. He who carries God’s banner shall know everlasting life!

Arjenian: You expect me to to tell them that?

Franz Calder: What you tell them is no concern of mine.

Untamed Women

untamed_women_poster_02

They Feared No Monster – Yet Fell Before the Touch of Man!

Directed by W. Merle Connell, starts Mikel Conrad as Steve Holloway, Doris Merrick as Sondra. Richard Monahan, Robert Lowell, Morgan Jones, Midge Ware as Myra, Judy Brubaker as Valdra, Carol Brewster as Tennus, Autumn Russell as Cleo and Lyle Talbot as Col.Loring.

Untamed Women cast

Untamed Women -director W. Merle Connell used clips from One Million B.C (1940)–Untamed Women was shot in under a week.

The story- a World War II bomber pilot Steve Holloway Mikel Conrad (The Flying Saucer) crashes and is rescued from a raft, given truth serum better known as sodium pentothal tells doctor Lyle Talbot the strange story of where he’s been. He and three members of his crew had washed up on an Island inhabited by beautiful women, dinosaurs and a nasty man eating plant. Did I mention the beautiful women?

Untamed-Women-1952

Untamed Women the plant that eats

The dinosaurs courtesy of One Million B.C —The half naked gals, costumes designed by E. Anderson responsible for the scantily clad UNTAM-ERY with their make up by Harry Gillette, not sure who tackled the 50s hair styles… very not- untamed. The women are supposedly descendants of Druids, how they wound up on this Island who knows, it’s just simply—by ancient druid magic one would suppose.

Morgan Jones and Carol Brewster. Jones is NOT a hairy man from the sea!

untamed women Morgan-Jones-and-Carol-Brewster

They fear being savaged again by the ‘hairy men’ from the sea. Doris Merrick who plays Sondra believes in the beginning that Steve and his men are also the hairy men because they haven’t shaven for days. She and her untamed women banish them to the valley of the stock footage dinosaurs in order to put them through a trial by fire, then they pair off with these nice American fellas until the hairy men do actually return. These wooly savages kill some of the untamed women, one of the good guys and then of course a volcano erupts and everyone dies but Steve who has been given a token of Sondra’s love, a medallion that he is found clutching.

Untamed Women Doris-Merrick-1952

untamed women Mikel-Conrad-and-Doris-Merrick

Doris Merrick as Sondra who wears the ancient amulet around her neck.

Bill Warren adds wonderful vintage reviews at the end of each film he covers. Here’s another particularly hilarious summary from The Monthly Film Bulletin called it “remarkable rigmarole”

Untamed-Women

Zombies of the Stratosphere

ZOMBIES OF THE STRATOSPHERE

Invasion From A Mystery Planet!–the Rocket Man Battle the “Robot from Outer Space”!

BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES YOU’LL SEE…ROCKET SHIPS IN STRATO-FLIGHT!…STRANGE CREATURES FROM ANOTHER WORLD! ROCKET MEN FIGHTING ROBOTS! DEADLY MACHINES AND WEAPONS IN ACTION!

Radar Men From The Moon 1952 (Robot)

A REPUBLIC SERIAL IN 12 CHAPTERS!

Directed by Fred C. Bannon, starring Judd Holdren as Larry Martin, Aline Towne as Sue Davis, Wilson Wood as Bob Wilson, Lane Bradford as Marex, Stanley Waxman as Dr. Harding, John Crawford as Roth, and Leonard Nimoy as Narab.

Zombies of the Stratosphere

Lost in Space jetpack

NOW!! that’s a jet pack… Guy Williams as Professor John Robinson — Lost in Space (1965-1968)

This time out it’s Holdren who wears the mask and flying suit. He plays a sort of star ranger. who uncovers and foils the plot of the Martians to blow up the Earth with an H-bomb and then shift Mars into Earth’s orbit. Bradford is the villain Nimoy is a zombie-like henchman and Waxman the treacherous scientist who helps them. The script by Davidson who single-handed wrote the last 13 Republic serials is crude as is Brannon’s direction. A year later Holdren took over the role of Commando Cody first layed out by George Wallace in Radar Men. but the serial was a false culled from episodes of Republic’s Commando Cody teleseries. In 1958 an edited down version of this serial was re-issued as Satan’s Satellites.

Judd Holdren plays Larry Martin a secret agent who can fly wearing his campy rocket suit with a kitschy control panel on his chest with buttons marked up & down (teehee), and not quite as fantastical ala Commando Cody. Martin is on the trail of a Martian spaceship that has been making secret trips to Earth. Seems the invaders working with a villainous atomic scientist with a grudge and they are looking to take over our galaxy by blasting Earth out of it’s orbit!

Zombies of the Strat here's Narab leonard-nimoy1952

Yes that Leonard Nimoy!

Shatner and Nimoy

STAY TUNED FOR

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Coming up…
Abbott and Costello Go to Mars
Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms
Cat-Women of the Moon
Donovan’s Brain
Four Sided Triangle
Invaders from Mars
It Came from Outer Space
The Lost Planet
The Magnetic Monster
Mesa of Lost Women
The Neanderthal Man
Phantom from Space
Port Sinister
Project Moonbase
Robot Monster
The Twonky
The War of the Worlds

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Postcards From Shadowland: no. 15

Anna The Rose Tattoo
Anna Magnani in Tennessee William’s The Rose Tattoo (1955) directed by Daniel Mann
Blood of a Poet 32 Cocteua
director Jean Cocteau’s The Blood of the Poet (1932) starring Enrique Rivero
Broken-Blossoms-Gish
Lillian Gish stars in Broken Blossoms in D. W. Griffith’s (1919) visual poetry
kongo1932
Kongo (1932) Lupe Velez torments Virginia Bruce in this remake of West of Zanzibar (1928)
GIULETTA MASINA in Fellini's masterpiece oneric journey Juilet of the Spirits 1965
Guiletta Masina is brilliant in Juliet of the Spirits (1965) Fellini’s masterpiece oneric journey
kuroneko
director Kaneto Shindô’s Kuroneko (1968) a beautifully disturbing ghost story
Anita Louise as Titania
Anita Louise as Titania Queen of the Faeries in A Midsummer Night’s Dream 1935
Brando and Schneider The Last Tango in Paris
Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider in The Last Tango in Paris 1972
Ohmart and Franz The Wild Party
Arthur Franz, Anthony Quinn and Carol Ohmart in The Wild Party 1956
Annex - Alexander, Katharine as Alda Death Takes a Holiday)_01
Death Takes a Holiday (1934) Katherine Alexander as Alda with Fredric March as Prince Sirki/Death
curtis-strangler
Richard Fleischer directs Tony Curtis in The Boston Strangler 1968
Dead of Night
Part of several segments of this classical ghost story, Alberto Cavalcanti directs Michael Redgrave in perhaps one of the most famous frightening tales in “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy” Dead of Night (1945)
Shock Corridor
Peter Breck is attacked by Nymphomaniacs in Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor (1963)
Brighton Rock Dick Attenborough as Pinkie Brown with Carol Marsh
Film noir thriller Brighton Rock (1947) starring Richard Attenborough as Pinkie Brown co-stars with Carol Marsh
Clementine
John Ford’s epic western drama -My Darling Clementine 1946 starring Henry Fonda and Linda Darnell
The Maids 1933 men in drag
Charles Busch, left, and Peter Francis James in a 1993 Classic Theater Company production of “The Maids” (1933) in which the sisters were men in drag
The Living Dead Man 1926-Michel Simon Jérôme Pomino
The Living Dead Man 1926-Michel Simon as Jérôme Pomino
the-bride-wore-black
François Truffaut’s tribute to Alfred Hitchcock with The Bride Wore Black (1968) starring the incomparable Jeanne Moreau
The Sea Hawk 1924
The Sea Hawk (1924) directed by Harold Lloyd starring silent film idol Milton Sills
through a glass darkly
Harriet Andersson in Through A Glass Darkly (1961) director Ingmar Bergman
The notorious Last Supper sequence in Luis Buñuel's VIRIDIANA.  Credit: Janus Films.  Playing 4/24 - 4/30.
The notorious Last Supper sequence in Luis Buñuel’s VIRIDIANA Janus Films. 

The Backstage Blogathon 2016: Kim Novak- Fallen Idol double bill “You’re an illusion… without me you’re nothing!” *

backstage-blogathon-red-shoes

Here’s a truly compelling Blogathon hosted by two of the most insightful bloggers you’ll ever find! Fritzi of Movies Silently and Sister Celluloid ! They’re featuring a subject that is endless in it’s offerings. The Backstage Blogathon 2016!

What is most challenging, eye opening and delicious for me is what I discovered not only about the films I chose that have a ‘Backstage’ theme, but how in fact, I uncovered the volatile backstage world within the backstage world. The back story of both screen & stage sirens, Kim Novak and Jeanne Eagels, the directors -particularly Robert Aldrich who made ‘Lylah Clare’, and the artists involved in molding the historic perceptions of all of it!

I’m thrilled to have been invited to join in, and couldn’t resist the temptation to do yet another double feature, cause I’m a child of the 60s & 70s & and I like it like that…!

Kim Novak

This time spotlighting three? legends, one a symbolic artifice of that intoxicating mistress that is… celebrity’ and two true legends– both portrayed by Hollywood goddess Kim Novak in The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968) & Jeanne Eagels (1957) with a little bit about the real tragic legend Jeanne Eagels herself.

kim-novak-and-hitchcock-vertigo
Director Alfred Hitchcock and Kim Novak in the an earlier film where Novak plays an eerie dual role, a story of fixation & fear of heights in the classic thriller Vertigo (1958)
Kim Novak - Vertigo - 1958. Restored by Nick & jane for Doctor Macro's High Quality Movie Scans website: http://www.doctormacro.com. Enjoy!
Kim Novak Vertigo (1958) courtesy of Nick & Jane at Dr Macro’s

[on her role in Vertigo (1958)] “I don’t think it’s one of my best works, but to have been part of something that has been accepted makes me feel very good…{..} They’ll always remember me in Vertigo (1958), and I’m not that good in it, but I don’t blame me because there are a couple of scenes where I was wonderful.”-Kim Novak

Vertigo
Novak as Judy in Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958)
vertigo-
Kim Novak as Madeleine -Scottie (James Stewart’s obsession) in Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958)

Kim Novak ‘The Lavender Girl’ like many Hollywood hopefuls went to L.A to become an actress, discovered by an agent who got her a screen test with Columbia Pictures who signed her to a contract. Harry Cohn marketed her as a ‘sex goddess’, something she resisted from the beginning.

Kim Novak

“I think it will be helpful to people because I know the expectations that are put on you as a sex symbol, and how MarilynMonroe suffered and so on, and I was able to get free of that.” –Kim Novak

She made her first motion picture at age 21, getting the lead in the film noir gem Pushover (1958) co-starring Fred MacMurray. Novak received a Golden Globe nomination for “Most Promising Newcomer” in 1955.

That year she made three successful pictures, Otto Preminger’s controversial film about drug addiction The Man With The Golden Arm (1955) starring Frank Sinatra as a strung out junkie and Novak as Molly.

the-man-with-the-golden-arm
Frankie Machine: “You got any money, Molly?… I feel so sick. I hurt all over”Molly:“Jump off a roof if you’re gonna kill yourself but don’t ask me to help ya…”

Then she received critical acclaim starring along side William Holden as the girl next door- Madge Owens in Picnic (1955), While Novak was surrounded by an incredible cast that includes Betty Field, Susan Strasberg, Cliff Robertston, Arthur O’Connell, Verna Felton, Rita Shaw, Nick Adams, Elizabeth Wilson AND Rosalind Russell as a painfully cliché old maid school teacher. The film didn’t seem to jive for me, and I felt it didn’t do anything to showcase Novak’s acting ability. 

She then followed up with Pal Joey (1955) again co-starring with Sinatra.

Picnic-dancing-scene-William-Holden-Kim-Novak
Bill Holden and Kim Novak dance in director Joshua Logan’s Picnic (1955) adapted from William Inge’s play, boasts as great cast!
Kim Novak Of Human Bondage
Kim Novak as prostitute Mildred Rogers in Of Human Bondage (1964) image courtesy of The Red List
Annex - Douglas, Kirk (Strangers When We Meet)_02
Kirk Douglas and Kim Novak smoke on the screen in Strangers When We Meet (1960) image courtesy of Dr Macro

Sadly with the way Columbia hyped their young star, she continued to make box office flops that halted her career, playing the other woman in love with Kirk Douglas in Strangers When We Meet (1960) then cast as prostitute Mildred Rogers in the remake Of Human Bondage (1964) with co-star Laurence Harvey, and Billy Wilder’s Kiss Me, Stupid (1964). Novak made several films with director Richard Quine with whom she dated, was married to actor Richard Johnson for one year, still remaining friends afterwards. But Novak never truly fit into Hollywood, was disillusioned by the pressures & politics of being framed as a sex goddess and not really getting film roles that were to her liking.

-Kim_Novak

“I don’t feel that I was a Hollywood-created star.”-Kim Novak

“The head of publicity of the Hollywood studio where I was first under contract told me, “You’re a piece of meat, that’s all”. It wasn’t very nice but I had to take it. When I made my first screen test, the director explained to everyone, ‘Don’t listen to her, just look’.”-Kim Novak

novak and pywacket
Pyewacket and Kim Novak in 1958 Bell, Book and Candle

She never quite broke through and lived up to her potential. With various cameo appearances and a few stints on television, she gave it up for good– married a veterinarian and lives in Oregon with her horses, her love of nature and animals. Kim Novak still the goddess!

Kim Novak the sultry lavender haired beauty is well known for Hitchcock’s beautiful mirror image as Madeleine Elster & Judy Barton in the psychological thriller Veritgo (1958), but I’ll always have a thing for her portrayal of Lona Mclane in Richard Quine’s noir film Pushover (1954)

Pushover-1954
Kim Novak as Lona Mclane in Richard Quine’s film noir Pushover (1954) co-starring Fred MacMurray

She was great as Kay Greylek in 5 Against the House (1955). And though it possesses a terrific cast of stellar talent, I’m less enthusiastic about Novak (not her fault) cast as Madge Owens opposite William Holden in Joshua Logan’s Picnic (1955). Other notable films featuring Kim Novak are as Molly in Otto Preminger’s Man With the Golden Arm (1955), Marjorie Oelrichs in another George Sidney film biopic The Eddy Duchin Story (1956), Linda English in Pal Joey (1957), My favorite as Gillian Holroyd in Richard Quine’s Bell, Book and Candle (1958), Betty Preisser in Delbert Mann’s Middle of the Night (1959), She was excellent as the conflicted ‘Maggie’ Gault in Richard Quine’s Strangers When We Meet (1960) She is wonderful as Mrs.Carlyle Hardwicke in Richard Quine’s hilarious romantic comedy with Blake Edward’s screenplay, The Notorious Landlady (1962) with lovable Jack Lemmon , Polly the pistol in Billy Wilder’s Kiss Me, Stupid (1964) Mildred in Of Human Bondage (1964), Moll Flanders, and in Terence Youngs’ The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders (1965).

Annex - Novak, Kim (Notorious Landlady, The)_NRFPT_01
Jack Lemmon and Kim Novak in The Notorious Landlady (1962)
Kim Novak-Jeanne Eagels
Kim Novak as Jeanne in the biopic Jeanne Eagels (1957)
kim-novak-robert-aldrich-legend-of-lyl
Kim Novak with director Robert Aldrich on the set of the 60s deviant trashy melodrama The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968)

“The same characters that keep reappearing bigger than life, find their own integrity in doing what they do the way they do it, even if it causes their own deaths.” Robert Aldrich

Over his extensive career director Robert Aldrich has always pollinated his film world with losers, outcasts, deviants and ego maniacs, that collectively form a certain archetypal group which goes against the grain of a ‘civilized’ & ‘moral’ society. One just has to think of his eternal cult hit What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962)

Betty and Joan Baby Jane?

Dark Romance: Sexuality in the Horror Film- by David J Hogan –“In the sixties director Robert Aldrich released a number of pictures that popularized Grand Guignol, and shaped Hollywood myths into stylish decadent burlesques. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) is the best-known, but The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968) is the most grotesque. Peter Finch played a washed-up film director whose chance for a comeback is a biopic of his ex-wife Lylah Clare, a German actress whose wanton bisexuality and taste for high living led to her accidental death. The director is amazed when he meets (Elsa) Kim Novak), a young actress who is the image of Lylah. Elsa is cast in the role and gradually assumes the dead actress’ personality and voice. Her relationship with the director grows more brutal and pernicious as Lylah’s influence becomes stronger…{…}

… it is tacky, vulgar and full of improbable circumstances. Lylah’s odyssey to stardom began in a brothel; her death occurred on her wedding day, and was caused by a fall from a staircase during a struggle with a female lover. Her reincarnation, Elsa inspires a number of sexual advances-lesbians and otherwise-from people who had known the actress. Lylah consumes Elsa, and finally assumes control of her body. Kim Novak’s blankness of demeanor perfectly expressed Elsa’s suggestibility. An un-credited actress provided Lylah’s throaty Germanic voice, and though the effect is hard to swallow at first , the film’s campy tone makes the device seem appropriate. In this gaudy movie, anything is possible.”

lylah clare film scene end

‘Lylah Clare’ presents us with a few cliché characters you’d find in the industry. Aldrich places them within the narrative “that is fragmented into contradictory possibilities.” The symbol of Lylah Clare dies twice in the film, that is to say she is destroyed in various ways. “The original death has been sentimentalized, sensationalized, fantasized in the course of the film. All these elements have been brought together in a way that can only suggest the triumph of savagery and vulgarity.” – Ursini & Silver

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Here’s a snippet of historian/writer Alain Silver’s interview with filmmaker Robert Aldrich who is perhaps one of my favorite non-Hollywood directors… talking about Lylah Clare & Kim Novak.

novak as Elsa

Silver: Some years after the fact, are you still dissatisfied with The Legend of Lylah Clare?

Aldrich: I think it has a number of flaws. I was about to bum rap Kim Novak, when we were talking about this the other day, and I realized would be pretty unfair. Because people forget that Novak can act. I really didn’t do her justice. But there are some stars whose motion picture image is so large, so firmly and deeply rooted in the public mind, that an audience comes to the move with a preconception about that person. And that preconception makes “reality’ or any kind of myth that’s contrary to that preconceived reality, impossible. To make this picture work, to make Lylah work, you had to be carried along into that myth. And we didn’t accomplish that. Now, you know you can blame it on a lot of things, but I’m the producer and I”m the director. I’m responsible for not communicating to that audience. I just didn’t do it.

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Novak as Elsa/Lylah in The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968)

Many of Aldrich’s explorations deal with the acidic nature of Hollywood with forays like his cult classic – What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), The Big Knife (1955), and the The Killing of Sister George (1968)

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Robert Aldrich on the set of The Killing of Sister George (1968) starring Beryl Reid and Suzannah York

Just a brief discussion about another Aldrich film that bares it’s frenzied teeth at the entertainment industry The Killing of Sister George (1968), which possesses the same problematic themes that emerge from show-biz which are transferred to June Buckridge (Beryl Reid) a middle-aged BBC soap opera star named Sister George who happily rides her bicycle  throughout the town helping the quaint folk. She is quickly being phased out of the show, in other words she is going to be killed off! 

Reid gives a startlingly painful performance as the belligerent June– a lesbian and a raging alcoholic. Abrasive, vulgar and absolutely a challenging anti-heroine to like as she will cause you to cringe yet at times feel sympathy for. Her internal conflict, volatile, poignant, alienated and transversing a heteronormative world as a nun on a popular television show of all things is quite a concoction. The conflict between the character on television and the actress’ personal life both connect as they renounce the morally & socially acceptable code that is splintered by the queerness, the vulgarization of her actual self, which is daily eclipsed by the illusion of her cheery onscreen persona as George, the bicycle riding do gooder tootling about town in the popular series, as a nun –this mocks June’s private life.

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She’s a belligerent vulgarian, foul mouthed, domineering alcoholic who has a vein of sadism she inflicts on her infantilized lover Alice ‘Childie’ McNaught (Suzannah York) who is ultimately set free from her present overpowering lover, only to be seduced/abducted by another strong Sapphic figure, Coral Browne. At the end, June is left to sit and reflect on the sound stage as she is about to play the cow in a children’s show, she yields to her professional and personal demise as she ‘moos’… a pathetic coda, yet a telling one about the industry. Aldrich creates a satirical version of Hollywood within the television workings of the BBC with all it’s trifling regulations and intolerance that can drive anyone to ‘moo.’ at the end.

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actress Beryl Reid learning to smoke a cigar for her role in the play picture-courtesy of Getty Images.
No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only Mandatory Credit: Photo by Everett Collection / Rex Features ( 534946B ) THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE, (ctr) Susannah York, Beryl Reid, Coral Browne - 1968 FILM STILLS
Photo by Everett Collection / Rex Features ( 534946B )
THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE, (ctr) Susannah York, Beryl Reid, Coral Browne – 1968
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The loneliness of Sister George- Beryl Reid as June who plays Sister George on the popular BBC soap opera. The last moments of the film, sums up her alienation as she reflects back on the sound stage. As James Ursini & Alain Silver point out the location in Aldrich’s Hollywood vision is a place where his characters find most comforting and ‘real’ from Charlie Castle to Jane Hudson.

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The Killing of Sister George  emerged during the fury & flutter of Queer Cinema that was experimenting with putting gay characters in the main frame of the narrative. These films took the subject of homosexuality and lesbianism head on… Head on as in a head on collision with homophobia!… For each character ultimately met with some kind of fatalistic & dire end. Figures either predatory, alienated, lonely or desperate. Doomed to die or eternally alone, by way of murder, suicide, violent death or unrequited love. All shown to either be mentally ill, or homicidal. For example: Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour (1961) Otto Preminger’s Advise and Constent (1962). Films like director Edward Dmytryk’s salacious Walk on the Wild Side (1962), Basil Dearden’s Victim (1961), Robert Rossen’s Lillith (1964) Gordon Douglas’ The Detective (1968), Claude Chabrol Les Biches (1968), Mark Rydell’s The Fox (1967), John Hustons’ Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), Radley Metzger’s The Alley Cats (1966)Thérèse and Isabelle (1968), Estelle Parsons in Rachel, Rachel, (1968) , The Sargent (1968) starring Rod Steiger who gives a gripping performance as a self hating homosexual.

And, including this post that includes lesbianism/bi-sexuality in The Legend of Lylah Clare.

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Elsa“She’s dead and I’m alive so you’ll have to get used to me.”Rossella- “That can be arranged.”

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Lylah Clare is an unnerving journey, with very unattractive show-biz types… And it’s supposed to be. Aldrich wants you to despise everyone who inhabits the Hollywood chimera, inhabited by outliers and egocentrically driven characters.

From the beginning of the film the ‘legend’ is set up by revealing to us, flashbacks, slides, a grand portrait, and vocal recordings of Lylah’s speaking style, wardrobe archived, fashion sense, body language and attitude.

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The dangerously iconographic staircase, that tells the death of Lylah Clare in three separate yet altered flash backs

Aldrich himself an outsider to Hollywood has made a name for himself as an irreverent auteur who creates high melodrama germinating in the realm of show business, stage & film. With cut-throat, and malignant sorts, parasites who feed on the desperately narcissistic, delusional and addictively determined to succeed.

There isn’t anything poignant or warm-hearted about Aldrich’s view surrounding any of the characters in the narrative itself as seen through the lens of The Legend of Lylah Clare. It’s imbued with noxious gasoline– giving off fumes just waiting to be thrown onto the smoldering fire, as he depicts this love/hate story about the myth and the illusion that is Hollywood.

You’ll start to feel the bile rising from your stomach, as every predatory, cynical and egomaniacal neurotic seeks to feed off the dreams of others trying to do the very same, like a snake devouring it’s own tail. It’s a quite unflattering look at fleeting power, bottomless fame, self-worship and the seduction of celebrity… deviant cannibalistic & venomous.

THE LEGEND OF LYLAH CLARE (1968)

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Novak plays both the fictional screen siren Lylah Clare and her doppleganger Elsa in Robert Aldrich’s toxic orgy of Hollywood indulgences in The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968)
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Rosella Falk plays the sapphic Rossella obsessed with both Lylah and Elsa as the reincarnation of her lost love… Lylah.

The Legend of Lylah Clare is one of director Robert Aldrich’s crassest indictments of Hollywood, using brutal symbolism -exploring a visual narrative of an industry that is narcissistic, chaotic, duplicitous, superficial, devours the soul, and cannibalizes it’s own.

From James Ursini & Alain Silver’s wonderful book, What Ever Happened to Robert Aldrich?“Real emotions and real events are clouded in ambiguity. Elsa and Zarken are not ‘simple-minded stereotypes’, they are the expressive components of The Legend of Lylah Clare which begins in setting up a standard genre expectation then they goe to consciously excessive lengths to frustrate and altar those expectations.”

As pointed out in Ursini & Silver’s insightful biography, Aldrich is one of Hollywood’s rebels & great auteurs, they also point out that Zarken (Peter Finch) & Elsa’s (Kim Novak) are industry victims by their own doing and because of the cut throat nature that permeates within its closed universe. They both come to an end by death, physical, emotional & career. “Their fates are as fixed as that of Joe Gillis, floating face down in Norma Desmond’s pool.”- Ursini & Silver- (they are referring to Sunset Boulevard 1950)

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Kim Novak as Elsa filming the final scene in the film within a film’s biopic film about the life and death of Lylah Clare.

Kim Novak stars as Lylah Clare /Elsa Brinkmann/ Elsa Campbel, with Peter Finch as egomaniacal director/ Lewis Zarken/Louis Flack, Ernest Borgnineis the studio bigwig. Barney Sheean,wonderful character actor Milton Selzer is agent Bart Langner and Jean Carroll plays his wife Becky. Giallo queen & 8 1/2 star Rossella Falk is Rossella, Lylah’s lover, the dreamy Gabriele Tinti plays Paolo the Adonis gardener, Valentina Cortese is fashion designer Countess Bozo Bedoni and Coral Browne who was incredible in The Killing of Sister George that same year, does her thing as the scathing, acid tongued film critic and virulent gossip mongering columnist Molly Luther. Ellen Corby has a small part as the script woman.

Teleplay by Robert Thom and Edward DeBlasio, with the screenplay by Hugo Butler, and Jean Rouverol
Music by Aldrich regular Frank De Vol… Filmed on location at Grumman’s Chinese Theater and MGM Studios. Aldrich consistently used masterful Cinematography by Joseph F. Biroc

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George Reeves with cinematographer Joseph Biroc Biroc served as cinematographer on the “Adventures of Superman” He also received several Emmys for his work and in 1989 received a lifetime achievement award from the Society of American Cinematographers.

The camera work in Lylah Clare is perhaps one of the standout aspects of how the film is skewed & washed over by reality vs illusion. Here’s just a few of the amazing films credited to Biroc… a master at film noir, fantasy & suspenseful landscapes. Joseph F. Biroc has lensed some of my favorite films.

The Killer That Stalked New York (1950), Cry Danger (1951), The Glass Wall (1953) Vice Squad (1953), Donovan’s Brain (1953), Down Three Dark Streets (1954), Nightmare (1956), The Amazing Colossal Man (1957), Born Reckless (1958), Home Before Dark (1958), The Bat (1959), 13 Ghosts (1960), Toys in the Attic (1963), Kitten with a Whip (1964), Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), Enter Laughing (1967), Tony Rome (1967), The Detective (1968), The Killing of Sister George (1968), The Grissom Gang (1971), Emperor of the North (1973), Blazing Saddles (1974), The Longest Yard (1974)

William Glasgow who had worked on Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) and Kiss Me Deadly (1955) is responsible for the stunning art direction.

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Overnight, she became a star…Over many nights, she became a legend.”

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“The entire film might be classed as a reincarnation fantasy or murder mystery”  Alain Silver & James Ursini; What Ever Happened to Robert Aldrich?

It could also tantalize us with a hint of the supernatural theme of ‘soul possession’ within the Hollywood Exposé It is never clear whether Lylah is possessing Elsa or if Elsa just goes mad!

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Agent Bart Langner (Milton Selzer) who is dying of cancer wants to finally produce a film before he dies. He discovers Elsa Brinkmann (Kim Novak) a meek horned rimmed glasses wearing movie fan who is the spitting image of the dead screen goddess Lylah Clare, a legendary actress who died 30 years ago in 1948 by mysterious means on her wedding night to director Lewis Zarken. Her husband/director has vowed that he’d never direct another picture again.

But when Bart brings Elsa (Novak) to the egocentric who ‘lifted his name from a Hungarian magician who slit his own throat’ director Lewis Zarken/Louis Flack (Peter Finch) who has been isolating since the death of his star/wife, he begs Lewis (Finch) to come out of hiding, so they can make a movie about the life and death of the legendary Lylah Clare. Bart has been tirelessly molding Elsa (using slides and voice recordings of Lylah) into the personification of the dead starlet to entice Zarken to make the picture.

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Milton Selzer as Bart is running through a series of slides with his wife Becky, showing Elsa bits and pieces of Lylah’s past.
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A slide shows the image of brooding ego-maniacal director Lewis Zarken played by Peter Finch

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The wedding of Zarken and Lylah Clare
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Becky Langner shows Elsa Lylah’s dress
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Elsa lacks confidence to take on such an intimidating role.

Kim Novak inhabits two roles, the title of the film which is the ‘dead’ screen goddess Lylah Clare seen in various flashback. And, her other character, that of Elsa Brinkmann who starts out as a shy star-struck neophyte, clumsy and appearing frightened at times until she emerges from her cocoon. The film almost alludes to the idea that Elsa is either a   ‘reincarnation’ of Lylah Clare or is under a spell, like soul-possession.

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Bart Langner to Elsa –“You can’t imagine what a big star she was, I mean really big Everybody loved her, worshiped her.”
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Elsa-“She had a strange kind of appeal didn’t she.”
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The Legend of Lylah Clare uses many touches of Neo-Noir as part of it’s flare. This is outside Elsa’s lonely motel room

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Elsa starts the circular pattern of the film, starting out walking down Hollywood Boulevard looking at famous star footprints and winding up in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater. The film will end in front of the landmark

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In Lylah Clare, Kim Novak portrays the flip side of two women once again…  Elsa Brinkmann a star struck timid girl who is discovered by agent Bart Langner. The brash studio head who represents the business end of the world, is played by Ernest Borgnine who calls Bart (Milton Selzer) a ‘lousy ten-percenter.’

Because Bart knows he is dying of cancer, and  his days are numbered he figures that introducing Elsa to the world as the second coming of the legendary actress Lylah Clare a sort of Dietrichesque screen goddess who died 30 years earlier shrouded in mystery will allow him to leave his legacy as a film maker and not just a crummy agent.

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Finding Lylah’s doppelgänger would give him the opportunity to finally produce a picture, putting Elsa on the big screen in a biopic version of the legendary Lylah Clare.

Elsa goes through an evolution from insecure fan whose bed is cluttered with movie magazines, to the vigorous narcissist who embodies the passion and recklessness of the dead starlet. However the catalyst… Elsa becomes TRANSFORMED into either a surrogate Lylah or the real deal. Of course Zarken and Elsa become lovers, but it is not made clear whether he is in love with the new actress or living out old patterns with a replica . Elsa however has fallen for the director and is tortured by the conflict Lylah’s memory/incarnation that has been rekindled.

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Peter Finch, Kim Novak

She begins to feel her own ascendance beyond Zarken, who utters the line, “You’re an illusion. Without me you don’t exist!” In response she shows Zarken to himself who was originally Louis Flack a hack magician. Shouting in defiance, Elsa holds up a make-up mirror that distorts his reflection. “Look you are a God… and I’m created in your image!”

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“Look you are a God… and I’m created in your image!”

Let’s turn the reel back a bit… Bart brings Elsa to meet Lylah’s director/lover Lewis Zarken who has been in seclusion since the tragic death of his protege Lylah Clare. Once Lewis sees Elsa and watches the time she’s put into studying her guttural  accent which she intermittently uses as cackles with other throaty Germanic utterances that is eerie and off putting. This is to give her a streak of supernatural irreverence. Zarken sees a spark of potential to resurrect not only his own career, but to bring back from the dead, his lost love and world wide idol or perhaps just his art piece to mold and exploit once again… or a combination of all of the above.

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The camera shows only Zarken’s back To Bart. Setting up the idea that Zarken is a deity in his own mind, unreachable force who commands deference and obedience. 
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Portraits and memorabilia of the enigma that is Lylah Clare are all around Zarken’s house, like a shrine to the dead goddess.

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Zarken sits in his swivel chair with his back to us and the camera spouting his arrogant and cryptic sense of humor, which already alienates us from his character right from the beginning. As Ursini & Silver point out, it also sets him up as a mythic figure himself. He is congratulated and warned about having a second chance. “You’re getting a chance to live a part of your life all over again… Lewis be careful with this girl… remember, it’s not everyone who gets two chances.”

Zarken, originally named Louis Flack a professional magician plays like he’s a megalomaniac in the vein of Svengali. Elsa winds up living in the shadow of the ‘myth’ of a great mysterious woman much like Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca feeling as if she is NOT nor will ever be the late great idol of passion.

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Zarken aggressively pulls up Rossella’s sleeve to show the track marks on her arm. Each character in The Legend of Lylah Clare has obsessions and demons of their own making.

Now living isolated in his decadent old mansion (reminders of the Hudson sister’s house in Baby Jane?) he shares the isolation with friend Rossella the beautiful Italian dialect coach and Lylah’s lover who is a dope addicted lesbian. She inhabits her scenes with a love/hate relationship toward Zarken as she haunts the house like part of his conscience for both characters the memory of Lylah won’t rest.

Zarken is a psychopathic megalomaniac who lives in the odd mansion like Norma Desmond. He plays life/death tricks with a gun, and is an abrasive egoist, and an elitist, A maudlin auteur from the first moment we meet him. After Bart works with Elsa, playing recordings of Lylah’s Voice and teaching her the walk etc. Bart is ready to bring Elsa to meet Zarken.

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Zarken makes Bart play the gunshot trick/game with him. He is impervious to bullets. A God like man…

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Elsa arrives at the mansion and begins walking up the staircase looking at the extravagant portrait of Lylah.

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As Elsa is paraded in front of Zarken he depersonalizes her.
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The 1st flashback which suggests Lylah was assaulted by a crazed fan with a knife. There is a struggle. The use of red to soak the screen in blood.

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Both Lylah and her assailant wind up dead at the bottom of the great staircase.
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“We’re moving like a deeply offended Tibetan yak!” Lewis tells Elsa as he watches from below the absurd staircase that plays a very significant role in the film.
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Lewis Zarken: [Talking about choosing a stage name for Elsa] Elsa Brinkmann. “John Foster Brinksmanship.” It’s horrible. We’ll have to change your name.” Elsa: “Thank you, but I’m happy with the name I have.” Lewis Zarken: “Well, I’m not! And neither will the public be! Anyway, what’s in a name? Why are you so sensitive? If it’s any consolation to you, I rejoiced in the name of “Flack.” Louie Flack, F-L-A-C-K, Flack. How does *that* grab you? Then one day I saw this magician: “Zarkan the Magnificent.” He was a terrible act. I think he finished up cutting his throat in a Hungarian boarding house. Anyway, I lifted his name. Sounds a bit like a Transylvanian pox doctor, but it serves to impress the natives. We’ll do the same for you.”
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Lewis Zarken: “I’ve never seen a woman yet who didn’t have a whore locked up somewhere deep inside her.”

As Elsa is paraded in front of Zarken he depersonalizes her. Zarken is offensive and rude and down right abusive. Eventually Elsa is imbued with the essence of the dead actress and the possession, or the spell Elsa falls under begins to manifest the abrasive more bravura persona that apparently was Lylah, losing Elsa all together. She falls in love with Zarken of course, but is he in love with Elsa?, or the image of Lylah that has been molded as if by Madame Tussauds, or intoxicated by the idea of being able to control Elsa/Lylah all over again, creating her image on screen for the sake of art and his supposed genius. Lewis tells Elsa in his preachy condescending way. Lylah has died under very curious circumstances on their wedding night, that only begins to unfold as the film’s flashbacks start to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

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Elsa sits in the screening room watching old film’s of the dead goddess Lylah Clare.

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Valentina Cortez plays the costume designer Countess Bozo Bedoni
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Ernest Borgnine is studio head/producer Barney Sheean.
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It is the premier coming out party at Zarken’s mansion where Zarken has invited the press and industry people to meet his new Lylah Clare protégé
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Molly Luther: “Free food, free drinks, free press.” Molly Luther: “She’s tame enough now, Lewis, but will she turn into a slut like the last one?”

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Jean Carroll as Bart’s wife Becky Langner, Valentina Cortese as Countess Bozo and Rossella Falk as Rossella are gleefully admiring their make over –an anti Pygmalian transformation. No grace, no grammar just guts and glamour

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Elsa is created to look like a carbon copy, down to the rose and blonde hairstyle as the huge portrait by the staircase.
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Coral Browne as the cynical and acerbic  Molly Luther is lying in wait to offend & grill the young actress!

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Elsa must past inspection by the harpy like critic Molly Luther played by Coral Browne. Elsa manifests Lylah’s contemptuous maniacal laugh and nasty tongue. Demeaning Luther by almost molesting the disabled woman’s private parts by putting her cigarette out in the ashtray on her crotch. Then banging her leg brace with her own cane in front of the crowd of party guests.

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Molly Luther–I presume you know what kind of an establishment Lewis’ last performer came from? Are we to take it that your background is equally unfortunate? Oh come along child, surely you’re not retarded. I am asking you Do you sleep with him?!”
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Elsa (Manifesting Lylahs throaty German voice) “Why you miserable son of a bitch. What makes you think that because once Yes Miss Luther just once (she puts her cigarette out in Luther’s lap) you spent a cozy hour with Lew Zarken… that you have the right to be jealous of him…”

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“Do you really believe that you have a license to ask any dirty question that slides into that snake nest between your ears… And nobodies jealous of you why! Because they’re gentleman? NO… I’ll tell you why. Molly Luther’s magic wand. (Elsa holds Molly’s cane in her hands) It keeps her safe from (smacking Molly’s leg brace) dragons!… (she cackles) Luther’s personal guarantee that she has the right of God almighty… Now get out and don’t come into this house again!”

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Elsa ultimately professionally and psychotically reincarnates or uncannily manifests herself as Lylah. She seems almost possessed by the spirit of the dead screen goddess. This suggests an element of the supernatural perhaps that the films doesn’t bother to dissuade or convince us of. Elsa’s intermittent vocalizations arise at times as M.J Arocena says in their IMBd review —“talks with the grave tones of a hybrid, part Lotte Lenya part Mercedes MacCambridge. Outrageous!” I remember reading that Mercedes MacCambridge had done the voice of the demon possessing Regan (Linda Blair) in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973).

Once an agreement is set with the studio to allow Zarken to make his picture and Lewis Zarken agrees that he can mold Elsa in the image of Lylah and cast her in an epic biography about the lost screen goddess and her tragic mysterious death, we meet the mouthy studio head ’ Barney Sheean played by Ernest Borgnine. Who is wonderfully belligerent and not all too enthusiastic to revisit another Lylah Clare with auteur Zarken helming the project.

Barney Sheean (Ernest Borgnine) is invited to come to the unveiling, where Elsa is coached even how to walk down the long staircase at Zarken’s mansion to greet her public and more importantly the press, in particular that harpy-like gossip columnist Molly Luther played by brilliantly by Coral Browne, as the archetypal scandalmonger in the vein of the great  Louella Parsons.

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Molly asks what Lewis has to say about being thrown out by Elsa. “I’ve always been told that a director should never under cut their actors big scene. I’m afraid I must ask you to leave!”
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With Lewis Zarken taking sides with his new actress, Rosella and Countess Bozo do their version of a spit take! Rosella drinks to it and Countess Bozo gags on her cigarette smoke!

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Bart, in a panic chases after Molly making excuses “she’s really a nice girl” pleading with her to wait for Barney (Ernest Borgnine)

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Molly- “She’s a degenerate swine!”

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As she descends the oddity that is Zarken’s high and open ended staircase symbolically a decent with no safety bars attached, Elsa seems bent out of joint by Molly’s questioning so rather than succumb she assaults her using that thick throaty German Lylah voice in order to make the intimidation more grandiose!

On the day of Elsa’s big unveiling, she manages to conjure Lylah so well that she has a cat fight with columnist Molly Luther (Coral Browne) who calls her a ‘degenerate swine’ in which she inappropriately mocks and attacks not only her physical disability, but her identity as a woman  by banging her own cane against her leg brace to demean her in front of the gathered crowd at the party. Elsa goes as far too call her a ‘freak’.

Director Lewis Zarken’s Svengali like preoccupation with molding Elsa in Lylah’s own image creates a sort a Monstrous Feminine, a beautiful Frankenstein who begans to desire it’s own primacy rather than be mastered, while he is trying to re-create what he has lost, he loses all control over his creation yet again.

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Lewis Zarken: [Upon nearing a large greenhouse, while giving Elsa a walking tour of his estate] “You might say that that greenhouse is something of a memorial to her. We had a Japanese gardener that used to look after it. Nice little fellow – quiet as a cherry blossom. Worked out here the best part of ten years, then suddenly one day we were at war. And the Government – who know a dangerous man when they see one – gave him a few hours to pack up before they shipped him off to some god-forsaken concentration camp in the middle of a desert. Lylah was so upset, she came down here to say good-bye to him. You can take my word for it, that gardener had the most *unexpected* going away present he ever had in his life.” Lewis Zarken: [pauses, noticing that Elsa looks somewhat taken aback] “Don’t look so shocked… She wasn’t married at the time.”
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Barney Sheean: “Films”? “Films”? What the hell ever happened to movies? What do you think you’re in, the art business?
I make movies, not films!

Under the shadow of the great Lylah, Elsa is driven hard to bring forth the same enigmatic persona by Zarken. During the film we’re not even sure if Elsa is either, becoming possessed by the dead star, truly talented at stepping into character or absolutely mad. Is she driven by a desire to be a great actress, or is she trying to please her lover Lewis who only sees her as an object, and the subject that is ‘Lylah’.

What’s like a rollercoaster ride is how Elsa suddenly bursts into one of Lyle’s vulgar tirades perfect pitch German accent, once when Lewis tries to grab her she spews venom at him shoving him away, “keep your filthy hands off me!”

I’ve read that Novak’s voice was dubbed post-production as a last minute idea- something that purportedly caused the actress much embarrassment at the film’s premiere. This was based supposedly on the idea that Aldrich realized that Elsa could not have known so many private details of Lylah’s intimate life and so the idea of ‘possession’ became more viable when she would manifest the guttural laugh and tirades she would go off on in that German accent. But due to this maneuver after the film was shot, the possession scenes come across as even more surreal or otherworldly and off-putting & creepy.

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The 2nd flashback a different version of the assailant/lover is revealed to be a woman played by a very young Lee Merriwether

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Along the for the ride in this ensemble excursion typical of an Aldrich narrative, is Rossella Falk, who plays assistant Rossella, Lyle’s heroine addicted lover.

There aren’t any characters that have an attractive, compelling or empathic role, as they are all in this mission to resurrect the dead Lylah for an agenda each one has. Zarken desires to destroy the woman all over again, Bart just wants to produce one great film before the cancer kills him, and Rossella is still hopelessly in love/lust with Lylah, which she easily transfers to the now well groomed Elsa.

During the exhausting studying down to each movement and inflection, Elsa begins to lose her identity slipping more and more into Lylah’s personality off the film set.

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Elsa kisses Bart on the cheek, even his wife Becky is starting to see the transformation and the shy Elsa is becoming more flirtatious like Lylah Clare
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Even Bart’s wife Becky sees the change in the mild mannered girl who is now flirting with her husband.
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I doesn’t escape me, the use of the re-occurring iconography -the use of ‘the mirror’ to represent the splintering of personalty

The film becomes an almost surreal fruit salad of moments that are a journey for several archetypal figures who are destined for self-destruction in the literally dog-eat-dog world of show-biz. Also a film within a film within a film.

What’s hard to know or what is not meant to be discovered is whether Elsa becomes possessed, whether Lewis is using Elsa to resurrect a woman that he might have also driven crazy or in fact killed, and the strange romance between the two. It’s hard to define it as a love relationship rather than one of opportunity obsession and need.

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Zarken is re-shooting the death scene on the staircase where Lylah was either attacked by a true assailant, a female lover playing dangerous foreplay with a knife, or in fact if the fall was caused by the jealous & possessive Zarken.

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Ellen Corby plays the script woman. Watching the volatile scene on the staircase

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One plot line concerns the actress and her possession by the spirit of the late Lylah Clare, and the other subplot concerns the romance between the actress and the director, and the burgeoning promiscuity (hearkening back to Lylah) as Elsa begins to explore sex with Rossella the voice coach and the hunky gardener played by Tinti.

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An interesting confluence, Kim Novak’s character Lylah too suffers from vertigo as did James Stewart character in Hitchcock’s film. In flashback we see three possibilities of what happened the night that Lylah Clare died, but it doesn’t unfold until it has been strained through a few different psychedelic versions to get to the likely truth behind her death. Photographed by the great Josef Biroc he creates a mesmerizing color palate that reminds me of some of the best Giallo films from Italy.

At the climax of the film when Elsa is filming the last scene as Lylah, she is up on a trapeze being able to still capitalize on Lylah’s fear of heights (a scenario that never happened but Lewis envisions this campy exhibition as a metaphor to her real death, also signifying that Hollywood is a circus!), Elsa shouts to Zarken, “All right, Lewis we will see if I am an illusion!”

Lewis Zarken is one of Robert Aldrich’s typical film megalomaniacs, with a measure of psychopath added to the mix. Bart (Milton Selzer) berates Zarken, “You think you created her, can create her again!” The combative Zarken tells him- “The public will continue to believe what we tell them… We make the legends and the legends become truth!”

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Bart is getting increasingly disparaged by Zarken’s controlling ego trip and mistreatment of Elsa.

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This maxim that the illusion becomes the reality is re-articulated in Aldrich’s The Killing of Sister George (1968) as June (Beryl Reid) tells her lover ‘Childie’ (Suzannah York) about her quaint & extremely popular soap opera gig, “It’s real to millions of people, more real than you or I.”

Once the filming begins the blustering studio head Barney Sheean (Ernest Borgnine) begins to oversee the picture and vocal coach Rossella (Rossella Falk) and staff, designers etc are on board. Novak starts embodying the very essence of Lylah’s persona as she further immerses herself into the character. Is she possessed?, or merely going mad from the pressures. Everyone begins treating her as if she is the late screen goddess to tragic results as history repeats itself again…

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Elsa as Lylah Clare: “Just tell ’em Lylah’s coming, soon as she gets her harness on… Lylah Clare: [to Barney Sheean] Squat and wait!”
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The 3rd flashback gives more of an impression that Zarken either caused or purposefully made Lylah fall off the staircase when he finds out that her lover is a woman.

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Up on the trapeze the final flashback -one of the dream sequences be it real or fantasy of Lylah’s death, the predatory male suitor with a knife is now a young woman who is shot by Lewis falling off that ridiculous staircase with no railing—it is Lee Meriwether (Catwoman in Batman 1966) and former Miss America. — playing a lesbian suitor/lover dressed in male drag wielding a knife as deadly phallic weapon or just s&m foreplay–all of it that precipitates Lylah’s fall to her death.
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Elsa looks down, and winds up missing her cue, as she too falls to her death for real, not just written into the script as a feature.

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Ironically the film premiers at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, the very place that Elsa playfully walks around in the very beginning of the film.
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Rossella waits… she loads a gun. Will she kill Lewis Zarken? That is left up for grabs…
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Molly Luther at the premier of the ‘degenerate swines’ movie… Life goes on in Hollywood
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Zarken reflects on what has happened
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Zarken is interviewed about the film, but it is quickly cut to a Barkwell dog food commercial…

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In the end, Elsa in a struggle of power to maintain her identity falls to her death from the trapeze, dying in an eerie similarity to Lylah. She might as well have slipped inside Lylah’s skin.

The filming catches every nuance. The extras gather around her body. It is a bizarre scene… until Aldrich leads us out with the dog food commercial freeze framed under the rolling credits. We are also left to wonder if Rossella will finally shoot Lewis in a jealous rage for having caused her beautiful lover to die yet again… Molly Luther shows up to the premier of Zarken’s film at the legendary Grauman’s Chinese Theater smiling as none of this scandalous affair has tainted her career and Zarken himself  brooding & reflecting about the premier while being interviewed by a reporter until he is cued away on television to a Barkwell dog food commercial, phasing out Zarken’s soliloquy in front of Grauman’s Chinses Theater. All is back to normal in the world of Hollywood and with its short attention span syndrome.

Aldrichs’ way of ‘vulgarizing Hollywood showing that nothing is sacred, nothing lasts. The camera pulls away and goes to the commercial. The symbol of the dog food (incidentally used in Baby Jane? when the dog food ad interrupts one of Blanche’s classic films re-run on tv) is a grandiose show of contempt as a pack of wild dogs pile into a kitchen through a dog door and in a frenzy, sharp fangs bared, tear each-other apart over a bowl of meat. Leading out to the final freeze frame of the snarling teeth, as De Vol’s theme song for Lylah plays over the rolling credits.

An ugly Grand Guignol Guilty Pleasure stylized by Aldrich’s animosity toward the film industry-wonderfully vulgar in the same way as was his What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962). It’s another poison love letter to Hollywood that is perhaps even more absurd, and almost as grotesque as What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

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The two iconic ideals of the vulgarization of screen goddesses worship and ruination, as the Hudson sisters Blanche and Jane. Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. The exemplar of Grande Dame Guignol theater.

The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968) was a failure in the sense of a box office hit it could have been, even with the collaboration of Novak’s star quality, the studio MGM’s money machine, the successes Aldrich had with The Dirty Dozen in 1967 and the stellar casting, it came across as an convoluted oddity.

Aldrich created a quirky uncomfortable campy indictment of Hollywood, and not a grand action adventure or high melodrama that never sank too low in decadence for it’s audience.

a similar film theme that precedes Aldrich’s film by 16 years!
Tagline: from THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (1952)“The story of a blonde who wanted to go places, and a brute who got her there – the hard way!”

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Kirk Douglas and Lana Turner star in The Bold and The Beautiful (1952) directed by Vincent Minnelli.

Aldrich gathered his usual ensemble of outliers in a world gone mad and literally let the dogs loose. If people are looking for his edgy noir touch he used in Kiss Me Deadly, or the gang of men fighting against all odds in The Flight of the Phoenix (1965), or The Longest Yard (1974), the taut melodrama of the older woman loving back to sanity a younger psychotic male like his Autumn Leaves (1956) starring Joan Crawford and Cliff Robertson, they will not find this kind of linear style of story telling in Lylah Clare.

The film does fit somewhere in the realm of pulp like- Jacqueline Suzanne’s Valley of the Dolls (1967) or other auteur Robert Altman’s Brewster McCloud (1970).

Unfortunately what was to be Novak’s return to the big screen, wound up being her swan song, because the film was not the critical success she had hoped for nor a flattering dramatic exercise for the actress.

But the film also acts as a corollary for the glamorous days of Hollywood and the death of the industry that was a dynasty. The late 60s didn’t deal with dreams anymore, but brutal realism and social awakening to a different kind of story on screen and backstage…. In that way, the film itself is a queer swan song to those golden days, much in the way Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard was in 1950.

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In Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) Novak also was called to embody the roles of two separate yet identical archetypes of the enigma that is ‘the male gaze’ of the ‘objectified female body.’

Aldrich’s film will immediately grab you as something campy with a bit of that offbeat vulgarity that he’s known for. Peter Finch who plays the Svengali like director Lewis Zarken who tries to transform Elsa both physically and psychologically into the very being that was his actress/star/wife Lylah Clare.

Amidst the transformation in the film we are shown three different versions of how Lylah met her death. The flashbacks are psychedelic with a hazy focused lens using bold color washes and weaves of slow motion and blood splatter on screen to obscure what we see.

When Elsa is seemingly channeling Lylah it sort of works as a reincarnation piece draped in the mod quality of the late 60s and the make-up job by veteran William Tuttle and Robert J. Schiffer create the look of Nancy Sinatra, Karen Dors or Mamie Van Doren which are all good things but it’s not quite the look of the Golden Age glamour of Jean Harlow and Marlene Dietrich.

It’s also never clear within the story whether Elsa is rational or descending into madness. Similar to Jack Palance’s actor Charles Castle in The Big Knife (1955) who is a victim of his own inflated ego subject to box office ratings, betrayal and his fear of failing. Betrayal, which was also at the turbulent core between the Hudson sisters in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

“The film has moments of self-conscious ‘parody and stylization.’… whether she merely continues to act at being Lylah off the set or is actually ‘possessed’ by her. The Legend of Lylah Clare is neither pure satire nor pure melodrama, but a difficult integration of real and unreal.”Silver & Ursini.

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on set Elsa (Kim Novak) is playing Lylah Clare in the story of her life and death… a film within a film…
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Jack Palance and Ida Lupino in Robert Aldrich’s very intense film The Big Knife (1955)

The Lavender haired actress is wearing a more mod 60s icy white coif and velvety pale pink lips and Twiggy style eyeliner that just doesn’t say screen goddess of a bygone era. More-so cheesecake, groovy, and eerily out of place, perhaps this is what Aldrich intended as he is apt to vulgarize what he touches.

Lylah Clare might also be said to contain fragments or composites of great actresses of long ago, Joan Crawford, Tallulah Bankhead, Garbo, Dietrich and Harlow. all icons of the 1930s.

Aldrich also didn’t miss his commentary on the struggles of studios to make the almighty buck, clawing to get that money making actress, and film. The conflict between the studio system and the directors who want to make art. And the servitude they must surrender to– the media and piranha like Molly Luther who can immortalize or annihilate with their power of the press. Ernest Borgnine as the studio head Barney Sheean says in one scene, “I don’t want to make films. I want to make movies. What do you think we’re making here, art?”

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Kim Novak too remains a legend shown here in this iconic allegorical imagery from Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958)

The ending is irreverent, trashy, campy and is the lead up to the cynical climax. Absolutely the weirdest of all Aldrich’s dark show-biz operas, as Lylah Clare and Kim Novak both remain a legend.

IMBD TRIVIA–Although this was her first film in three years, Kim Novak found that she had little enthusiasm for her character. Director Robert Aldrich found it increasingly difficult to elicit a viable performance from her. This was Kim Novak’s last starring role in an American-made feature film. When Kim Novak walks along Hollywood Blvd, a theater she passes by is playing The Dirty Dozen (1967), a film Robert Aldrich made a year earlier, and whose commercial success made it possible for the director to start his own production company and make movies like this.

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When MGM executives finally screened the film, they decided to market it as being “deliberately campy”, but audiences in 1968 were not yet ready to embrace the idea of going to see something trashy on purpose, and the movie proved to be a box office bomb despite this trend-setting marketing ploy. This film is listed among the 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made in Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson’s book THE OFFICIAL RAZZIE® MOVIE GUIDE.

 

Continue reading “The Backstage Blogathon 2016: Kim Novak- Fallen Idol double bill “You’re an illusion… without me you’re nothing!” *”

Carnival of Souls (1962): Criterion 60s Eerie Cinema: That Haunting Feeling

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The Criterion Blogathon is hosted by three truly prolific bloggers, and I want to thank them for allowing me to join in paying tribute to the collection of landmark, art-house & original films from around the globe! Hosted by Aaron at Criterion Blues, Kristina at Speakeasy and Ruth at Silver Screenings!

When they started to hint that this blogathon was going to be BIG… none of us had any idea just how BIG!!!! BIG was!

Criterion Eerie Cinema of the 60s -‘That Haunting Feeling!

The trend of classical Gothic ghost stories in a decade of disorder…

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Carnival of Souls 1962:

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  • “When we are young we read and believe the most fantastic things. When we grow older and wiser we learn with perhaps a little regret that these things can never be. We are quite, quite wrong!” Noel Coward, Blithe Spirit

  • Is all that we see or seem… But a dream within a dream?” Edgar Allan Poe – A Dream Within a Dream

  • “I don’t belong in the world”Mary Henry-Carnival of Souls 1962

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Carnival of Souls (1962) was produced & directed by Herk Harvey who originally shot industrial & educational geographical shorts and found himself traveling all over the United States. He came across some inspiring locations when he decided to try his hand at an intellectual horror story. When he stumbled onto the abandoned Pavilion in Utah, which at one time was a grand party spot in the earlier part of the century, between the corrosive salt water air and the years of neglect, Harvey knew that he had found the right place to film his arty horror film.

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Saltair Pavilion: Historical photograph

Carnival of Souls doesn’t rely on it’s sparse dialogue to tell it’s story, for it’s the visual cues, and the spasms of unreality that become the narrator. Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) is a ‘liminal’ wanderer , a heroine who is in a state of transition who occupies both sides of a threshold between reality & oblivion.

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When Mary experiences bouts of her non-existence in public places, where people act as if she isn’t there, and when all noises and sounds go away and she is stuck in a silent world… she can touch a tree and the chirping of birds re-connects her to reality. This image represents the liminal space she occupies. But don’t get smart alecky with me, I know the difference between liminal and a tree limb! just a co-incidence people just a co-incidence…

After having several unfortunate mis-dealings with corrupt distribution houses like Hertz Lion on it’s initial release, and small indie companies that packaged the film as part of collection of B-Movie horror box sets in 1989. In 2000 Carnival of Souls received it’s rightful induction into the Criterion Collection when they put this beautifully artistic horror gem in their extraordinary catalog.

Herk Harvey was a devotee to Ingmar Bergman and more specifically his cinematographer Sven Nykvist (The Virgin Spring 1960, Through a Glass Darkly 1961 Persona 1966, Pretty Baby 1978, The Postman Always Rings Twice 1981, The Unbearable Lightness of Being 1988). Harvey tried to impart this inspiration to his camera guy Maurice Prather, in terms of how he envisioned lighting the film.

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Here’s a dismissive description of our female heroine aside from ‘misfit heroine’ which at least the character sees herself as an ‘outsider’… going through some life altering surreal journey … from Roger Ebert in 1989: “The movie stars Candace Hilligoss, one of those worried blonds like Janet Leigh in Psycho (1960)…

When women have something praying on their minds , it’s called worry, or if she takes that worry further and voices her anxiety, it’s called hysteria. If the same situation befell a man, he’d be a courageous loner trying to find his way through a challenge. No look of worry on his face. It would be called ‘determination.’

Film critic Roger Ebert also had this to say about Carnival of Souls back during it’s revival in 1989. Carnival of Souls” is a odd obscure horror film that was made on a low budget in 1962 in Lawrence Kansas., and still has an intriguing power. Like a lost episode from “Twilight Zone”, it places the supernatural right in the middle of everyday life and surrounds it with ordinary people. It ventures to the edge of camp, but never strays across the line taking itself with an eerie seriousness.”…{….} And another effective moment when she’s in a car on a deserted highway and the radio only picks up organ music.”

Harvey came up with the story but it was scripted by writer John Clifford, who fashioned his hallucinatory version of the story as a psychological fun house ride in the same mold of Rod Serling’s anthology series, Twilight Zone. I got the same vibe myself when re-viewing the film, as it reminded me of the Hitch-Hiker episode with Inger Stevens. You can see the correlation between the heroine falling into a nether space that mimics life’s mundane locations, yet something is quite off — between her reality and the connection to those places. The tone of Carnival of Souls is somber and the colors are monochromatic which allows for the emergence of the “Man” to project even more supremacy over the mood and motion because of the lack of grey areas. He stands out superbly as the film’s boogeyman. Carnival of Souls is a story that doesn’t rely on elucidating or crucial dialogue. It is driven by eerie & arresting visual cues.

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Carnival of souls is hauntingly gritty, menacing and an ethereal nightmarish journey that our ‘misfit heroine’ (source -Jarenski) -archetype Mary Henry must roam through in order to find her place in the world… it is a visual and sensory driven allegory. Mary Henry, straddles the plain between reality and unreality, life & death, belonging & alienation, an outcast who is “unfit for the mundane world.” The film works based on the premise that Mary is unusual, an outcast or outsider. Even the people surrounding her act jittery, a bit bewildered and uncomfortable by her strange manner.

Gene Moore was responsible for the score that consists of REUTER ORGAN with exposed pipes. He had access to the Reuter Organ Factory and became inspired to use it as the musical undercurrent of calliope. It also gave Harvey the idea to use this motif as Mary Henry’s profession, and place of employment. With all the organ inflections and swells it is only Mary and us, who ever hear the magnificent instrument playing, filling out all the nuanced spaces without intruding, it is subtle and multi-layered for such a powerful instrument, that works well with the macabre carnival atmosphere.

The art and set direction are literally the real locations that Harvey and Clifford felt inspired by. They would sneak the crew in to film before getting booted out. The amusement park Pavilion called the Saltair, was shot in Great Salt Lake City Utah.

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With the exception of Candace Hilligoss who trained in New York City as a method actor under the tutelage of Lee Strasberg, and character actor Sidney Berger as the lascivious neighbor John Lindon, the rest of the cast is virtually unknown non actors. Herk Harvey had requested that they scout for an accomplished New York Actress, and they found Hilligoss! Although Harvey refused to give Hilligoss any cues or background motivation for her character. She, like the other players had no rehearsals nor were they allowed or given any re-takes.

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Herk Harvey himself plays the ever-present ‘the Man’ as he is credited, who is the sinister presence that stalks Mary throughout the film. He creates an unsettling presence like the lurking archetype of ‘Death.’

Both Herk Harvy and John Clifford evaluated the final film saying that it had the art-house feel that they were shooting for, in their words  “The visual style with an Ingmar Bergman look & the mood of a Jean Cocteau film.” with a supernatural theme.

The film could also be viewed slightly in the realm of a Neo-Realist work, ‘Post WWII, Italy working under the constraints of a war torn nation, they were filmed in real locations with non-professional actors.’ -Gary J. & Susan Svehla

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Carnival of Souls attains a gritty naturalism, with the non created sets or the use of recognizable actors, except for Candace Hilligoss who wasn’t even given any direction about her character’s motivation! ironic for a method actor who trained under the master Lee Strasberg… Hilligoss’ state of un-ease was authentic…

The make up for what I’m calling the ‘Dead Ensemble‘ came about because of the budgetary restrictions. Using egg whites, yes egg whites, what happened as a happy accident was a chilling & effective look of rotting flesh, and the pale gray glow of death. The egg whites created the pasty grey and flaky tone due to the use of B&W film stock.

To get permission to film the car plunging into the Kaw River in Kansas, the film crew had to agree to pick-up the tab for any repairs to the bridge. In fact the police attempted to arrest Harvey for attempted murder til Harvey showed it to be a simulation for their film and not a real accident.

Filming the entire movie in a month much of the footage was executed with guerrilla -like shooting tactics because they would have to get in and out of the settings, grab the few shots on that location due to not having permits to be there or to close the streets for filming! Most of the audio was post-dubbed, so it was an impossible task to get the syncing just right.

Sadly, With all the financial problems and the lack of recognition that the film failed to get initially turned both Herk Harvey and John Clifford off from making another picture.

The film opens on a street of a Midwestern heartland town where three young women in a car are being challenged to a drag race by a gang of young hoodlums. When the driver agrees, the girls begin to tear up the road and head over the very narrow bridge. All three including Mary Henry (Hiligoss) plunge off the bridge into the murky waters below. As the car falls beneath the clouded river, the film’s credit’s ripple over the surface of the water, creating an eerie prelude to the story.

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This image strikes me as a portrait of Americana- a photo that Shelby Lee Adams might have taken. The menfolk almost looming like apathetic vultures over the car wrecked in the river below

out of the water onto the landing

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another similar view -the men looking down on Mary Henry -objectification & a silent pronouncement from the patriarchy!

The sole survivor, Mary emerges from the cold river, drenched like a drowned and rotting water lily, smeared and splattered in mud. While the rescue party arrives on the scene, local townspeople are there, and the police work on raising up the submerged car, Mary walks out of the water staggering onto the jettee. Mary is asked about the other two women in the car but she tells them that she doesn’t remember anything. Mary just walks away from the scene of the accident.

As if the entire ordeal was just a dream you wake from to find that it isn’t real, it hasn’t happened, Mary walks away and returns to her job at the organ factory. She tells her boss that she has decided to make a change in her life. She has taken a position as a church organist in another city in Utah. When her co-workers gossip about Mary’s decision they remark in a bit of foretelling dialogue, giving away some dreary foreshadowing of things to come for Mary , “If she’s got a problem, it’ll go right along with her.”

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“Mary it takes more than intellect to be a musician… put your soul into it.”

Mary leaves town, she drives past the scene of the accident. She begins to experience a sense of panic, of trepidation washing over her , but she makes it across the bridge safely. It’s nighttime, shes driving by herself and she sees the abandoned pavilion which instantly sparks her interest. But when she reverts her gaze back to the road she sees directly in front of her a vision of the pale faced stranger who’s sinister presence startles her, and for a moment she veers off the road. Managing to gain back control of the car she makes it onto the road and continues driving til she gets to the gas station.

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The only music Mary can get on the car radio is organ music…

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Once there, she is haunted by either strange hallucinations or actual supernatural contact of a sinister man (Herk Harvey) with a macabre pale dead face in a off the rack suit and then a tuxedo.
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The monochromatic frames work to intensify the look of the ‘Man’ who literally appears to be part of the seducing void & darkness moving around Mary.
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Mary meets her new landlady at the boarding house where she’s taken a room, near the church where she’ll be the organist.
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The minister tells her that the congregation would be interested in meeting their new organist but she coldly replies to him. If they say I’m a fine organist that should be enough”
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“We have an organist capable of stirring the soul” sure but consider the fact that she’s a ‘lost’ soul herself!

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She makes it to her new rooming house, getting ready for bed she catches another glimpse of the ‘Man’ outside her bedroom window. In the morning , she goes to her new job at the church. The minister (Art Ellison) tells her that he’d like the congregation to meet her as she’s the new organist and part of the community now. Yet, odd bewildered Mary isn’t interested in this ceremonious display, he imparts a fatherly cliché to her “You can’t live in isolation from the human race.”

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the ‘Man’ appears at the church looking strangely at the stain glass panel, what is he thinking? it’s an interesting juxtaposition of the image of a pious figure being gazed at by the figure of ‘death’

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Mary feels cut off from the world and is believed to be crazy by the people she encounters. She also becomes drawn to a decaying old amusement park where the ‘Man’ who visits her hallucinations, escorts her into a waltz of the dead in the empty ballroom. Meantime, the police are back at the scene of the accident pulling up the wreckage of the car from the river. Mary is pursued by the sleazy roomer at the boarding house, John Linden who’s got plans on getting Mary in the sack!

From CRITERION The Liner notes by Bruce Kawin–there are fun references to other movie titles like “Call it Orpheus meets An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge–organ

there are similarities.. After the accident she plays the church organ without any religious conviction and has a date without desire, She is accused of having no soul.
She feels cut off and doesn’t know why and to find out the reason is to be destroyed : To synchronize with and , quite literally meet her fate.

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Mary can see Saltair Pavilion from her bedroom window

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The film is filled with signals and omens that forewarn that something has shifted in Mary’s life either through her dreams or her new reality. John Clifford’s script seems inspired by the old expressionist fantasy dramas and Harvey’s direction allows the atmosphere to embrace a weird style, that could easily have been a silent film. Carnival of Souls depends much on visual cues, and a quirky narrative filled with curiosity, honesty and repressed primal fear.

Once Mary walks away from the commotion of the accident she drives to a local garage for assistance. She sees the ‘Man’ and flees on foot. (This is very reminiscent of the Twilight Zone episode called The Hitchhiker starring Inger Stevens being stalked by what looks like a hobo, but just might be death himself trying to take her back with him.)

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Inger Stevens is Nan Adams in The Hitch-Hiker episode of Rod Serling’s brilliant anthology sci-fi/fantasy show The Twilight Zone The Hitch-Hiker aired on Jan. 22 1960.

On Mary’s day off she goes shopping, and in the midst of a retail transaction she becomes disconnected from her surroundings. First people refuse to acknowledge her as if she’s not there. (great idea for a film effect right M Night Shyamalan? yeah as I was saying) Then Mary begins to lose her sense of hearing. Nothing seems to make noise, there isn’t a sound to be heard.

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While shopping in the department store, the people around Mary act as if she isn’t there. As if she were a ghost… 

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