🚀 Keep Watching the Skies! Science Fiction Cinema of the 1950s: The Year is 1956 – Part Three! Invasion of the Body Snatchers: I didn’t know the real meaning of fear until… until I had kissed Becky

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Don Siegel’s Science-Fiction Shocker– The original nightmare that Threatened the World!

… there was nothing to hold onto – except each other.– They come from another world!

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invasionofthebodysnatchers-

”I’ve been afraid a lot of times in my life-but I didn’t know the real meaning of fear until-until I’d kissed Becky.”

“The dark secret behind human nature used to be the upsurge of the animal… The threat to man, his availability to dehumanization, lay in his own animality. Now the danger is understood as residing in man’s ability to be turned into a machine.” – Susan Sontag

Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956 took an ambiguous turn for many who still endeavor to analyze the film directed by Don Siegel, which was inspired by a well-known series in Collier’s magazine printed in three parts in 1954 from Jack Finney’s novel released in 1955. Siegel’s iconic film included a screenplay by Daniel Mainwaring.

Producer Walter Wanger so impressed with Finney’s story, bought the film rights before the third part had been published. Wanger discovered Don Siegel through his 1954 prison noir Riot in Cell Block 11.

The director also considered Invasion of the Body Snatchers as the favorite among his notable films. Body Snatchers has attained its status as one of the most influential alien invasion films and a signature science fiction narrative of the 1950s, that tapped into the cultural and historical zeitgeist of that decade. And although Siegel’s film can be seen as an intellectual film, ”it derives its strength from a nightmare situation – the sort of nightmare which a child tearfully explains as ‘It was like you, only you were horrible!” (Raymond Durgnat -The Subconscious: From Pleasure Castle to Libido Motel 1958)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers features a great ensemble of actors including Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, Carolyn Jones, King Donovan Larry Gates, Jean Willes, Virginia Christine, Ralph Dumke, Tom Fadden, Everett Glass, and Dabs Greer.

Sam Peckinpah acted as dialogue coach and Carmen Dragon’s evocative film score has influenced both filmmakers and television directors alike. You can hear Dragon’s ethereal piano in such television shows as The X-Files and Buffy: The Vampire Slayer.

Ultimately in 1994, Invasion of the Body Snatchers was among the 25 ‘culturally, historically or aesthetically significant films’ that are annually anointed as part of the US National Film Registry at the Library of Congress under the terms of the National Film Preservation Act of 1988.

The film plants the seed for the theme of paranoia, fear of ‘the other’, and invisible invaders who can swiftly replace individualism and individuals and transport them into a hive mind, a collective of unemotional, hollow pod people. The essence of this truly resonated with the sweeping anxieties of 1950s American culture.

On the set of Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956.

Siegel’s protean ‘Invasion’ film sparked a range of political and social analyses of the alien ‘infiltration’ sub-genre of Science Fiction films, one that emphasizes the ‘take over’ where ‘we’ would no longer have a soul or any spark of humanity. It triggers for us… the fear of the death of ‘self.’ and the death of the ‘soul.’

Other classic Science Fiction with alien ‘infiltration’ themes of being ‘taken over’ is the most notably Invaders from Mars (1953), It Came from Outer Space (1953), I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958) and The Day Mars Invaded Earth (1963).

“Made in 1956 in the middle of the decade, peopled by men in gray flannel suits, the silent generation, the status seekers, Senator McCarthy, and the lonely crowd, Siegel’s science fiction thriller was a cry of frustrated warning against the conformity and uniformity of a society that was blissfully living in the best of all possible worlds.” (Vivian Sobchack cites Charles Gregory)

Don Siegel managed to complete the shooting of the film within a tight schedule of just 19 days. To enhance authenticity, all the exterior scenes were filmed in natural locations around Los Angeles, specifically selected to resemble the small Northern California suburban town of Santa Mira. The city square featured in the film was located in Sierra Madre, east of Pasadena, while the chase sequence up the hill and staircase took place in a section of Hollywood known as Beachwood.

The 1950s witnessed a significant surge in mass migration to newly developed suburban areas, which in turn only strengthened the process of conformity, unrestrained with a vampirism of the soul creating an atmosphere that ‘bred apathy. (Kier-La Janisse) What writer Bernice M. Murphy called  ‘Suburban Gothic.’

Invasion of the Body Snatchers thrives on its ability to skew what is ordinary about American life in the 1950s and impregnate the screen with an unsettling narrative of paranoia and fear.

Paranoia was symptomatic of the late 40s and 50s postwar American science fiction ‘invasion’ films. We saw the perceptible tropes of the internal invasion of our human bodies that were transformed into imperceptibly altered bodies in a world plagued with suspicion, distrust, and paranoia.

“The imperceptibility of the altered body is a staple of the paranoiac world. Daniel Paul Schreber’s Memoirs of My Nervous Illness 1903 became the most famous paranoiac text, due to Freud’s analysis of it in his 1911 essay “Psychoanalytical notes Upon an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Paranoia (Dementia Paranoides) Within Schreber’s paranoiac system he perceives himself surrounded by replicant humans he terms ‘fleeting improvised men.’ Creatures resembling ordinary humans but who, in his view, are souls put down temporarily on earth by divine miracle.’’ (From Cindy Hendershot’s article From the Invaded Body: Paranoia and Radiation Anxiety in Invaders From Mars, It Came From Outer Space and Invasion of the Body Snatchers)

Siegel manages to make the tedious, hint at the terrifying, which reverberates in a seemingly normal scene; for instance when Miles and Becky go to visit her cousin Wilma played by Virginia Christine. “Memories or not, he isn’t my Uncle Ira.” Uncle Ira is missing ”a special look in his eye.”

Becky is haunted by the sense that her Uncle Ira (Tom Fadden) is not really her Uncle anymore. It is all very unremarkable as he affects the role of a suburban everyman mowing the lawn, mouth straddling his pipe as he leisurely remarks about the weather.

 “But Miles, there’s no emotion—none. Just the pretense of it. The words, gestures, the tone of voice, everything else is the same but not the feeling.” 

Continue reading “🚀 Keep Watching the Skies! Science Fiction Cinema of the 1950s: The Year is 1956 – Part Three! Invasion of the Body Snatchers: I didn’t know the real meaning of fear until… until I had kissed Becky”

It’s the pictures that got small! – “Good Evening” Leading Ladies of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour Part 3

‘This is Part 3 in a series. See also Part 1 and Part 2.

💥SPOILERS!

*The Star Juror Betty Field s1e24 aired March 15, 1963

Betty Field bio:

Betty Field and John Wayne in Shepard of the Hills 1941.

Betty’s fascination with the theatre was ignited in her early teenage years and led her to enroll at the American Academy of Dramatic Art by 1932. She marked her professional debut in 1933, performing in a summer stock production of “The First Mrs. Fraser,” and went on to secure stage roles in various locations. Her passion for theatre took her all the way to London, where she landed a job in a theatre production of “She Loves Me” at the beginning of 1934.

Her Broadway premiere, in November 1934, was as an understudy for the comedy “Page Miss Glory,” directed by George Abbott, in which she also played a minor role. Despite her rather unassuming appearance and distinct, monotone voice, Betty began to regularly perform in comedic plays, often under Abbott’s direction. She received high acclaim for her roles in plays such as “Three Men on a Horse” (1935), “Boy Meets Girl” (1936), “Room Service” (1937), and “The Primrose Path” (1939).

Paramount executives were impressed with Betty’s portrayal of Barbara, Henry Aldrich’s girlfriend, in the stage production of “What a Life” (1938), and they subsequently signed her to a seven-year contract after the play was adapted into a film in 1939. Throughout the 1940s, Betty played a variety of leading ingénue and supporting roles. One of her early career highlights was her performance as Mae, a farm girl, in the film adaptation of John Steinbeck’s classic novel “Of Mice and Men” (1939), which starred Burgess Meredith and Lon Chaney. However, despite her talent, Betty didn’t quite achieve stardom, partly due to her reserved demeanor and tendency to avoid the Hollywood scene.

Betty had the privilege of acting alongside some of Hollywood’s most esteemed leading men, such as Fredric March in “Victory” (1940) and “Tomorrow, the World!” (1944), John Wayne in “The Shepherd of the Hills” (1941), Robert Cummings in “Flesh and Fantasy” (1943), and Joel McCrea in “The Great Moment” (1944).However, her most remarkable performance was in the heart-wrenching role of the tormented daughter mistreated by her father, played by Claude Rains, in the classic drama “Kings Row” (1942).

Flesh and Fantasy was an eerie and whimsical part for her, she stars in one of the vignettes as Henrietta a dowdy woman who comes upon a mysterious mask during Mardis Gras and then goes to a party festooned with regalia, turbulence, and a romantic game of cat-and-mouse with the handsome Michael (Robert Cummings) A beautifully tragic tale of loneliness and the essence of what beauty is. The use of masks creates a nightmarish landscape of human disconnection.

From The Vault: Flesh & Fantasy (1943)

After delivering a powerful performance as Nona Tucker in the extraordinary depiction of Americana hardship lensed by impressionist director Jean Renoir (one of my favorite auteurs) – “The Southerner” (1945), Betty made the decision not to renew her contract with Paramount.

 

Zachary Scott and Betty Field in The Southerner 1945.

Instead, she took a hiatus from appearing in pictures and returned to her first love – the stage and Broadway. There, she appeared in distinguished plays like “The Voice of the Turtle” and “Dream Girl,” which was directed by her husband John Abbott, and won the New York Drama Critics Circle award in 1946. Her portrayal of Hedvig in Ibsen’s “The Wild Duck” also received critical acclaim.

Betty came back to work at Paramount cast as Daisy Buchanan in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby co-starring Alan Ladd. It wound up being a misadventure for the actress when the picture flopped with some critics claiming she was miscast and not glamorous enough and Ladd too was accused of being lackluster. However, Betty remained beloved on Broadway, showing off her versatility in plays such as Twelfth Night, The Rat Race, Ladies of the Corridor, and The Fourposter playing opposite Burgess Meredith, both taking over for Jessica Tandy and husband Hume Cronyn.

Betty’s expressive features had become tougher, more weathered, and bleak by the time she greeted Hollywood hello again in the mid-1950s. Still, she thrived as a character actress, portraying a number of mundane, wearisome, and unstylish roles yet with the same Betty Field authenticity. She brought credibility to a range of flawed provincial mothers and wives in films such as the highly-regarded Picnic (1955) with Kim Novak, Bus Stop starring Marilyn Monroe, and Lana Turner in the melodrama soaper Peyton Place 1957.

Even her stage roles reflected the changing face of her acting parts with productions of The Seagull, Waltz of the Toreadors, Touch of the Poet, and Separate Tables. And in the 1950s and 1960s, she began to work steadily in television.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Betty also worked steadily on television, taking on a variety of prominent roles. She continued to act at a consistent pace, although she preferred to avoid the limelight.

Betty’s final film appearance was a small but notable role as a streetwalker in Clint Eastwood’s Coogan’s Bluff (1968). Continuing to work on stage she was fearless as the imperishable Amanda in Eugene O’Neil’s The Glass Menagerie and the fragile Aunt Birdie in The Little Foxes, and in 1971 she turned in her last performance on stage as the mother Beatrice in The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds, a part that in 1972, Joanne Woodward tackled in Alvin Sargent’s film adaption.

Betty passed away at age 57 from a fatal cerebral hemorrhage in 1973, just before filming was set to begin for The Day of the Locust (1975), in which she had been cast as the flamboyant evangelist ‘Big Sister.’ The role was later taken over by Geraldine Page. Betty Field is an often criminally overlooked Hollywood actress who truly contributed some of the finest performances on stage, film, and television.

DIALOGUE

“You act like you’d like to see me electrocuted.”- George
“A couple of shock treatments wouldn’t do you no harm.”– Betty Field

Slamming the fridge door and shuffling her feet. Jenny confronts George’s peculiar behavior on the jury.

Jenny – “Would the star juror care to give me some justification for his behavior George- “What behavior? What behavior! The behavior that has brought down ridicule and scandal over our heads!”

George-“What you talkin’ bout Jenny?”

Jenny- “Have you gone deaf and blind?… Unplug your ears… open your eyes! George Davies the most respected highly thought-of citizen in this town protecting this infidel, this murderer… No wonder you get indigestion.”

SYNOPSIS:

In this darkly humorous episode, Dean Jagger stars as George a mild-mannered Pharmacist who is overcome with murderous lust one afternoon after putting the moves on Lola the town squeeze. When she spurns his advances he chokes her to death to keep her quiet.

Betty Field is shrill and unnerving, playing his fish wife, who annoys all of us with her whining, shrewish voice, her needling and berating George in a way that gets under the skin. Though I can see the tendency to want to needle and berate George.

Lola’s hot-tempered boyfriend J.J. is later arrested for the crime and put on trial. Knowing the boy is innocent, and not able to prove it without his confessing his own guilt, George sees a way out of his dilemma when he is appointed to the jury.

Through his efforts, J.J. is found innocent after he poses so many doubts to the rest of the jurors that he goes free.

The townsfolk boycott George’s store for helping the kid go free. And they treat him like an outcast. His wife treats him like he’s disgraced the family, saying that he’s embarrassing her and that her mother was right all along, there was insanity in his family.

But the townsfolk still believe he did it and persecute him and his mother. This irritates the vengeful townspeople so much that they force him to want to commit suicide and he gets shot by George when he struggles to get the gun away from him. He can’t do anything right.

George can’t deal with his guilty conscience and being hounded by the town and finally cracks up trying to convince them he murdered Lola and shot J.J.

But they just dismiss him as a meek, passionless man not capable of murder and just in need of rest. Having suffered a nervous breakdown from the pressures of the trial…

It begins… the story takes place somewhere in the South. It opens with the mild-mannered storekeeper George Davies and his wife Jenny dozing off on their picnic blanket near the rest of the townsfolk who are spending a lazy day.

George wanders off leaving Jenny sleeping under newspapers used as a blanket. He stumbles onto the town’s young stunner Lola Penderwaller,(Cathy Merchant plays Lola and had a brief screen career from 1961 to 1965 that included roles in four episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and a part in Roger Corman’s The Haunted Palace 1963) who is a spirited flirt boasting her beautiful body in a scant swimsuit. Director Herschel Daugherty subtly emphasizes the contrast between Lola and his dowdy wife Jenny who is back on the blanket, snoring like a truck exhaust and oblivious. Lola teases George, leading him on only to a certain, harmless point, offering him a beer. When George gets sexually aroused, he tries to grab a kiss, and Lola rebuffs his advances. The normally gutless George violently slaps her and proceeds to choke the life out of her.

In a tense moment, Will Hutchins who plays Lola’s boyfriend, the uncultivated and untamed J.J. Fenton floats by in his rowboat, the cowardly George camouflages himself behind a bush then sneaks back to the picnic blanket, taking his place next to the clueless Jenny.

“George here’s that nice fat neck you were eyeing before church… you want it now?”

Regular television character actor Crahan Denton seen on several of Boris Karloff’s anthology series  Thriller plays Sheriff Walter Watson who comes to the picnic with his sons to fish at the lake. He greets George and Jenny who offers them her fried chicken and ironically wisecracks that George loves the necks. It’s an inside joke that George finds secretly comical, but it shows on his face.

Jenny asks the same question every time she sees Sheriff Watson. Are there any criminals in jail this month? He remarks ”the only criminal in our town is time.” “Well, he’s a criminal everywhere I wish you could lock Old Man Time up.” Sheriff -” That would be alright. If we could just send Old Man Time to the electric chair.”

That reference hits George a little too close.

Lola’s lifeless body is found in the woods by the Sheriff’s son and George goes back home. There is one instance of black humor when George references ‘necks’ telling Jenny that the sheriff is “up to his neck in trouble.” George decides to go to his local bar to grab a beer, and on walking through the door the crowd accuses him of being the murderer. They all begin to laugh and tell him that they’ve been saying that to everyone who comes into the bar.

Jenny’s beau J. J. ( a role that I could easily have seen James Best take on, being adept at playing young handsome unruly types). J.J. breaks into a frenzy inside his jail cell, violently tearing apart his mattress. The sheriff sends George to his pharmacy to bring back a sedative. He keeps insisting, “You know I didn’t kill her.” Of course, George knows the truth.

George makes an anonymous phone call to the sheriff, disguising his voice, he confesses to the murder but hangs up before revealing his identity. J.J. is released on bail by his mother and begins dating Alice. Back at home with his mother and Alice, his mother is working as a laundrywoman to make ends meet. J.J. is certain he’s going to fry. Alice stands out from J.J.’s humble mother (Katherine Squire) in the downbeat atmosphere of their broken-down house, with the racy way she carries herself.

George calls J.J. to give him an anonymous warning. He also sends the judge a letter and winds up serving on the jury.

The trial begins and George consumed with guilt over J.J. being wrongly accused, insinuates himself and disrupts the courtroom proceedings. He becomes ‘the star juror’, asking a slew of questions that point to reasonable doubt.

That night, he finds a doll in a chair and a sign that says ‘electric chair’s tacked onto his back door. The jury comes back with a not-guilty verdict and J.J. is set free. When George leaves the courthouse, everyone in town now spurns him. Some of the older boys in town go to J.J.’s house and throw mud on his mother’s clean wash that drifts on the clothesline. The townsfolk even boycott George’s pharmacy, bewildered he cries to Jenny, “Well, what have I done, Jenny? Have I committed a crime? You act like you’d like to see me electrocuted.”

J.J. and his new girlfriend Alice (Jennifer West) show up at the pharmacy, looking like a true bad boy, with a black leather jacket, cowboy hat, and black boots, after all, he is the town’s murderous outcast and exile. He already started out from the wrong side of daylight, poor white trash, his mother taking in wash. Like Lola, he chooses to pal around with girls who don’t have any class. Lola was known as the town slut, who lived in a motel and Alice was a girl from up in the hills.

“He’s already got himself a new one, Alice from up in the mountains.”

Jenny gets hysterical, “George Davies if you had wanted to kill me, you couldn’t have done a better job if you had used a knife, you couldn’t have caused more pain. You not only had to smear my name and the name of your child with scandal and ridicule, you had to dishonor us too. By going MAD!!!!

‘Ridicule and scandal over our heads!”

”You’re not getting out of this house George!”

It doesn’t matter that George had managed to persuade the jury that there wasn’t enough evidence to convict J.J. and he is found not guilty. The town goes crazy.

After he loses his job, J.J. is offered the job of strangling chickens, the suggestion once again of George’s mode of killing Lola.

George tries to confess to the Sheriff. “I panicked and choked her and ran. Taking with me the weapons of the act. My and.”

J.J. gets angry with George and doesn’t think he did him any favors helping out.”’You couldn’t hurt a fly. I don’t want your lies to save me. I don’t want your burnt offering.”

George goes to the crime scene and hears haunting voices in his head accusing him of being a “killer.” Desperate for absolution, he confesses to the sheriff, but his admission falls on deaf ears. Meanwhile, a group of young men vandalize J.J.’s home and brutally beat him until Alice intervenes with a gun. George rushes to J.J.’s side and prevents him from taking his own life, but in the struggle, the gun goes off and J.J. is fatally shot.

The episode draws to a close with the sheriff telling George to go home to rest. George bursts into laughter as he realizes by the end of the ordeal, he’ll never be taken seriously. The irony and fatalistic tone of the episode has been flipped on its head, Lola’s murder will never find closure and we are left with a touch of macabre humor from the situation.

CREDITS:

The episode is directed by Herschel Daugherty who directed 16 episodes, some of the best of Boris Karloff Thriller including The Grim Reaper starring William Shatner, Henry Daniels, Elizabeth Allen, and Natalie Schafer as mystery writer Beatrice Graves, and also Prisoner in the Mirror. He was responsible for 3 of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and episodes of Suspicion 1958, Lux Playhouse 1959.

In the 1960s he appeared in tv shows including, 5 episodes of Checkmate 1960-61, 2 episodes of 87th Precinct 1961-62, Alcoa Theatre 1962-63, Kraft Mystery Theatre 1963, a few of The Twilight Zone, 2 episodes of East Side/West Side 1963-64, Mr. Novak, For the People, The Doctors and The Nurses, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Dr. Kildare, Felony Squad, Mission: Impossible, The Time Tunnel, The Rat Patrol, Hawaii Five-O, It Takes a Thief, Star Trek, an episode ‘Elegy for a Vampire of Circle of Fear and Police Woman in 1975.

The Grim Reaper [Essay on Thriller with Boris Karloff] “To me death is no more than a business partner”

He also directed several made-for-TV movies, Winchester 73 (1967), The Victim 1972, and She Cried Murder 1973.)

The Star Juror is James Bridges’s second script for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour which aired on CBS on Friday, March 15, 1963, It was based on a 1958 French crime novel called The Seventh Juror by Francis Didelot.

The Star Juror stars Dean Jagger started out in vaudeville and on the radio before starting his movie career in 1929 and his TV career in 1948. He won an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor for his role in Twelve O’Clock High in 1949. He also co-starred in master director Fritz Lang’s Western Union (1941). He was also a regular on the TV series Mr. Novak from 1963 to 1965 as the high school principal. He also appeared in The Twilight Zone episode Static. He also appeared in 1972 he appeared in an episode of Columbo -The Most Crucial Game, featuring Robert Culp a regular murderer on the show.

Playing the sheriff is familiar character actor Crahan Denton who appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Presents in Coming Home and Incident in a Small Jail. He appeared in perhaps one of the top five episodes of Boris Karloff’s anthology series Pigeons From Hell.

Pigeons From Hell [Essay on Boris Karloff’s Thriller] “Is anybody home?”

J.J.’s mother is played by Katherine Squire (1903-1995), who was on screen from 1949 to 1989 and who gave similarly odd performances in two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Pen Pal, and Man From the South starring Steve McQueen. Squire plays Peter Lorre’s wife.

She was also in two other episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, as well as episodes of The Twilight Zone and Thriller’s Portrait Without a Face. Her husband, George Mitchell plays the judge and was also a busy character actor from 1935 to 1973. He appeared in four episodes of the Hitchcock series, including Forty Detectives Later and The Black Curtain. Like Squire, he could be seen on The Twilight Zone and Thriller; he also appeared in the classic western, 3:10 to Yuma in 1957.

Norman Lloyd’s daughter Josie plays George’s daughter… you can see Josie in The Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode Body in the Barn starring this feature’s star Lillian Gish. Josie also can be seen as Mayor Pike’s daughter Josephine who sings Flow Gently Sweet Afton in sour tones and the neurotic wallflower Lydia Crosswaithe on The Andy Griffith Show.

*THREE WIVES TOO MANY – s2e12 -Teresa Wright- aired Jan.4, 1964

TERESA WRIGHT BIO:

“I only ever wanted to be an actress, not a star.”

Teresa Wright – lamblike at first glance, but don’t let the soft smile lead you to believe that there isn’t something gutsy within that charming glow. She is one of the most engaging actors who showed a resolute luster, and independence to take on Hollywood with the same veracity she pursued wicked Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt.

Teresa Wright was not only endearing but there was a lack of ceremony and authenticity to her acting and her personal life She was discovered by Samuel Goldwyn and gained early recognition for her exceptional performances in her first three films, becoming the only actor to receive Oscar nominations for each of them. Wright earned an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress and one for Mrs. Miniver.

It stands to reason that Times drama editor Edwin Schallert described Wright’s burgeoning career as “one of the most remarkably brilliant for a young player in Hollywood.”
Despite being a Hollywood star, she remained true to herself and rejected the pretentiousness that came along with being a star. She achieved Hollywood stardom on her own terms, without selling out for the sake of glamour.

Teresa Wright was resolute in her refusal to pose for photographs while wearing bathing suits, as well as to subject herself to superficial interviews in gossipy fan magazines. And at first, Goldwyn told her he was not of “the bathing suit school of Hollywood producers.”

Born Muriel Teresa Wright in Harlem, New York City. While attending the exclusive Rosehaven School in Tenafly, New Jersey she discovered a passion for acting after watching Helen Hayes in “Victoria Regina.”

While attending high school in Maplewood, N.J., Wright participated in theatrical productions. Although one teacher advised her to pursue typing instead, a public-speaking teacher mentored her and provided her with plays to read. He also arranged for her to spend two summers at the Wharf Theater in Provincetown.

In the two summers preceding her graduation, after receiving a scholarship, she began apprenticing at the Wharf Theatre in Massachusetts appearing in such plays as The Vinegar Tree and Susan and God.

She performed in school plays and graduated from Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey graduating in 1938, then made the decision to pursue acting professionally and then moved to New York.

Wright had to drop her first name when she found out that another actress named Muriel Wright was already registered with Actors Equity.

In 1938, in her first play, she landed an understudy role in Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” on Broadway and then toured in the play.

It was a minor role, but also served as a chance to understudy the lead ingénue character of Emily, actress Dorothy Maguire however when Maguire failed to return, Teresa continued in the same role under Martha Scott. Wright would eventually replace Martha Scott when the actress adapted the role of Emily in the film version.

Following her successful stage performances, Wright made her remarkable Broadway debut as Mary in Life With Father in 1939. This caught the attention of playwright Lillian Hellman, who recommended her to Goldwyn for the screen version of Hellman’s The Little Foxes.

It was during her one-year run performance in Life with Father when a talent scout from Goldwyn saw her and Teresa Wright landed her breakout role as Alexandra in The Little Foxes in 1941.

Herbert Marshall Teresa Wright and Bette Davis in The Little Foxes 1941.

She gained recognition for her work alongside Bette Davis (who played the cold calculating mother Regina) and Patricia Collinge who reprised her unparalleled Broadway role as the mercurial Aunt Birdie) in the film.

At that time she had signed a contract with MGM but refused to do publicity stunts or cheese-cake shots that would turn her into a centerfold:

“The aforementioned Teresa Wright shall not be required to pose for photographs in a bathing suit unless she is in the water. Neither may she be photographed running on the beach with her hair flying in the wind. Nor may she pose in any of the following situations: In shorts, playing with a cocker spaniel; digging in a garden; whipping up a meal; attired in firecrackers and holding skyrockets for the Fourth of July; looking insinuatingly at a turkey for Thanksgiving; wearing a bunny cap with long ears for Easter; twinkling on prop snow in a skiing outfit while a fan blows her scarf; assuming an athletic stance while pretending to hit something with a bow and arrow.”

Though she became the unwilling pin-up girl, Teresa Wright became Goldwyn’s biggest overall star during the 1940s.

Teresa received Oscar nominations for her roles in “Mrs. Miniver” (1942) the only movie she made for her studio MGM and “The Pride of the Yankees” (1942), winning the Best Supporting Actress trophy for Mrs. Miniver.

In both roles, Teresa Wright gave heartwarming performances as the granddaughter in the sentimental war-era Mrs. Miniver and as baseball icon Lou Gehrig’s kindhearted wife in Pride of the Yankees starring opposite Gary Cooper. Wright now one of the most appealing newcomers in Hollywood had garnered two Best Supporting Actress and Best Actress nods in the same year.

She holds the record for receiving back-to-back Academy Award nominations in her first three film roles, which still stands today.

Teresa Wright received top billing for Shadow of a Doubt a film that was her personal favorite and which earned every bit of that limelight in Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thriller placing Wright at the center of the story as serial killer Joseph Cotten’s unsuspecting niece Charlie.

Unsuspecting at first…

When Young Charlie (Wright) is over the moon about her favorite Uncle Charlie coming to her sleeping California town for a visit, the whole family celebrates his arrival. Her mother Emma, Charlie’s older sister (Patricia Collinge who appeared with Wright in The Little Foxes and Casanova Brown) can’t wait to dote on her baby brother. But soon, it comes to light that Charlie might have left strangled wealthy women in his wake, and in fact, may be The Merry Widow killer the police have been furiously chasing down up and down the coast. Now young Charlie who once dreamt of leaving her boring existence behind has stumbled onto a terrifying secret that threatens her life.

Teresa Wright manages to give a nuanced performance as Charlie Newton who daringly holds her own in a game of cat and mouse with Joseph Cotten, all tangled up in danger as she carefully draws out his murderous impulses.

Wright never falters or is self-conscious in the role and her chemistry with Cotten is electric. She brings a complex emotional depth to young Charlie that elevates the film beyond its thriller trappings. Overall, Wright’s performance in Shadow of a Doubt is a testament to her skill as an actress and her ability to imbue even the most seemingly ordinary moments with profound emotional gravity.

Young Charlie is in alignment with killer Charlie’s acumen for subterfuge. In the house, all cracks on as simple as one of Emmie’s cakes if you don’t crack the eggs. But in the shadows beyond the edges, the family is unaware of, the two characters diverge – one set on self-preservation with a malignant disgust for fat lazy wives who live off their husbands and the other who seeks out the truth and bends toward humanity. Their same names are where it begins and ends. And Wright is a glowing jewel in the blackness of Hitchcock’s nightmare.

Uncle Charlie: The cities are full of women, middle-aged widows, husbands dead, husbands who’ve spent their lives making fortunes, working and working. And then they die and leave their money to their wives, their silly wives. And what do the wives do, these useless women? You see them in the hotels, the best hotels, every day by the thousands, drinking their money, eating their money, losing the money at the bridge, playing all day and all night, smelling of money, proud of their jewelry but of nothing else, horrible, faded, fat, greedy women.”

Young Charlie: ”But they’re alive. They’re human beings.”

Uncle Charlie: ”Are they? Are they, Charlie? Are they human or are they fat, wheezing animals, hmm? And what happens to animals when they get too fat and too old?”

After marrying screenwriter Niven Busch in 1942, and appearing in the disappointing Casanova Brown 1944, Teresa Wright returned to form as Peggy Stephenson in William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives, featuring the ensemble cast of the Academy Award-winning film in 1946. Wright played the caring daughter of Fredric March and Myrna Loy who develops a romantic connection with the troubled veteran played by Dana Andrews.

Teresa Wright told friends that in William Wyler’s post-war drama, she was relieved to play an aspiring home wrecker.

“I’m going to break that marriage up! I can’t stand it seeing Fred tied to a woman he doesn’t love and who doesn’t love him. Oh, it’s horrible for him. It’s humiliating and it’s killing his spirit. Somebody’s got to help him. “

At last, she could finally shed her wholesome persona trying to save the man she loved from a no-good tramp (Virginia Mayo as Marie) who barely knew Fred (Dana Andrews), but director Wyler couldn’t even give her credit- calling her “the best cryer in the business.” And Goldwyn continued to cast her as the unworldly, vulnerable lasses.

1946 with Dana Andrews in The Best Years of Our Lives.

In 1946 she would star in Lewis Allen’s romantic drama The Imperfect Lady with leading man Ray Milland.

Next, Wright played Thor Callum in her husband’s screenplay for Raoul Walsh’s Pursued 1947 – a western starring Robert Mitchum and Judith Anderson about a young boy plagued by nightmares of his family’s brutal murder who is taken in by a neighboring family. He falls for his kind-hearted adoptive sister, but he faces trouble from his hateful adoptive brother and enigmatic uncle who want him dead.

So In 1948 she was once again cast as an innocent waif Lark Ingoldsby in the romantic drama Enchantment.

And while she was unhappy with the picture, the critics sang its praises-Newsweek said she “glows as the Cinderella who captivated three men,” and The New York Times said of her performance that she “plays with that breathless, bright-eyed rapture which she so remarkably commands.”

But Wright had enough of playing Cinderellas and after refusing to go on a long publicity tour promoting the film, Goldwyn canceled her $ 5,000-a-week contract and publicly criticize her as “uncooperative.”

“I will gladly work for less if by doing so I can retain the common decency without which the most acclaimed job becomes intolerable,” she told The Times during the wildly public brouhaha more than half a century ago.

Teresa Wright would wind up starring in three films for studios other than Samuel Goldwyn Productions, and in the end, Enchantment opposite David Niven and Farley Granger would turn out to be her last picture with Goldwyn after she refused to star in the studio’s next film.

In December 1948, after rebelling against the studio system that brought her fame, Teresa Wright had a public falling out with Samuel Goldwyn, which resulted in the cancellation of Wright’s contract with his studio. In a statement published in The New York Times, Goldwyn cited as reasons her refusal to publicize the film Enchantment, and her being “uncooperative” and refusing to “follow reasonable instructions”.

In her written response, Wright denied Goldwyn’s charges and expressed no regret over losing her $5,000 per week contract.

“I would like to say that I never refused to perform the services required of me; I was unable to perform them because of ill health. I accept Mr. Goldwyn’s termination of my contract without protest—in fact, with relief. The types of contracts standardized in the motion picture industry between players and producers are archaic in form and absurd in concept. I am determined never to set my name to another one … I have worked for Mr. Goldwyn for seven years because I consider him a great producer, and he has paid me well, but in the future, I shall gladly work for less if by doing so I can retain my hold upon the common decencies without which the most glorified job becomes intolerable.” –Teresa Wright

Even though her removal resulted in Wright losing a salary of $125,000, it did not diminish her capability to secure distinguished parts. Despite working on her subsequent film for a significantly lower budget of $20,000, it turned out to be another timeless classic – a post-war era drama that was released in 1950. Teresa gave a marvelous performance in Fred Zimmerman’s The Men starring newcomer Marlon Brando.

Working freelance with other studios she appeared in several inconsequential pictures that were never critical successes, though she did star in screenwriter husband’s western thriller Pursued in 1947 starring alongside Robert Mitchum, and another of his, The Capture in 1950 another crime western starring with Lew Ayers.

She starred in Something to Live For in 1952 directed by George Stevens, starring Ray Milland and Joan Fontaine.

She appeared in California Conquest in 1952, Count the Hours! 1953 a film noir directed by Don Siegel and starring Shadow of a Doubt co-star Macdonald Carey. And after that, she appeared in Track of the Cat in 1954 and Escapade in Japan in 1957.
In 1952 Teresa Wright made her foray into television with an episode of Robert Montgomery Presents. The show was called And Never Come Back and 2 episodes of Betty Crocker Star Matinee.

Also in 1952, she starred with Joseph Cotton in Andrew L. Stone’s The Steel Trap an obscure film noir about a Los Angeles bank manager (Cotten) who comes up with a plan to steal money from the bank’s vault and flee to Brazil with unsuspecting wife Laurie. (Wright) Andrew L. Stone made quite a few off-the-beaten-path noirs like A Blueprint for Murder in 1953, The Night Holds Terror in 1955, and Cry Terror! In 1958.

In 1953 she was cast in The Actress, although she was only in her early 30s, Teresa Wright began taking on character roles, even playing Jean Simmons’ mother.

The Actress directed by George Cukor and written by Ruth Gordon it is an account of the actress/playwright Ruth Gordon’s life. Teresa Wright plays Annie Jones, with Jean Simmons as Ruth Gordon Jones. The film also stars Spencer Tracy, Ian Wolfe, Anthony Perkins, Kay Williams, and Mary Wickes.

During a period in which Teresa Wright struggled to find dramatic roles, though immersed in her distinguished career in the theater she started to do considerable work for television starting with live dramatic anthology series.

The Golden Age of TV provided another lifeline to active work. She remained the strong actor that she was in productions including a TV adaptation of the beloved holiday classic, The Miracle on 34th Street (1955), in which she played the role Maureen O’Hara brought to life.
Wright was keeping very busy on television. She would appear as Mary Todd Lincoln in Love is Eternal installment of General Electric Theater and that same year in 1955 she appear on The Elgin Hour, Your Play Time, The Loretta Young Show, 3 episodes o Lux Video Theatre, The Alcoa Hour and a TV movie called The Devil’s Disciple. In 1956 she appeared on Screen Directors Playhouse and 2 episodes of Four Star Playhouse, 3 episodes of Climax!, Star Stage, The Star and the Story, Celebrity Playhouse, Studio 57, and 2 episodes of The 20th Century-Fox Hour.

Between 1952 and 1957 she appeared on several episodes of Schlitz Playhouse and The Ford Television Theatre, also in 1957 with an episode of The Web and Playhouse 90. Between 1954-1962 she made 5 appearances on The United States Steel Hour.

She also began shifting her focus to the stage, where she found the dependability her acting craved. She appeared in productions of Salt of the Earth in 1952, Bell, Book and Candle, and The Country Girl in 1953. In 1954 she starred in Henry James’ The Heiress and in The Rainmaker in 1955. In 1957 she co-starred with Pat Hingle in The Dark at the Top of the Stairs returning to Broadway.

Throughout her television career, she received three Emmy nominations. The first nomination was for her portrayal of Annie Sullivan in the 1957 CBS adaptation of “The Miracle Worker.” Her second nomination was for her role as the renowned photographer in “The Margaret Bourke-White Story” on NBC in 1960. Lastly, she was nominated for a guest appearance on the short-lived CBS series “Dolphin Cove” in 1989.

She starred as Ruth Simmons in the captivating, low-budget The Search for Bridey Murphy (1956) which tells the story of an American housewife who believed she lived before. And in 1958 she appeared in the film noir crime drama The Restless Years with John Saxon and Sandra Dee.

And In 1959, she married playwright Robert Anderson, continuing to focus on the stage and working in television. She appeared in Anderson’s emotional drama I Never Sang for My Father in 1968 in the role of Alice.

The film would be adapted to the screen in 1970 and starred Gene Hackman and Melvyn Douglas, with Estelle Parson in the role of the adult daughter Alice.

In 1969, Teresa Wright would be cast as Jean Simmon’s mother giving the strongest performance in Richard Brook’s bleak drama The Happy Ending starring Jean Simmons as a disillusioned wife who runs away from her stifling married life in a depressed fugue binging on Casablanca, popping pills and drinking.

Wright Was just 11 years older than star Jean Simmons who played her daughter in The Actress in 1953 and The Happy Ending in 1969.

During the 1960s, Teresa Wright returned to the New York stage, starring in three plays: Mary, Mary (1962) at the Helen Hayes Theatre as Mary McKellaway, I Never Sang for My Father (1968) at the Longacre Theatre as Alice, and Who’s Happy Now? (1969) at the Village South Theatre as Mary Hallen. She also toured across the United States in stage productions of Mary, Mary (1962), Tchin-Tchin (1963) as Pamela Pew-Picket, and The Locksmith (1965) as Katherine Butler Hathaway.

Teresa made numerous television appearances throughout the decade, including on CBS’s The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1964), NBC’s Bonanza (1964), CBS’s The Defenders (1964, 1965), and CBS Playhouse (1969). She would also appear in numerous made-for-TV movies.

In 1975, Teresa Wright appeared as Linda Loman opposite George C. Scott in the Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. In addition to her previous roles, she depicted the rigid Aunt Lily in a 1975 revival of Eugene O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness! on Broadway, as well as in “Mornings at Seven” during its Broadway run and subsequent tour.

And in 1980, she won a Drama Desk Award as a member of the Outstanding Ensemble Performance for her appearance in the revival of Mornings at Seven.

During her appearance in Los Angeles for a performance in Mornings at Seven at the Ahmanson Theater, she shared a bit of her wisdom with aspiring actors in a USC class in 1982. “I wouldn’t pursue film, and I didn’t back then. I’d use every angle to try to get into a repertory company.”

In 1989, she earned her third Emmy Award nomination for her performance in the CBS drama series Dolphin Cove. Teresa also appeared in Murder, She Wrote in the episode “Mr. Penroy’s Vacation”. Her final television role was in an episode of the CBS drama series Picket Fences in 1996.

Teresa Wright’s later film appearances included a major role as Laura Roberts in Somewhere in Time (1980), playing the grandmother in The Good Mother (1988) alongside Diane Keaton, and her last role as Matt Damon’s eccentric landlady Miss Birdie in John Grisham’s The Rainmaker (1997), which was directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

“I’m just not the glamour type. Glamour girls are born, not made. And the real ones can be glamorous even if they don’t wear magnificent clothes. I’ll bet Lana Turner would look glamorous in anything.”

Teresa Wright was a masterful actor, luminous, unflinchingly genuine, and too – she is unforgettably resilient, and undeniably beautiful.

TRIVIA:

According to A. Scott Berg’s book, “Goldwyn: A Biography”, it is stated that Samuel Goldwyn “offered her a contract that night” (pg. 358). However, in a 1959 interview with Reel Classics, Teresa expressed her interest in playing the part of Alexandra in “The Little Foxes” but was hesitant about committing to a long-term studio contract. Despite this, after the film wrapped and her attempts to return to the stage were unsuccessful, she ultimately signed with Goldwyn and remained in Hollywood. (The interview is archived in the Columbia University Oral History Research Office.)

Her nickname was “Mooch”.

Married two famous Playwrights: Niven Busch and Robert Anderson, both also native New Yorkers.

Was the first female star signed under contract to Samuel Goldwyn Productions.

Was supposed to star in The Bishop’s Wife opposite David Niven and Cary Grant, which is a vehicle that Goldwyn had bought especially for her.

In honor of her heartfelt performance in The Pride of the Yankees (1942), when Teresa Wright died in 2005, when the roll call of former Yankees who had passed on was announced, her name was read out among all the ballplayers.

Along with Fay Bainter, Barry Fitzgerald, Jessica Lange, Sigourney Weaver, Al Pacino, Holly Hunter, Emma Thompson, Julianne Moore, Jamie Foxx, Cate Blanchett, and Scarlett Johansson, she is one of only twelve actors to receive Academy Award nominations in two acting categories in the same year. She was nominated for Best Actress for The Pride of the Yankees (1942) and Best Supporting Actress for Mrs. Miniver (1942) at the 15th Academy Awards in 1943, winning the latter award.

Her husband, Niven Busch, originally penned Duel in the Sun (1946) for her to play the lead, as a departure from her girl-next-door roles. But pregnancy forced her to drop out, and Jennifer Jones got the lead.

She was originally set to star in producer David O. Selznick’s Duel in the Sun (1946), which was written by her then-husband, Niven Busch. However, shortly before filming was to begin she got pregnant, and Busch had to go to Selznick’s office to inform him that she would have to bow out of the film. Selznick, known for his single-mindedness, tried to talk Busch into letting her play the part, which called for a lot of physical action, and Busch absolutely refused. As he turned to leave the office, Selznick blurted out, “Dammit, Busch, she isn’t the only one you screwed!”

She was nominated for the 2015 New Jersey Hall of Fame for his services in the Performance Arts.

Teresa Wright’s cheeky stroke of genius in this episode is filled with macabre and black humor delivering a diabolically composed and humorous resolve as she works her way through each of Dan Duryea’s other wives, as casually as a housewife doing chores. A serial murderer housewife that is.

It is perhaps one of my favorite performances of Wright because of the comical dark side she invokes, quite the departure as Wright greatly envisioned from the ‘best little cryer’ that had been hitched to her in the 1940s and 50s.

Her chemistry with Duryea is fabulous as they play off each other and slowly the revelation comes to his character that she’s been shadowing him on each of his routine rendezvous’ with the other Mrs. Browns at his 3 other homes. It’s a brilliant setup. As he realizes she’s a killer and he’s out three wives.

And now… THREE WIVES TOO MANY!

Dialogue:

Marion Brown tells her husband (Duryea)- “You have been a bigamist 4 times. Now you can stay alive with me or be dead away from me!”

SYNOPSIS:

Dan Duryea is a gambler and a proud bigamist name Raymond Brown. Ray has a passion for fine cuisine and is a professional gambler who uses his wealthy wive’s money to finance his bets.
Each of his wives believes he is a salesman, so he uses his trips away from home to visit his bookie when spending a few days with each wife in three different cities.

He truly loves his wife… I mean all four of them. But something is going quite wrong. One by one his wealthy meal tickets are all turning up dead.

Though Marion is Ray’s third and they’ve been married for three years. She is the most central wife and has been the long-time dutiful wife who discovers that Ray is a bigamist. Marion has been patiently waiting to finally have her philandering husband all to herself.

Could she be the one who is bumping off all of Ray’s wives? Wright takes a much different approach from the gentle farm wife Stella in The Alfred Hitchcock Hour’s Lonely Place and shows herself off to be quite resourceful when holding onto her cheating husband.

Marion who is the wealthiest and oldest of the bunch is driven to murder by jealousy and the survival instinct to keep Ray all to herself. She visits each of the other wives and quietly dispenses with them by lacing their cocktails with poison.

Each town Ray arrives at home to see one of his wives, the police are there while she is being carried out on a stretcher. At first, the police just chalk up each death to suicide and he convinces the cops that he has an alibi. Raymond starts to suspect that Marion is behind the deaths, but he doesn’t have any proof.

Because each murder has happened in 3 different cities, the police never connect the women’s deaths. Marion is able to move easily from murder to murder because she is a refined, beautiful, and charming woman who can easily seduce unsuspecting women into dropping their guard.
And she has learned to be a fantastic bartender who brings her own strychnine.

Ray has managed to stick to an unchallenging subterfuge with his four wives, in order to prevent them from knowing about each other.

Directed by Joseph M. Newman, who directed 10 episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Three Wives Too Many is a powerfully satirical parody with sharpened edges pulled off masterfully by Teresa Wright who is the strong protagonist Marion Brown, in a predominantly woman-centered thriller. Leaving Duryea on the periphery looking in on the wake of his misadventures and marital anarchy. The episode explores greedy love, betrayal, and delicious revenge.

As Brown comes to the realization that all of his wives are now dead, the television adaptation abandons suspense, instead going for the cynical observations about post-war American gender roles of husbands and wive in the 1960s.

The episode is a masterful bit of dark humor as the two paths converge, the take-offs and landings of Ray and Marion both traveling on the same path but for different reasons, and only Marion is aware of both.

The show begins in Newark, N.J. where a taxi pulls up to an apartment complex. A woman, elegantly attired and with a little grey in her hair, steps out of the cab. There’s a close-up of her finger pressing the doorbell of an apartment. The card on top of the button bears the inscription “Mr. & Mrs. R. Brown.”

Now inside the apartment, a younger woman in pants gets up from an upscale modern sofa (a contrast to the traditional interior design and furnishings of her home in Baltimore) to answer the door. Marion, tells Bernice that she flew in from Baltimore just to see her. After dancing around with niceties, she lays it out that she’s a relative by marriage…

Bernice –“Forgive this place I’m a terrible housekeeper when my husband isn’t around -well even when he is.”
Marion “It’s difficult to care when your husband’s gone so much.”
Bernice “Oh well won’t you sit down I didn’t even ask your name.”
Marion “Mrs. Brown.”
Bernice “Mrs. Brown?”
Marion “Mrs. Raymond Brown we’re kind of related.”
Bernice “Well that’s kind of reassuring, knowing I belong to such a large family.”
Marion “Haha tremendous. I’m just astonished at how many relatives keep showing up in Baltimore.”
Bernice “Are you here on a pleasure trip Mrs. Brown- Oh that sounds like I’m talking to myself.”
Marion “My name is Marion. Sort of on business for all of us but your husband said that for any big investment, both of you have to agree.”
Bernice “Oh no not always.”
Marion “I mean since the money is really yours.”
Bernice “He told you that?”
Marion “Well it’s true isn’t it?”
Bernice “Well in a way. When we were first married he needed some extra money and I had some. But then husbands and wives share don’t they?”
Marion “Oh yes always, everything.”
Bernice “You say that so pointedly.”
Marion “My dear the Browns are famous for getting to the point.”
Bernice “You’re not related are you There’s something in back of this Mrs. Brown what is it? You’re not remotely related to my husband.”
Marion “That’s right.”

She maintains that sardonic southern charm that stings like a snake bite.

Marion “It’s more than remotely.” her eyes flicker as she looks at Bernice
Bernice “I don’t understand.”
Marion “I’m related directly to your husband.”
Bernice “How?”
Marion “By a previous marriage.”
Bernice “You’re his ex-wife?”
Marion “His present wife. He’s my husband too.”
Bernice “How could he! how could he!”
Marion “By being selfish.”
Bernice “He was kind.”
Marion “He married both of us. there may be others.”
Bernice “He loved me.”
Marion “I know it hurts but you must realize what he is.”
Bernice “How can you be so unemotional about it?”
Marion “I’ve had my tears…”

As the scene unfolds, Marion reveals Ray’s bigamy to Bernice (Jean Hale) and to us. Shaken, Bernice is consoled by Marion, who suggests they should both retaliate against their husband.

Marion tells her, “’ You are a beautiful woman, Bernice, you’ll have no trouble at all finding a new husband. But a woman my age, now I would have a problem.'”

However, Marion’s own sinister plan comes to light as she prepares cocktails for the two of them, but secretly laces Bernice’s drink with poison.

Having premeditated the murder, Marion takes great care to wipe her fingerprints from the bottle and glass. Bernice unwittingly ingests the lethal drink and promptly collapses onto the floor and Marion goes home to Baltimore.

Brown is seen trimming a flower outside his house before he heads inside to give it to Marion. On the surface, it seems the perfect image of a happy couple. However, their easy banter carries an ominous undertone, evident to both Marion and us who have already seen Bernice lifeless on the floor after a lethal dose of Marion’s payback to Ray.

Ray thinks he’s been successful at hiding his secret life, but what Ray doesn’t realize is that Marion is onto him. Now both he and Marion share a blueprint of duplicitous and now sinister transgressions.

She’s happy he’s finally home. He tells her that he plans on taking her to Europe, where women in their 40s come into their own.

At some point, the scene turns ominous as Ray and Marion go down to the cellar to inspect the hole and the oil tank that will eventually be installed there. We’re aware that Ray feels something lurking as he slips and falls into the hole like a grave. He gazes up at the tank that is suspended over his head held only by a chain.

Marion reaches for a crank handle that could potentially trigger the tank to release abruptly. Brown cautions her to handle it carefully, oblivious to the fact that she is privy to his marital treachery.

She tells him ”It just wants you here all the time.” and when she goes to hug him, he falls into the hole. He yells at her to take her hand off the handle. But she lingers a bit… one slip and the tank could fall and crush him.

As the camera follows Marion up the stairs it pauses and something in her eyes says that she knew exactly what she was doing when her hand lingered on the handle.

Once Ray goes back upstairs Marion strokes the handle following his footsteps flirting with the idea of killing him. She seems to be holding it like an old friend. Or maybe a new one?

Teresa Wright is an absolute natural beauty. She’s glowing and totally empowered.

Another plane lands, prompting Brown to drive to a nearby public park where he rendezvouses with Bleeker, who outwardly appears like a businessman but is, in reality, a bookie. Brown places a significant bet and Bleeker who is already on his third marriage and confesses that he’s constantly arguing with his wife. Brown offers some discreet and telling advice, that you can choose to marry “for love AND money…

“I’m a creature of habit.”

Ray gets home to see Bernice and finds the police swarming all over the apartment, investigating what they say is an apparent suicide. The scene is played as an absurd comedy as he seems utterly flustered by the commotion, all the while hiding the fact that this is only one of his many wives. He insists that she wouldn’t kill herself. She just bought a new cookbook, because she knew he liked fine cooking. Everything she did was to please him. She was happy. “She was beautiful and strong. I loved her.”

”I envy you…”

Following the funeral, Brown is confronted by Bernice’s sister and brother-in-law at the empty apartment he lived with Bernice. Her catty sister confronts Ray about Bernice having cried every day from loneliness, and his being on the road all the time. This paints a very different picture of their seemingly ideal marriage. She blames him for her death However, as they leave, the sister’s timid husband tells Ray that “I envy you”, a hint that he wishes his overbearing wife would meet a similar fate.

Ray is now in Hartford he goes to call his other wife Lucille. But by now she has answered the door and once again Marion is waiting for her and doesn’t waste any time putting her cards on the table.

“Why did you do it? Why did you marry my husband?”

She asks, “‘Why did you marry my husband?'” As she points a small pistol at Lucille. This other beautiful wife tells Marion that they’ve been married for five years, which means she’s been married the longest to Ray.

Marion toys with Lucille and tells her that she has not yet decided whether to kill her or not.

The two women begin to talk about him and Marion shares her insight with Lucille, ‘A man is what he does, not what he says.’

Quote shockingly, Lucille defends Ray ‘I admire any man who can get along with so many women.”

As part of Marion’s method of choice, she goes into the kitchen to prepare the drinks and slips the poison into the bottle. One more to go…

Lucille (Linda Lawson) played the role of the enigmatic mermaid in Curtis Harrington’s surreal NIGHT TIDE.

THE BEACH PARTY BLOGATHON- CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) & Night Tide (1961) : Gills-A LOVE STORY!!!

“He seemed happy.”
“Well, he pretended so much how could you tell? A man is what he does not what he says. Why should we spare his feelings we’re not his only wives.”

”Mix it with something.” Marion laughs, “what did you say?” I said mix it with something.” “Delighted!” She pours the poisonous cocktail.

Once again Ray arrives as Lucille’s lifeless body is being taken out of their apartment. And once again he is greeted by another policeman who says she must have killed herself. Ray is absolutely aghast at this point, “She loved life too much!'” And in this odd twist on the husband always being suspected, he is not suspected of foul play.

Ray phones Marion that he’s leaving for Boston and for the first time she asks to go with him and he says yes. In their hotel room, she is beaming after having had a ‘wonderful day.’
He tells her that he has a late-night business appointment, but she informs him that she’s going home that night. Revealing in a cryptic comment –

 ‘I know I’m becoming more important in your life every day,’ she says, and he responds, “‘More than you realize …'” Wright is so comically effective with all her dialogue using a cheeky sardonic purr that tickles you with each delivery. This particular line highlights its best example.

Ray suspects Marion but still isn’t quite sure, those his facial expression conveys it with mocking distress, as she pulls the strings. He meets Bleeker one more time and tells him that he’ll need more financial backers before he can proceed with any more wagers. Though he loves each one of his wives, essentially they have been business ventures after all.

The last wife is carried out by the police.

He enters his house in Baltimore and finds Marion lying on the couch, and he fears the worst.

When she wakes up and seems perfectly fine, Brown feels relieved. Marion suggests they have a cocktail informing him that she’s become very good at mixing drinks.

And as they talk, he notices a pamphlet titled The Widow’s Guide on the coffee table and grows visibly worried.

He runs downstairs to check the basement and discovers that the hole is still there and will remain as a reminder that it can always turn into a grave. But the tank suspended above it is now gone.

“Marion!!!!!”

“Why did you yell at me like that?” “You were so still. So motionless.”

Marion insists on mixing Ray a cocktail. “Where’s the harm? A drink here and there never harmed anybody. At least not me… I turned over a whole new leaf”
“It sounds like you turned over a whole new tree.” “You are delicious!”


“She tells him to stop acting like a fugitive from justice .”Why’d you say that?”
“As if the police had you linked with some terrible crime.”
“Out with it! Say it and get it over with.”
Marion uses his traveling sales job as a metaphor.
That the company has asked too much of him. That he should concentrate on this area. ‘Our Area.”  Meaning their marriage.
“What if I don’t like it?”
“You don’t have to like it. You just have to accept it.”
“Then it’s true You did it… all of them.”
She drinks from both glasses. “See a marital bond.”

When he goes to call the police, she warns him, “I will see you executed for murder if you leave me.”

Whatever the police find out they’ll only discover that you had a motive. ”The police accepted my explanations.”Explanation singular. One explanation yes, two…maybe… three.” (she shakes her head)

“I will see you executed for murder if you leave me.”

Now you can be happy with me or be dead away from me.”

“I was a happy man.” “A very unhappy man.” “Ecstatically happy.”

She gives him the choice. If not the police… there’s always the hole in the cellar.

CREDITS:

Three Wives Too Many was adapted for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and broadcast on CBS on Friday, January 3, 1964. It was written by Kenneth Fearing who wrote seven novels, including The Big Clock in 1946, which the 1948 film that kept the title was released. It was later adapted as No Way Out in 1987. From the mid-1950s to 1960 he had several of his stories were published in crime and mystery digest.

Arthur A. Ross wrote the teleplays for eight episodes in the last two seasons of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, airing in 1964 and 1965. Beginning his career as a scriptwriter for films in 1942, he diversified to radio in 1951 and television in 1952.

Ross was responsible for the screenplays of The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and The Creature Walks among Us (1956), although he endured a period of blacklisting in the 1950s. He won an Edgar Award for collaborating on the script of the Kraft Mystery Theatre episode “The Problem in Cell Block 13” (1962) and continued to write for both television and film until 1980.

Joseph Newman embarked on his Hollywood career in the 1930s, initially as an assistant director, before progressing to directing shorts. Eventually, in 1942, he earned the distinction of a feature director. One notable film he directed during the span of 1942 to 1961 was “This Island Earth” (1955). Newman transitioned to television directing from 1960 to 1965, helming notable episodes of “The Twilight Zone” and “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour,” including the acclaimed episode “An Unlocked Window.”

Dan Duryea (1907-1968), cast as Richard Brown started out on Broadway in the 1930s before venturing into film in 1941. Duryea made frequent appearances in Westerns, and at times entered the world of villainy during the dark, sordid, and guilt-ridden days of film noir including Fritz Lang’s “The Woman in the Window” (1944) and “Scarlet Street” (1945). He also had roles in The Great Flamarion, Criss Cross, Too Late for Tears and Johnny Stool Pigeon, Black Angel, Terror Street, and The Burglar -He also made an appearance on “The Twilight Zone.” episode Mr. Denton on Doomsday.

Robert Cornthwaite portrayed Bleeker, Brown’s bookie. His on-screen presence extended from 1950 to 2005, encompassing numerous television appearances in shows like “Thriller,” “The Twilight Zone,” “Batman,” “The Night Stalker,” and two episodes of “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.” You might remember his performance as the altruistic scientist who insists on making friends with the volatile super-carrot-like alien in Howard Hawk’s The Thing from Another World” (1951).

David Fresco who portrayed Bernice’s sister-in-law’s husband who envies Duryea being free of his wife can be seen in numerous television roles in shows such as “The Twilight Zone,” “Batman,” “Night Gallery,” and “The Odd Couple.” Impressively, he was featured in a total of 12 episodes of the Hitchcock show, including “The Gloating Place.”

 

Continue reading “It’s the pictures that got small! – “Good Evening” Leading Ladies of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour Part 3″

31 Flavors of Noir on the Fringe to Lure you in! Part 4 The last Killing in a Lineup of unsung noir

Read: Parts One, Two & Three

☞SPOILERS!

27-The Killing 1956

Daring hold-up nets $2,000,000! Police baffled by fantastic crime! Masked bandit escapes with race track loot! These 5 Men Had a $2,000,000 Secret Until One of them told this Woman!
Narrator – At exactly 3:45 on that Saturday afternoon in the last week of September, Marvin Unger was, perhaps, the only one among the hundred thousand people at the track who felt no thrill at the running of the fifth race. He was totally disinterested in horse racing and held a lifelong contempt for gambling. Nevertheless, he had a $5 win bet on every horse in the fifth race. He knew, of course, that this rather unique system of betting would more than likely result in a loss, but he didn’t care. For after all, he thought, what would the loss of twenty or thirty dollars mean in comparison to the vast sum of money ultimately at stake.

The Killing is an enigmatic tour de force directed by the fiercely independent Stanley Kubrick, who also penned the screenplay adapting its non-linear story structure from Lionel White’s novel ‘clean break.’ Kubrick chose Jim Thompson for the atypical style of writing in his pulp fiction books and had a great ear for dialect and an original approach to dialogue.

{about writer Jim Thompson} “At the time he was just another bitter alcoholic wordsmith living on paltry advances for paperback originals like Savage Night, The Grifters and The Killer Inside Me. Kubrick recognized his affinity for desperate characters and the great gallows humor in his dialogue. Thompson had a nasty falling out with Kubrick after Kubrick took a screenwriting credit, and reduced Thompson’s credit to merely – dialogue by…” (Eddie Muller)

Kirk Douglas and Stanley Kubrick on the set of Paths of Glory 1957.

Thompson and Kubrick came together two years later to collaborate on his break-out film Paths of Glory 1957. Working within the Hollywood system there would always be strings attached, initially, Kubrick and writer Thompson’s screenplay (Thompson was popular as a writer of hard-boiled paperback crime novels) did not include a narrator, but the studio insisted they use one in order to lessen the audience’s confusion.

Kubrick’s insistence on staying true to White’s novel and his style of writing made him bang heads with United Artists who were distributing the film. They thought they were getting an unambiguous film noir heist picture, not a rip-off story told in the middle of a time warp.

Kubrick cleverly disrupted the studio’s demand for a Narrator and only used Gilmore when the narrative became linear, making him an unreliable storyteller, which had the outcome he was looking for from the beginning which was – to confuse the audience.

When Kubrick turned in his final cut United was furious and insisted he restructures the film so it wouldn’t mess with the audience’s heads. After a bit of a debate, Kubrick held his ground and stuck with White’s vision. The result was rather than spending any more money editing the film, United Artists marooned it under the half of a double bill with Robert Mitchum’s western, Bandito directed by Richard Fleischer who made some interesting B noir/crime movies His Kind of Woman 1951 with Robert Mitchum, The Narrow Margin 1952, Compulsion 1959, Crack in the Mirror 1960, and The Boston Strangler 1968.

Continue reading “31 Flavors of Noir on the Fringe to Lure you in! Part 4 The last Killing in a Lineup of unsung noir”

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

Read: Parts Two, Three & Four

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heads up… this feature includes spoilers…💣

1-I Wake Up Screaming 1941

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another flashback The three men are sitting around the bar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 3 – Queers and Dykes in the Dark: Classic, Noir & Horror Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters:

The subtle gay gangster films of the early 1930s – Little Caesar 1931, The Public Enemy 1931 and Scarface 1932

“Criminals should not be made heroes… The flaunting of weapons by gangsters will not be allowed…”

“… the fashion for romanticizing gangsters” must be denounced.

The three films also evenhandedly parcel out social pathology and sexual aberration: homosexuality in Little Caesar. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy from the novel by W.R. Burnett Little Caesar was first out of the gate and an immediate sensation. A diminutive bandit whose single-minded ambition compensates less for his stature than his repressed homosexual desire, Caesar Enrico Bandello is compact, swarthy and tightly wound; his golden boy pal Joe played by the scion of Hollywood royalty Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is tall, patrician and easygoing.

When Joe finds a female dancer and show business success, the jilted Caesar unhinged by a jealousy that dare not speak its name even to himself, makes his first mistakes in judgement. The male triangle is completed by Caesar’s worshipful lapdog Otera (George E. Stone) who gazes up at Rico with a rapturous desire that, unlike Rico, he barely bothers to sublimate. Doubly deviant Rico dies for his social and sexual sins, asking in tight close-up and choked up tones, “mother of Mercy, is this the end of Rico?”The famous last words inspired an incisive remark from Robert Warshow on gangster psychology:” Even to himself he is a creature of the imagination” from FILMIC – From Sissies to Secrecy: The Evolution of the Hays Code Queer by Mikayla Mislak

“This is what I get for likin’ a guy too much,” Rico ‘Caesar’ tells himself after he realizes he’s lost, Joe. Joe, who he has referred to as “soft” and a “sissy.” The very pretty Joe (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) has decided to give up the racket, to be a professional nightclub dancer. Robinson wisecracks, “Dancin’ just ain’t my idea of a man’s game.”

Joe is romantically involved with Olga (Glenda Farrell). ‘Caesar’ is not only jealous of Joe’s relationship with Olga, but he also appears to have no use for women at all.

In the end, there is a telling close-up, a well of tears in his eyes, a subtle quiver in his face. Rico cannot shoot Joe, even though he needs to keep him from squealing. The image of Robinson coming head-on with his feelings reveals his struggle with the repressed love for his dancing pal. The scene is very effective when the camera closes in on Robinson, capturing his dewy, wide-eyed stare. Behind the scenes what helped the intensity of the look of longing turned out to be a serendipitous moment when Robinson had to fire a pistol while looking into the camera, and was unable to keep his eyes open, each time he pulled the trigger. Eventually, they had Robinson’s eyes held open with cellophane tape. The effect worked perfectly.

Another interesting point in Little Caesar that hints at his latent homosexuality is a scene that highlights his clumsy fussiness. Rico is trying on a tuxedo and gazing at himself in the mirror. Posturing gleefully as he swishes at his own reflection. In this scene, Rico also becomes caught in his effete sidekick Otero’s (George E. Stone) gaze, who joyfully watches his boss flit for the mirror.

In The Public Enemy (1931) there is a noteworthy scene when Tom (James Cagney) goes to his tailor to get fitted for a suit. It’s a hilariously fidgety few moments for Cagney while the flamboyant tailor fawns over his arm muscles. When the movie was re-released, the sequence wound up on the cutting room floor.

According to Mislak In Howard Hawk’s Scarface (1932), it could be seen as having a gay subtext, as Antonio ‘Tony’ Camonte (Paul Muni) shows a repressed homosexual desire for his best friend Guino Rinaldo played by George Raft. Hawk’s film doesn’t work on a blatant exhibition of violence, instead, Scarface’s subtlety draws on the subliminal impression of his sexual impulses.

Through my readings, it has been noted that there is a coded gayness inferred from the character of Camonte in Scarface. Rather than the repressed sexual desire for his close friend Guino, I catch more a wind of an incestuous desire for his sister Cesca (Ann Dvorak). Camonte hovers over her with an iron will, not allowing her to have any man touch her. She even alludes to his untoward attentions at one point telling him that he loves her more than just a brother. Camonte (Muni) does focus obsessively over his hair and his wardrobe, which Poppi (Kathy Morely) tells him is ‘sweet’. But there are a few references to Guino being queer. He wears a carnation which is a code for being a gay man in film. Camonte says he’d like a carnation too, takes it out of Guino’s lapel, and tells him “Better no one sees you with this.” He also makes a comment about one of the North Side gang members not being taken seriously because he owns a flower shop! Guino doesn’t show any interest in women until nearly close to the end of the picture, when he submits to Camonte’s sister, Cesca.

“The placement of homosexuality or the real possibility of it in an antisocial context is quite natural. Homosexuality when it is invisible is antisocial. The only condition under which homosexuality has ever been socially acceptable has been on the occasion of its voluntary invisibility, when homosexuality were willing to pass for heterosexuals. Obvious homosexual behavior is reflected onscreen as in real life, only in the ‘twilight world’ of misfit conduct. During the brief period of explicit reference to homosexuals in pre-Code films of the early 1930s. Gay characters were psychologically ghettoized by their routine relegations to a fantasy world or an underworld life….

….in addition to strengthening the Code in 1934, Will Hays reacted to criticism by inserting morals clauses in the contracts of performers and compiling a “doom book’ of 117 names of those deemed “unsafe” because of their personal lives. Homosexuality was denied as assiduously off screen as it was on, a literally unspeakable part of the culture. By 1940 even harmless sex-roles farces such as Hal Roach’s Turnabout were considered perilous in some quarters. The film, about a married couple (Carol Landis and John Hubbard) who switch roles by wishing on an Oriental statue, was described by the Catholic Legion of Decency as dealing with ‘subject matter which may provide references dangerous to morality, wholesome concepts of human relationships and the dignity of man.’ ” –Vito Russo

HITCHCOCK SUBVERTS SUSPENSE!

Hitchcock sensed the ambiguous sexuality in Mrs. Danvers (nicknamed Danny) who embodies the forbidding identity of the coded lesbian in 1940s films. As she strides down the halls of Manderley, there is an element of the angry older woman trope, who is vacant of male companionship by choice, with an added streak of dissatisfied longing. She embodies the sterile matron, showing characteristics of an ‘old maid’ attributed to a repressed lesbian.” Rebecca serves as Fontaine’s idealized mother and that Hitchcock’s films present images of ambiguous sexuality that threaten to destabilize the gender identity of the protagonist.” -(Tania Modleski)

Gay Coding in Hitchcock films

Article by Scott Badman & Connie Russell Hosier

“In typical Hitchcock-ian fashion, the “Master of Suspense” often employed in his films subtle references to gay culture, defying conservative attitudes of the late ’50s.”-Scott Badman & Connie Russell Hosier | February 7, 2017- Editor’s note: The following article, like many of Alfred Hitchcock’s films, includes references to sex and violence.

Did Martin Landau play a homosexual in North by Northwest? Did Alfred Hitchcock really show gay sex on-screen in Rope, albeit in an unusual way? Was the whole plot of Rebecca driven by the twisted jealousy of an evil lesbian? And, most surprisingly, did Hitchcock depict a gay marriage way back in 1938’s The Lady Vanishes?”

Alfred Hitchcock was a complicated man, who put a singular stamp on all his films, infusing them with his droll and macabre sense of humor and imbuing his work from the point of view of a satyr. Hitchcock projects his dark and twisted view of the world as at the end of his films there is sort of a perverted release that he leaves us to contemplate. It also appears that he was playful with the use of his gay-coded characters in many of his films.

Nothing Hitchcock did was unintentional, thereby reinforcing proof that there is a gay subtext to many characters in various films. He was very measured in every detail even before the camera captured the scene. But this method of implying a queer pathology and positing queer elements to the narrative. He was ingenious in the way he veiled his ciphers within the cloak of deniability, in order to slip it by the censors in his cheeky manner.

Though Hitchcock would often imbue his pictures with coded gay characters, among scholars it is still speculative as to which side his view fell on. Given that everything Hitchcock constructed was intentional, it’s easy to see why he would be viewed as homophobic, due to his use of stereotypes that eventually led to queerness possibly being as the source of the crimes. But you have to consider that during the time he reigned, it’s a tribute to Hitchcock that he even embraced the complex issue of homosexuality. It shows me that there was a conscious level of understanding.

In his life, Hitchcock surrounded himself with gay culture be it in England or Hollywood, and he worked with many gay writers and actors. Ivor Novello who starred in two of Hitchcock’s silent pictures was good friends with him and Alma. Hitchcock was also friends with Rope stars John Dall and bisexual Farley Granger who played coded gay characters in the film. Granger also had the lead in Strangers on a Train, co-starring Rober Walker who plays another of Hitchcock’s coded gay characters, Bruno. Anthony Perkins who struggled with his sexuality in real life, plays the ambiguous, stammering, Norman Bates in Psycho. According to Jay Poole, Robert Bloch was interested in ‘abnormal psychology’ and was familiar with Freudian theories on sexual identity. His novel was more suggestive of the taboos, in terms of the incestuous relationship with Norman’s mother and his confused sexual identity.

The assessment of ‘camp’ and queerness can be seen as negative. More contemporary audiences might perceive Psycho as more campy than lurid or scary. Norman’s appearance in the fruit cellar might register with audiences as if he’s a big ugly ridiculous drag queen with a knife. The rest of the film is darkly humorous. (Doty cites Danny Peary)

In contrasting these male characters, one representative of sexually suspect psychosis, the other of gendered and sexual normalcy, Hitchcock blurs the lines between them, creating effects that will inform future depictions of American masculinity… While Lila Crane has been read positively as a lesbian character, and also as Carol Clover’s prototype for the ‘final girl” I demonstrate here that Lila is a more ambiguous figure, tied to social repression and the law. […] (Norman’s voyeurism and Lila’s examination of Norman’s room as pornographic) Infusing these pornographic motifs with addition levels of intensity and dread was the increasingly public threat of homosexuality within the Cold War context in which Hitchcock’s related themes gained a new, ominous visibility. What emerges in Psycho is a tripartite monster-voyeurism-homosexuality-pornography.” — (Scott Badman & Connie Russell Hosier)

WARNING SPOILERS:

Saboteur (1942) producer/writer Joan Harrison wrote the screenplay and collaborated with Hitchcock on many projects for both film and television. In the period of the 1940s to the 1950s, movies often conflated homosexuality with unsavory characters like Nazis, communists, and terrorists.

Saboteur stars Robert Cummings as plane mechanic Barry Kane who is framed for the terrorist bombing of a military installation’s aircraft hanger where they manufacture planes. After he sees his friend die in the explosion, police assume that it was Kane who filled the fire extinguisher with gasoline. Kane goes on the run, to try and find the man he suspects is the saboteur, Frank Fry (Norman Lloyd) who is the real murderer who committed the heinous crime.

Kane stumbles onto a secret group of ‘the firm’, 5th columnists who are plotting to sabotage key targets, military planes, ships, and dams. Kane is dropped into the middle of a cabal of dangerous Americans who have infiltrated positions of power in order to carry out their nefarious plan to disrupt the democratic system and cause chaos. Socialite dowager Mrs. Henrietta Sutton (Alma Kruger) is a New York philanthropist who provides cover for the ‘firm’ run by Otto Kruger as the coldly, sinister Tobin. Kane pretends to go along with the group, and in one scene in a taxi with Alan Baxter who plays Mr. Freeman, there is a queer exchange between the two. Freeman tells Kane about his two little children, one of them is a boy, whom he wishes was a girl. He’s letting his son’s hair grow long and hesitates to cut it. Then he shares his reminiscence about his boyhood when he had glorious long blonde curls. Kane tells him to cut his son’s hair and “save yourself some grief.”

Purely by Hitchcockian fate, Kane is thrown together with Pat (Priscilla Lane) who comes to his aid and at one point tries to distract Fry at the top of the Statue of Liberty. The beautiful Pat flirts with Fry in order to stall him until the police get there, but he isn’t the slightest bit interested in her at all. In fact, he seems annoyed by her presence. He’s a slim effete figure, a swishy loner with a serpent-like grin. Theodore Price, in his book ‘Hitchcock and Homosexuality (1992), has no doubt Fry was gay. (Ken Mogg 2008)

Saboteur climax prefigures that of North by Northwest between Thornhill (Cary Grant) and the sinister Leonard (Martin Landau) who is also a gay Hitchcockian figure.

We first hear a remark spoken by socialite Mrs. Sutton (Alma Kruger) when Barry (Kane) is taken to the saboteurs’ New York lair, as Barry enters the upstairs room. Mrs. Sutton is addressing a couple of her male colleagues, whom she reprimands: ‘I have to hover over you like an old hen.’

This is precisely the line Hitchcock uses in Rebecca to characterize the somewhat de-natured estate manager Frank Crawley (Reginald Denny) – nearly all the men in the film are so afflicted – and will be used again in The Paradine Case to characterize the gay Latour (Louis Jourdan).

Frank Crawley is ‘as fussy as an old mother hen’; Latour, we’re told, had been ‘like an old mother hen’ to his beloved master, the blind Colonel Paradine.- Ken Mogg (2008)

In North by Northwest (1959) Martin Landau’s character Leonard, displays an undercurrent of homosexuality, that is subtly implied. He’s a devoted bodyguard whose gaze on his boss, Phillip Vandamm, seems to be bubbling with a refined sensibility, romantically fixated on Vandamm (James Mason), a communist spy being hunted by the CIA. For a 1950s film, Leonard’s immaculate fashion sense and his fastidious swagger are a cue of his being queer. Nearing the climax of North by Northwest, the telling scene set in a mid-century modern house reveals Leonard’s love for Vandamm. Hitchcock even sets up the motive for Leonard shooting the object of his affection, jealousy, and rejection. In a notable line toward the end of the movie, Leonard remarks, “Call it my woman’s intuition” affirming the effete stereotype of a feminine gay man. Vandamm is genuinely flattered (contrary to homosexual panic) by Leonard’s feelings, which hints at his motivation for killing the thing he loves. Vandamm (Mason) tells him in that coldly sober tone of his, “I think you’re jealous. I mean it, and I’m very touched. Very.” As Scott Badman & Connie Russell Hosier point out, Hitchcock’s direction shows a “progressive perspective for its time but so brief that it doesn’t fully register with most viewers. Much later, Landau acknowledged that he played Leonard as a homosexual, albeit subtly.”

From the opening of Strangers on a Train (1951), Hitchcock frames the entranceway to the story with a close shot of the main character’s shoes walking to catch the train. Bruno wears elaborate wing tips with high heels and Guy wears a more toned-down fashionable pair of shoes, which are in opposition to each other and illustrate the contrast between the two main characters.

Robert Walker’s Bruno is a menacing, creepy guy with flashy ties, who positions himself after a chance meeting on a commuter train, to assert his influence over famous tennis player, Guy Haines (Farley Granger). Bruno begins to flatter Guy and insinuate himself by sharing his knowledge of Guy’s personal life. He is very proud of the tie that his mother gave him. It is a garish accouterment dappled with lobsters. Like his silken smoking robe and another tie with the name, Bruno embroidered on it. Bruno also spouts a lot of ‘ideas’ he has in that ever prompted mind of his, when talking about Guy’s upcoming divorce and bigamy scandal, “I’ve got a wonderful theory about that.”

Bruno insists on Guy having lunch with him, “sent to my compartment… You see you’ll have to lunch with me.” It is obvious, though Hitchcock is very subtle about broadcasting the cues, that Bruno is wooing Guy. Bruno is very effeminate in his demeanor, you could say that he has a ‘flaming’ air about him, always dropping hints about his sexuality. “My father hates me”, insinuating that he is not the kind of man he expects of him. “I’ve got a theory that you should do everything before you die.” He tells Guy amorously, “I like you, I’d do anything for you.”

Bruno Anthony’s plan is for both men to exchange for each other’s murders. There are several scenes that scream Hitchcock’s gay coding. Initially, when the two men meet each other on the train, Bruno is flirtatious, dressed in ‘flamboyant clothes’, which to gay audiences, is seemingly clear to be a gay pickup. Bruno’s not only attracted to the handsome Guy, but he is in fact stalking him as an ‘object’ to fulfill his needs and be his ‘partner’ in his deranged homoerotic plot.

His mother, Mrs. Anthony (the wonderful character actor Marion Lorne) does Bruno’s nails and dotes on her son. As Bruno tells his mother, he wants his nails to look right.

Homosexuality is not explicitly stated, but there is too strong an import for critics and audiences in the know, to ignore. And, considering Hitchcock’s fascination with homosexual subtexts, it’s not a stretch to read into various scenes this way.

There is also the insinuation that Bruno has some serious mother issues, which is one of Hitchcock’s points of reference for his gay coding, such as his use of it with Norman Bates in his film Psycho. Bruno amuses himself by antagonizing his mother (Marion Lorne) who is completely in the dark about the twisted pathology of her homicidal son.

Bruno has set up a visit from Guy who finds himself talking to the sociopath, who’s been waiting for Guy while lying in bed in his silky pajamas. Is this actually arranged as a bedroom seduction?

Another brief sequence takes place at the end which centers around a carousel, a possible symbol of fluid sexuality, and sexual foreplay. The scene shows Bruno and Guy wrestling with each other, the movements could be read as Bruno really achieving what he wanted, to have sex with Guy. Hitchcock even cut different versions of the movie for Britain and the U.S., toning down the implied homosexuality in the American version — proof positive that he was fully aware of the gay implications in his movies. –(Badman and Hosier)

Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) is based on the play by Patrick Hamilton Rope’s End is perhaps one of the more obvious coded gay films with homosexual subtexts in his canon. Arthur Laurents, who eventually came out of the closet and wrote the screenplay, said during a commentary “What was curious to me was that Rope was obviously about homosexuals. The word was never mentioned. Not by Hitch, not by anyone at Warners. It was referred to as ‘it’. They were going to do a picture about ‘it’, and the actors were ‘it’.” The original British stage play was loosely based on the sensational true crime committed by Chicago students Leopold and Loeb in 1924, who killed a fellow student, just to see if they could get away with a motiveless crime. The script was penned by Arthur Laurents in collaboration with Hume Cronyn and Ben Hecht.

Brandon (John Dall) and Philip (Farley Granger) are entitled, affluent snobs, who are self-aggrandizing psychopaths with a Nietzschean superiority. Hitchcock arranges a taut stage play, around a case of Folie à deux. Brandon and Philip are implied coded lovers, who used the crime of murder to stimulate each other as if it were a sex act. The intellectual discourse they have at the beginning of the picture is overshadowed by the sexual banter that precedes what ultimately will become the act of committing a murder. Rope from the beginning of the picture inaugurates a very feverish sexual undercurrent.

In real life, John Dall was gay but died in 1971 without talking openly about his homosexuality. Farley Granger was bisexual when making the movie and then was in a lifelong gay relationship starting in 1963. Alfred Hitchcock was well aware of the sexual orientations of both actors and was reportedly pleased with what is now called the on-screen “chemistry” between the two.

He coded Brandon and Philip as gay by their “sex scene.” It occurs at the very beginning of the movie, which is also the murder scene. Hitchcock is strongly equating murder with sex. The murder-sex occurs behind curtained windows. The death scream corresponds to the orgasm. Now visible, the murderers Brandon and Philip quickly put the body in a cabinet and go into a postcoital exhaustion. Philip doesn’t even want the light turned on. In an inspired touch, Hitchcock has Brandon light a cigarette, a standard Hollywood indicator for “we just had sex.” – (Badman and Hosier)

The unorthodox murderers throw a dinner party with the victim stuffed inside an antique trunk. The film was initially banned in Chicago and other cities, because of its implied homosexual relationship between the two killers. In 1959, the story was revised as Compulsion directed by Richard Fleischer scripted by Richard Murphy, and based on the novel by Meyer Levin. Compulsion remains closer to the actual true-life crime, and the implicit queer undertones are brought more to the surface, with less of Hitchcock’s cheeky innuendo.

Hitchcock employs many homoerotic symbology and allusions, as the couple reenact the murder, with the director conflating violence and sex. For instance, Brandon gets a bottle of champagne still invigorated by the murder, while Philip the weaker of the murderous pair, is nervous. Brandon fondles the bottle of champagne as the two stands close together very intimately. He grasps the champagne bottle as phallus and flirts with the top of the bottle, yet not releasing the cork. All this is stages as foreplay. Philip finally takes the bottle from Brandon and liberates the cork. They then toast to their victim. Film Critic Robin Wood asserts, in The Murderous Gays: Hitchcock’s Homophobia, that these films could be made as more positive or sensitive to homosexuality rather than “traffic in homophobia” and that it perpetuate the notion that homosexuality leads to violence.

Psycho (1960)

Psycho works as a warped adult fairytale about getting lost and paying for one’s transgressions. Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is a Phoenix secretary who embezzles forty thousand dollars from her employer’s client and goes on the run. Marion is also shown to be a fallen woman, a sexual deviant herself with no morals, not only is she a thief but she is also having an affair with a married man Sam Loomis, (John Gavin). Driving in torrential rain, she pulls into the Bates Motel, an eerie, remote motel off the beaten path. The motel is run by a ‘queer’ sort of young man, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) who lives up in the brooding house on the hill, under the dominant authority of his cruel and elusive mother. As Poole puts it, Norman “remains locked in a disturbed world, and, as the film progresses, becomes murderously mad.”

Norman Bates: “A boy’s best friend is his mother.”

Norman is not a masculine figure, he is a mama’s boy who does his mother’s bidding. He is continually identified with his mother and, according to Freud and his psychological tunnel vision, would probably have evolved into a homosexual because of his Oedipal desires. Hitchcock perverts Freud’s narrow theory, by making sure the narrative shows Norman to be attracted to women, not men. It is when Norman’s arousal by the female body, that he dresses in frumpy dresses to represent his mother, who then takes over and annihilates the object of Norman’s desire. Many viewers assume that Norman is a repressed homosexual because he dressed in women’s clothing when manifesting his mother’s personality. Cross-dressing was stereotypically associated with homosexuality, however, Hitchcock’s film tries to make it clear that Norman is attracted to women from the very beginning with the seductive Marion. The concept of fluid sexuality was not understood in 1960, so conflating cross-dressing with homosexuality was a commonly misleading view.
Another interesting point that Jay Poole (Queering Hitchcock’s Classic) brings out is how the décor of the house is itself, queer. Referring to what he cites Foucault’s theory of ‘We Other Victorians’ which essentially invokes ‘the image of the imperial prude.’ Therefore the Bates house itself with its provincial Victorian style from a queer perspective represents the constraints of Victorian sexual expectations, which is — we do not speak of sex, and any relations are to remain between a heterosexual married couple in the privacy of their own bedroom. Norman is surrounded by this oppressive atmosphere and tries to fight his impulses and his carnal desires. He does this by dwelling in his mother’s house, hoping that she will control the voyeuristic, dirty lustful desire he is having about Marion.

Norman Bates: “People never really run away from anything. The rain didn’t last long, did it? You know what I think? I think that we’re all in our private traps, clamped in them, and none of us can ever get out. We scratch and we claw, but only at the air, only at each other, and for all of it, we never budge an inch.”

Marion Crane: “Sometimes we deliberately step into those traps.”

Norman Bates: “I was born in mine. I don’t mind it anymore.”

Psycho, is the first of Hitchcock’s films to break tradition from his usual cultured mystery/suspense tropes. He decided to present this narrative using a pallet of B&W to set up a different tonality. Without the use of the vivid colors that he often used with cinematographer Robert Burks. Psycho deals with a more graphic, monochromatic, psycho-sexual sickness. A sickness that erupts in unprecedented perversity and violence for the director. Hitchcock also kills off his heroine in the first 20 minutes of the film. Psycho, will forever be known for ‘the shower scene.’

It also brings to the screen one of THE most hauntingly intense scenes that will remain in the collective consciousness, for what it lacks in vivid bloodshed, it possesses an uncomfortable voyeuristic gaze that brings us into Norman’s mind with the twists and turns, it assaults us, because of its deeper brutality, a more queasy feeling of psychic angst and inverts our gaze, as Marion stares back at us with her lifeless eyes.

“It’s not like my mother is a maniac or a raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?”

In the 1950s into 1960 was a time when Americans were seeking out the American ideal, and cultural conformity. It was also a time when many audiences did not explore alternative sexualities and would have conflated homosexuality with a deviant and dangerous personality. Poole suggests “Hitchcock queers the image of sexual purity but reinforces naturalized heterosexuality as the film progresses… Hitchcock utilizes the Freudian explanation of homosexual development in his explanation of Norman’s development as a psychopathic killer despite Norman’s apparent heterosexual orientation.”

Hitchcock believed he made the perfect choice in casting Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, the homicidal misfit who put on a dress and wig to embody his cruel mother. Norman became a serial killer with a fixation on his castrating mother because she dominated his life and turned him into a monster. Perkin’s himself soft-spoken, androgynous, even perhaps a slightly effete actor. Alfred Hitchcock envisioned another gay character whose inherent corrupted humanity stems from their conflict of being queer. By queer, it can refer to the process of shattering normalcy and vision from the perspective of a heternormative lens. Psycho takes the audience into a place of dis-ease, where seemingly ordinary people are capable of monstrous acts. If Hitchcock’s film is subverting the value of 1950s America, and the transgressive content of Psycho breaks from societal norms, then it can be read as a ‘queer’ film.

[voiceover in police custody, as Norman is thinking]” It’s sad, when a mother has to speak the words that condemn her own son. But I couldn’t allow them to believe that I would commit murder. They’ll put him away now, as I should have years ago. He was always bad, and in the end he intended to tell them I killed those girls and that man… as if I could do anything but just sit and stare, like one of his stuffed birds. They know I can’t move a finger, and I won’t. I’ll just sit here and be quiet, just in case they do… suspect me. They’re probably watching me. Well, let them. Let them see what kind of a person I am. I’m not even going to swat that fly. I hope they are watching… they’ll see. They’ll see and they’ll know, and they’ll say, “Why, she wouldn’t even harm a fly…”

As ‘Judith Butler’ Gender scholar, and ‘Hall’ speak of gender as performance, Hitchcock was clear in the way he developed Stephano and Bloch’s central characters in Psycho. In the final scene, the murderer is revealed and his inner monologues keep hidden, the source of a disturbed, untroubled ‘victim’ of faulty psychological development.’ The opening montage sets the scene for the dark thing that takes place inside ordinary towns and inside the minds of ordinary people. (source: Poole)

Psycho was a vehicle that queered what the public had come to expect from Hitchcock films, and,much like its real-life inspiration (Ed Gein), it queered the notion that America was a place where ‘normal,’ was defined as a quiet, safe, small town life, free from the darkness that lurds in modest roadside motels… With Psycho, Hitchcock abetted by Stefano’s script, would shock audiences with sexual innuendo, apparent nudity coupled with a sadistic stabbing scene. Perhaps most shocking of all, he would leave audiences wondering what might lie below the surface of family, friends neighbors and themselves.” (Jay Poole)

Rebecca (1940), was not one of Hitchcock’s favorite films at all. Adapted from the Gothic novel by Daphne du Maurier, the sick soul here is a menacing lesbian. The formidable Mrs. Danvers ( played by the equally formidable Judith Anderson) is the head Matron of Manderley, living in the shadows of the former Mrs. de Winter. She is a lovesick sapphic with an unnourished desire for her dead mistress, Rebecca. Manderley itself is like a hollow mistress that consumes those inside its ominous hallways. ‘Danny’ resents the new Mrs. de Winter and in one revelatory scene taunts her (Joan Fontaine) trying to drive her to suicide through her cruel torments. She parades Rebecca’s lingerie with a lustful smirk on her diabolical face, running her hands under the sheer, delicate fabric as if she were fondling Rebecca herself.

Mrs. Danvers’ jealousy of Maxime de Winters’ new bride is driven by obsession, a lesbian-coded manifestation, one of jealousy and sexual desire. For Joan Fontaine’s character, Danvers reenacts through storytelling, all the attention she used to lavish on her beloved mistress, running her bath, brushing her hair, admiring the finery of her monogrammed pillowcases. Though Rebecca is only seen as the painting of an alluring woman her ghost haunts Manderley and the new Mrs. de Winter.

In Hollywood movies of the 1940s, coded lesbian characters were far less common than coded gay men. Portrayals of lesbians might define them as dangerous and threatening, as is the case with Mrs. Danvers. Mrs. Danvers implies that she had been married. This allowed Hitchcock’s deniability against Judith Anderson’s lesbianism But Mrs. Danver’s eventual demise is brought about by her inability to accept Rebecca’s death or allow anyone to replace her love. And so her desire consumes her literally, in fire.

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

When I first saw Charters (Basil Radford) and Caldicott (Naughton Wayne) in The Lady Vanishes my radar went off like a firehouse siren during the scene where they are both sitting up together in a small bed, one wearing the pajama tops and the other wearing the bottoms, (giving the appearance of both being naked in bed. It was such a marvelous coded moment and I knew they were a loving married gay couple. I found it so refreshing to see the British comedy duo playing a cheeky proper English couple who are cricket fanatics trying to get back to London while the Hitchcockian espionage is happening under their noses.

I enjoyed their farcical vignette about a pair of golfers, the one comedic entry in an otherwise moody collection of ghost stories- Dead of Night (1945) which like The Lady Vanishes, also stars Michael Redgrave.

Hitchcock excelled at getting fine performances from his supporting cast members. They usually are finely honed characterizations portrayed by perfectly cast actors, fascinating and funny, imbued with his dry British humor. Charters and Caldicott are wonderful examples. Played by Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne, two fine stage actors who reprised these characters in subsequent movies and BBC radio programs, Charters and Caldicott follow a long tradition of comedy duos of older men in British Music Hall, vaudeville and stage performances. Most audiences of the time, especially British audiences, would have interpreted their relationship simply as one between eccentric, middle-aged bachelors. (Badman and Hosier)

Though there are so many elements of the duo that is ambiguous, Hitchcock imbues Charters and Caldicott with an affection and closeness that reads like a positively coded gay pairing. The two aren’t played as stereotypically flamboyant or campy. Later in the movie, Charters and Caldicott are heroic in facing down danger, during an onslaught of gunfire by fascist spies.

Charters and Caldicott are stranded at the only hotel in a tiny alpine village. The desk clerk informs them that they must share the maid’s room. When they meet the voluptuous Germanic blonde, they glance at each other with an expression that appears to be saying they’re not interested. When they follow the maid to her cramped room, Charter cracks “It’s a pity they couldn’t have given us one each” which could be interpreted as each having their own woman, to have a bit of a romp with. But Charters clarifies himself by saying he meant two rooms. One for the maid and one for them. A mainstream audience could read their conduct as two heterosexual British gentlemen, but if you read between the lines, it is suggested that they have no interest in women. In another scene when the maid enters their shared room without knocking, both men act startled by the intrusion. Caldicott moves in a way that conjures up the role of a protective mate. Once she leaves, Caldicott locks the door.

A master of queering the screen, Hitchcock plays with sexuality using his skillful methods of innuendo and artful suggestiveness — In an already masterful way of blurring the lines of reality and adeptly flirting with transgression, Hitchcock’s milieus are perfect playgrounds for coded gay characters.

Continue reading “Chapter 3 – Queers and Dykes in the Dark: Classic, Noir & Horror Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters:”

Chapter 2 – Queers and Dykes in the Dark: Classic, Noir & Horror Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters:

THE LAND OF MORAL AMBIGUITY: HOLLYWOOD & THE HAYS CODE

“Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex Relationships are the accepted or common thing…”

Prior to the Production Code, LGBT characters were somewhat prevalent, if heavily stereotyped and exploited, in a number of major films. The 1920s especially were a time of shifting societal norms and expanding artistic experimentation. As women rode the first wave of feminism and prohibition was increasingly challenged, filmmakers began to expand their boundaries and feature more controversial plotlines. – Sophie Cleghorn

Pre-Code was a brief period in the American film industry between the dawn of talking pictures in 1929 and the formal enforcement in 1934 of the Motion Picture Production Code (MPPC) familiarly known as the Hays Code. Pre-Code was a glorious time in the history of cinema. It was during the Depression Era before the cultural politics of Clergy and reformer organizations came in and initiated the need for moral governance over the film industry. Their interference evolved into the Hays Code created to oversee silent and talking pictures.

In the late 1920s before the Hays Code, films began to speak becoming audible and more realistic as Hollywood recognized that many Americans knew all about sex. In the early era of talkies during the gutsy cinema of the Depression era, there was nothing stopping the studios from producing daring films. Hollywood movies weren’t afraid to show gay characters or reference their experiences. Ironically, queers were pretty visible onscreen at this time in American cinema. These characters left an impression on trade papers like Variety which called this phenomenon – “queer flashes.”

Also in the early twenties, there were notorious scandals on and off-screen. Hollywood’s moral ambiguity was literally in the clutches of the Hays Code which the MPPDA used to wage a moral battle against Hollywood that they perceived would eventually lead to cultural ruination. The priggish William Hays was a deacon in the Presbyterian church, a former chair of the Republican party, and postmaster general before he was picked to lead the war on decadence in the movie industry. William Hays was appointed chairman of the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association (MPPDA) from the year it was established in 1922 to 1945, but the Hays Code was not overturned until 1968. Hays and his code regulated film content for nearly forty years. The little worm.

W.C.Fields and Franklin Pangborn- Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941)

The Hays Code became a series of self-imposed, perceived-to-be-moral guidelines that told filmmakers and the major studios what was permissible to do in their movies. The Code was established in 1930, and the MPPC set forth censorship guidelines that weren’t yet strictly enforced. And states had their own censorship boards and so their individual standards varied. Hays tried to contain his guidelines without the intrusion of government censorship, so he created his own Production Code that was for all intents and purposes optional for studios.

They felt that the liberal themes of films in the 1920s were contributing to the supposed debauchery infiltrating society. They championed government censorship as the solution to return society to its traditional moral standards (Mondello).

In June 1927, Hays publicized a list of cautionary rules. A construct of ‘Don’ts and Be Carefuls’. The document and empowering legislation spelled out guidelines for propriety on screen in classic Hollywood that became known as the Production Code. It was co-authored in 1929 by Martin J. Quigley, a prominent Catholic layman, editor of the journal Motion Picture Herald, and Reverend Daniel A. Lord, a Jesuit Priest. Their collaboration reflected a ‘Victorianism’ that would tint the freedom of Hollywood’s creative license. “The Production Code was a template for a theological takeover of American cinema.” “No picture should lower the moral standards of those who see it.”

“Just Ten of the Thous Shalt Nots”

Homosexuality

While the Code did not explicitly state that depictions of homosexuality were against the Code, the Code barred the depiction of any kind of sexual perversion or deviance, which homosexuality fell under at the time. -Wikipedia

The convict

“The courts of the land should not be presented as unjust…”

Prostitution and fallen women

“Brothels and houses of ill-fame are not proper locations for drama. They suggest to the average person at once sex sin, or they excite an unwholesome and morbid curiosity in the minds of youth…”

Bad girls

“Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing…”

Musicals

“Dancing costumes cut to permit indecent actions or movements are wrong… Dances suggesting or representing sexual actions or indecent passion are forbidden…”

Adultery and the sanctity of marriage

“Adultery as a subject should be avoided… It is never a fit subject for comedy. Thru comedy of this sort, ridicule is thrown on the essential relationships of home and family and marriage, and illicit relationships are made to seem permissible, and either delightful or daring.”

NOT TO MENTION: GOD COMPLEXES-

Boris Karloff is Dr. Henry Frankenstein’s creation. Make-up by Jack Pierce.

By the time the sequel Bride of Frankenstein was released in 1935, enforcement of the code was in full effect and Dr. Henry Frankenstein’s overt God complex was forbidden. In the first picture, however, when the creature was born, his mad scientist creator was free to proclaim “Now I know what it feels like to be a God.”

‘Don’ts’ included “profanity,” “sex hygiene,” “miscegenation,” and “ridicule of the clergy.” There was a much longer list of ‘Be carefuls’ which indicated it was offensive to “show sympathy for criminals,” “arson,” “surgical operations,” “excessive or lustful kissing” and of course “HOMOSEXUALITY.”

Hays appointed Colonel Jason S. Joy to be in charge of the supervisory agency, the Studio Relations Committee. Once the first talky The Jazz Singer (1927) starring Al Jolson was released a newly fired-up rebel cry was heard from the hoity-toity do-gooders who raised objections against Hollywood’s immorality. What was once suggestive in silent pictures was now committed to sound, with all its risque humor and wicked context.

In 1934 censorship was tightening its stranglehold. Under pressure from the Catholic Church and other religious groups, the Motion Picture Production Code made it so that any marginal gay characters became masked in innuendo, relying on queer symbolism instead. Several grassroots organizations were founded in order to pressure the film industry, the most influential of all was the Catholic Legion of Decency.

So, between the Code and state censorship boards, one might expect that films produced after 1930 would be exemplars of wholesomeness and purity. In practice, the men who enforced the Code on behalf of the MPPDA (Jason Joy and James Wingate) were wholly ineffectual, primarily due to the very small staffs they were allotted to keep up with the work of reviewing scripts, treatments and finished films while battling studios that weren’t especially thrilled by the bottleneck caused by the whole operation. The combination of bureaucratic sclerosis and the economic, political and cultural crisis brought about by the Great Depression ushered in a vibrant era of filmmaking and the introduction of many stars whose personas would forever be rooted in their pre-Code films.- Mike Mashon

The Code set in place in 1930 was a turning point in the history of self-regulation. With the strict enforcement of the Production Code, they attempted to influence the discourse in American film without coming out and definitively stating which contexts were strictly forbidden. Instead, they issued phrases like “should be avoided” and “should not suggest.” Though a variety of controversial topics weren’t vigorously banned by the Production Code, gay characters WERE strictly prohibited. 

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) directed by Alfred Hitchcock- Peter Lorre

When the Hays Code was adopted in 1930, they articulated that, “though regarding motion pictures primarily as entertainment without any explicit purpose of teaching or propaganda, they know that the motion picture within its own field of entertainment may be directly responsible for spiritual or moral progress, for higher types of social life, and for much correct thinking.”

When the MPPDA formally ratified The Code, they demanded that it be followed to the letter but it “lacked an effective enforcement mechanism” – and the studio heads openly defied its frame of mind and its puritanical spirit.

The movie studios had other pressing issues of concern. It was the Great Depression, and studios were barely making it, on the brink of ruin due to low ticket sales. They were quite ready to fight with states over censorship because sex and violence sell. They wanted to draw in audiences that would be titillated by gangsters, vamps, and racy subject matter. Popular musicals could entertain with disparaging racial clichés and glamorous, intoxicating imagery, with hints of queerness. You could also watch languid prostitutes on screen — everyone seems to long for Shanghai Lil, in the film that has it all, Footlight Parade (1933)

Filmmakers tried to switch around controversial subject matter that would not only push the boundaries but would promote ticket sales, with films that would attract a more sophisticated audience. Breen perceived these films to be less ‘dangerous’ a word he often used. They focused on the ‘gangster’ film with its violent content, and when they put their foot on that genre’s neck, Hollywood rolled out the ‘fallen woman‘ films. They tried very hard to get around the scrutiny and so they delved into making horror pictures, and racy comedies. These fare better as they fell under the heading of being ‘unrealistic’ which rendered them as innocuous material to the censors.

During the Great Depression, movies were an escape for audiences in dire need of distraction. The morally-charged stranglehold that was beginning to challenge filmmakers forced them to experiment with movies that were audacious and candid in different ways. Pre-Code actually challenged audiences to watch real-life issues on screen. Pre-Code cinema offered some titillating truths coming out of the dream factory. Depression-era cinema exhibited gay characters, but generally in small parts and often used for comic purposes that managed to cue audiences in, with roles that were codified and readable as queer. ‘Queerness’ was railed against because it subverted traditional masculinity which was under attack by the new socioeconomic crisis in the country. Yet somehow, Hollywood found it to be a viable trigger for ideological gossip.

These films illustrated narratives that were thought-provoking, worldly, and subversive. Movies dealt frankly or were suggestive of sexual innuendo, sexual relationships between races, mild profanity, drug use, promiscuity, prostitution, infidelity, abortion, intense violence, and of course, homosexuality.

William Wellman’s Safe in Hell (1931) stars Dorothy Mackaill as a call girl in hiding. Prostitution is a no no!

Filmmakers took risks delivering a portrait of America with a punishing realism, and creative freedom to portray taboo themes like crime (gangs and guns, violence), and social dilemmas (drug abuse, poverty, and political unrest). And sexual relationships (adultery, promiscuity, deviance = homosexuality). In the 1930s filmmakers also sought to stir up controversy by screening queer characters, in order to shock audiences and drive up their ticket sales. As a result, movies became more lewd, ruthless, and vicious between 1930 and 1934. And Hollywood was its MOST queer from 1932-1934.

Yet during the silent era to the mid-thirties, gay characters were illustrated as stereotypes showcasing the popular tropes established by conventional hetero-normative gender bias. These archetypes were styled to be gender non-conformists. Queer men were fussy, effeminate, and flamboyant. With high-pitched voices, the air under their feet, and waving hands. Essentially, ‘fairies’ were deployed as comic relief on the periphery of the drama. Real-life queers of the Depression era and later periods were exposed to cinematic images, the vast majority being caricatured in which gays and lesbians were often presented as targets of ridicule and contempt for their divine decadence. ‘Entertainers play with gender ambiguity in Broadway thru a Keyhole (1933).‘ (Lugowski)

Lesbians were at the other end of the spectrum. They were ‘masculine,’ demonstrating deep voices, cross-dressing in male attire, and were installed in male-dominated professions. They were often invalidated by the straight male characters and were either played for the uncomfortable humor or shown as baffling to men. The PCA in its Hollywood’s Movie Commandments specified that there could be no comic characters “introduced into a screenplay pantomiming a pervert.” (Lugowski)

Gender Reversals, Queerness, and a Nation in Crisis.–

In Michael Curtiz’s The Strange Love of Molly Louvain (1932) Suddenly, queer imagery in film, typically in the form of comical representations of gay men, lesbians, and ambiguous sexuality, did not seem so funny any-more, least of all to those charged with applying Hollywood’s Production Code to film content. By “queer” imagery, I am focusing particularly on situations, lines of dialogue, and characters that represent behavior coded, according to widely accepted stereotypes, as cross-gendered in nature. As played by such prominent and well-established supporting comedy character actors as Franklin Pangborn, Edward Everett Horton, Grady Sutton, Erik Rhodes, Eric Blore, and Ernest Truex, queer men tended to appear as one of two types.

The queer in his more subdued form appears as the dithering, asexual “sissy,” sometimes befuddled, incompetent,and, if married, very henpecked (Horton), and sometimes fussy and officious (Pangborn). Pangborn, however, was one of the actors who (along with the unsung likes of Tyrell Davis and Tyler Brooke) also played or suggested the other type, the more outrageous “pansy,” an extremely effeminate boulevardier-type sporting lip-stick, rouge, a trim mustache and hairstyle, and an equally trim suit, incomplete without a boutonniere. Although a number of actors played or were even typecast in such roles, one generally doesn’t find a circle of prominent supporting actresses whose personas seemed designed to connote lesbianism (the closest, perhaps, is Cecil Cunningham) lesbian representation occurs frequently as well, and in perhaps a greater range of gradations. At her most overt, the lesbian was clad in a mannishly tailored suit (often a tuxedo), her hair slicked back or cut in a short bob. She sometimes sported a monocle and cigarette holder (or cigar!) and invariably possessed a deep alto voice and a haughty, aggressive attitude toward men, work, or any business at hand. Objections arose because she seemed to usurp male privilege; perhaps the pansy seemed to give it up. -David M.Lugowski: Queering the (New) Deal-Lesbian and Gay Representation and the Depression-Era Cultural Politics of Hollywood’s Production Code

Filmmakers were encouraged not to promote lifestyles of a ‘morally questionable’ nature, so queers remained as humorous detours away from the central story. It was a subtle defiance that filmmakers were determined to feature queer characters in their films in spite of the ban. Because of the threat of boycotts, this created some maneuvering around the scrutiny. Queer identities were not portrayed with depth or realism, this marginalized group was relegated to one-dimensional stereotypes. They were never shown to be in romantic relationships and filmmakers relied on visual cues to signal the character’s identity.

Censors at the PCA, for example, were very worried about the three female characters in William Dieterle’s Dr. Monica (1934) starring Kay Francis. The film is the story of three women, an alcoholic, a nymphomaniac, and a lesbian. In October 1935, Joseph Breen wrote a letter to RKO’s head B.B. Kahane concerned about Follow the Fleet (1936) starring Fred Astaire who gives a dance lesson to all male sailors. “We are assuming of course that you will exercise your usual good taste in this scene of the sailors learning to dance. There will be no attempt to inject any ‘pansy’ humor into the scene.”

Due to a new, stricter Motion Picture Production Code, gays were being swept under the rug in movies. In the late 1930s and 1940s the only way to circumvent the Code was by painting homosexuals as cold-hearted villains (The Celluloid Closet). Now it appeared that gays were committing terrible crimes because of their sexual orientation, implying that homosexuality leads to insanity. In a society where being homosexual was synonymous with being sinful, it is no surprise that Hollywood made the leap to correlating a homosexual orientation with malicious crimes and wicked urges (Weir).

Alfred Hitchcock is a visual magician who rolls out the answers gradually while deconstructing what is explicit in the narrative. He is one of the most measured auteurs, whose eye for detail links each scene together like a skillful puzzle. He has been studied, tributed, and –in my opinion–unsuccessfully imitated. Rigid to conform, he danced around the Hays Code like a cunning acrobat indulging his vision while deflecting the lax regulations. There are arguments that Hitchcock insinuated homophobic messages in some of his films. The queer characters were all deviants and psychopathic predators, who were the ones responsible for some of the most heinous murders on screen. For example, in his film Rope (1948) the two Nietzschian murderers are intellectual companions who get off on trying to perpetrate the perfect murder. They exhibit a romantic friendship with no sexual contact on the screen. Yet there are cues that they are sexually aroused by each other’s mutual pleasure at killing a young boy. The Hays Code inhibited the depiction of a queer couple so Hitchcock had to subtly suggest their sexual relationship by dropping metaphors and visual clues. Though, it might be interpreted through a homophobic lens, and their homosexuality might be at the core of their cruel and immoral nature.

According to David Greven, Hitchcock’s homophelia ‘was through a larger conflict that Hitchcock’s cinema that filmmakers conducted their investigation of American masculinity, one that focused on fissures and failures. Homosexuality emerged as representative of these and also as potential new direction for American masculinity to take, not without serious risk but also treated with surprising, fascinated interest… Hitchcock’s radical de-centering of heterosexual male dominance, devising contemporary narratives of heterosexual male ambivalence that allowed for, at times depended on, an investment in same-sex desire as well as an awareness of its dangerous, pernicious seductions. Homophobia in both Hitchcock and the New Hollywood’s informed by an attendant fascination with the homoerotic that emerges from scenes of gender crisis and disorganization that are rife in both the Cold War and New Hollywood eras. 

Any illicit sexual behavior on screen considered perverse would be demonized and exploited as immoral. Queers were shown as villainous, dangerous deviants who were fated for ruination and/or death.

There were several broad categories the Code was not vague about. Any movies depicting criminality had to essentially illustrate that there would be consequences. The message was clear, any flagrant criminal behavior is abhorrent and audiences should NOT feel sympathy, primarily through the implicit edict of “compensating moral values.”

Authority figures had to be treated with respect, and the clergy could not be portrayed as comic characters or villains. Under some circumstances, politicians, police officers, and judges could be villains, as long as it was clear that those individuals portrayed as villains were the exceptions to the rule.

Clearly, there were some productive strategies for circumventing the Motion Picture Production Code. They enabled characters that performed behind the veil, under the radar of social acceptability, while dancing a step closer to the fringe. It allowed for ‘queering the screen’. I find it feasible to consider how Alexander Doty points out that ‘queering’ something implies that you are taking a thing that is straight and doing something to it. Rather it should be considered that it’s less about co-opting or subverting films – making things queer, and more about how something might be understood as queer.

It might be easy to read Zasu Pitt’s and Thelma Todd’s relationship, the brilliantly paired comedy twosome, as lovers. While they perform humorous heterosexual man-hunting, they sure seem to be most interested in each other and sure look adorable in their pajamas! I wonder, as Big Daddy says if there’s ‘something missing here’. Below, they are in the film short directed by Hal Roach – On The Loose 1931, with bobbed hair, leaning into each other in bed together, looking awfully intimate.

To be ‘queer’ is also to deconstruct existing norms and ‘destabilize’ them, making it harder to define, so that it is a clear picture of non-normative straight masculinity/femininity.

What was perceptible to those ‘in the life’ were expressions, and gestures, of the term often used by the Hays Code, ‘deviancy.’ One of the things that the Code banned in Clause 6 Section 2 on “Sex” was that “sex perversion or any inference to it is forbidden.”

Not that films during the reign of the Code were ripe with queer love stories, of course. There were none to be found beyond the foreign offerings of Oswald’s Different From the Others and Mädchen in Uniform. The most prevalent allusion to being gay was the flamboyant man who was the ambiguous bachelor or fussy asexual husband. If there was anything close to a butch woman, she could be an earthy farmer’s wife, a Marjorie Main or Patsy Kelly type (Both lesbians in real life). A tough-as-nails prison matron, a tyrannical madame, or a risque nightclub owner. Perhaps she’s an embittered heavy drinker or just one of the guys who is a faithful friend to the female lead. Maybe she never gets the guy or hasn’t met the right man. Perhaps she was married to a no-good bum and is off men for good!.. And just sometimes, sometimes it’s because… well some of us would know why!

Thelma Todd joined up with Patsy Kelly in comedy series. Here’s a lobby card for their Babes in the Goods. The two became very good friends during their collaboration.

Patsy Kelly had started in Vaudeville and appeared in Wonder Bar 1931 centered around a Parisian club. Kelly played Elektra Pivonaka and sang two lively songs.

She is known for her ballsy, straight-forward, no-nonsense persona, be it her tough-as-nails nurse Mac in Sam Fuller’s The Naked Kiss (1964) or as Laura-Louise, attending to Rosemary (Mia Farrow) in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968). Kelly played very non-feminine roles, injecting a bit of her ‘in the life’ energy into the characters in every one of her roles. More often than not she had an unglamorous reputation as a funny spunky, brassy, wise-cracking gal who played a lot of maids. She was outspoken about being an uncloseted lesbian, which hurt her movie career in the 1940s. But she had been a very successful actress on Broadway, returning to the stage in 1971 winning a Tony Award for No, No Nanette and Irene.

In director/screenwriter Sam Fuller’s sensationalist The Naked Kiss (1964), Patsy Kelly plays Mac the nurse, a hard-edged pussy cat. A no-nonsense nurse who lives for helping children with disabilities, but there is no visible sign that she has the slightest interest in men, aside from a smart-alecky comment about Grant bringing her back a man from Europe. Kelly might have wanted her role as an independent woman with a more offbeat way of stating that she is a tough dyke and expected Fuller to write her into the script that way. Knowing Kelly that’s a good assumption. The film is audacious in its scope for dealing with more than one theme, as taboo as prostitution, abortion, and pedophilia.

The Catholic Legion of Decency used their influence to label gays as ‘sexual deviants’, not be depicted on screen. ‘Deviancy’ was used to refer to any behavior deviating from what was perceived to be normal in terms of romance, sex, and gender. Hays even ordered all ‘Nance’ characters to be removed from screenplays.

The Federation of Women’s Clubs and the Hays Code tried to make symbolic gestures to maintain decency in films. The Legion of Decency was getting pressure from the Catholic Church. So in 1934 came up with A-acceptable B-Morally Objectionable and C-Condemned. Hollywood promised to observe the rules. The various subject matter was restricted to screen-open mouth kissing, lustful embraces, sex perversion, seduction, rape, abortion, prostitution, white slavery, nudity, obscenity, and profanity.

But all this unsolicited attention caused the studios to be watchful of their off-screen personnel, and they also had to be certain that the Los Angeles Police Department received payoffs to keep their mouths shut. Though the lurid and shocking subject matter was no longer tolerated on screen, the studios tried to continue to release their films without the intrusion of the Hays Office, even though from a commercial standpoint, sex sells.

Warner Bros.’ lack of cooperation with the Code until the bitter end and how Paramount, which was cooperative under B. P. Schulberg, decided to be “as daring as possible” under Emmanuel Cohen in 1932 and 1933. At MGM, Irving Thalberg’s resistance only really ended with his heart attack and journey abroad to recover in 1933. As James Wingate, Breen’s SRC predecessor, put things that same year: (Lugowski)

In 1934 Jack Warner ignored Breen’s letter and phone calls about a scene in Wonder Bar (1934) that explicitly demonstrates homoerotic desire. In it, one man cuts in to dance with another man, interrupting a woman who is dancing with her male partner. “May I cut in?”  she responds, “Why certainly,” as the man’s suitor grabs her chaperone to dance instead. The film stars Al Jolson who exclaims, “Boys will be boys!” Breen would later write, “It is quite evident that the gentleman [Warner] is giving me the runaround. He evidently thinks that this is the smart thing to do.” Wonder Bar may have added a flash of queer diversion as part of the entertainment, but it is an incredibly offensive and racist film using a cast who are in Black face.

During the ongoing Depression era, sissy and lesbian characters of the period continued to be screened as effeminate and mannish with one change. They became progressively sexualized between 1933-34. As the Depression moved forward, the Code needed to establish a “suitable” masculinity in film that would satisfy the morality police. They wanted this accepted masculinity to mirror the public art imagery that was now being federally funded by the New Deal in the mid-and late 1930s.

Before 1934 the studios were able to ignore the Code’s denouncement and endeavor to censor the movie industry but Hollywood filmmakers could no longer disregard the regulations issued by the Hays Code. The Legion of Decency forced the MPPDA to assert itself with the Production Code and formed a new agency, the Production Code Administration (PCA). The Hays Code was formed in 1930 but it only began to have a profound impact on Hollywood when the Production Code Administration (PCA) began strictly enforcing it in 1934. The crusade to save America’s purity and squash the filth mongers began a cultural war.

It was a system of moral oversight, conservatives lobbied to enforce, using the PCA to compel the industry to drastically adhere to it. PCA is strongest in explaining how the Code tried to at once repress and enable discourse to appeal to the broadest possible spectrum of viewers and to offend the fewest. (Lugowski)

And in 1937, the Production Code Administration (PCA), handed down Hollywood’s Movie Commandments that decried “No hint of sex perversion may be introduced into a screen story. The characterization of a man as effeminate, or a woman as grossly masculine would be absolutely forbidden for screen portrayal.”

The Code was detailed in two parts that reflected the foundation of Catholic principles. The moral vision and “particular applications a precise listing of forbidden material.”

The code was divided into two parts. The first was a set of “general principles” which prohibited a picture from “lowering the moral standards of those who see it”, so as not to wrongly influence a specific audience of views including, women, children, lower-class, and those of “susceptible” minds, called for depictions of the “correct standards of life”, and lastly forbade a picture to show any sort of ridicule towards a law or “creating sympathy for its violation.

The second part of the Code was a set of “particular applications”, which was an exacting list of items that could not be depicted. Some restrictions, such as the ban on homosexuality or on the use of specific curse words, were never directly mentioned, but were assumed to be understood without clear demarcation. Homosexuals were de facto included under the proscription of sex perversion.” — Wikipedia

The second part of the Code was a ban on homosexuality. Though it was not specifically spelled out, queers were the subject under review of ‘sex perversion.’ Though the Hays office would not stand for “more than a dash of lavender” as long as the representation (especially a non-desirable depiction of homosexuality) was fleeting and incidental. Thus, “Pansy comedy” was tolerable in Pre-Code Hollywood. “Despite the watchful eyes of the Hays Office, the trade paper Variety remarked that Hollywood continued what was called “queer flashes” and “mauve characters” who sashayed through Cavalcade 1933, Our Betters 1932, and Sailor’s Luck 1932.

The industry moguls and business offices finally had to follow the rules, clean up the ‘sinful’ screen and adopt a symbol of moral righteousness, that came along with a seal. The Code would be certified by a Code Seal printed on the lobby cards of each Hollywood film. And the seal would be an emblem that would appear on the motion pictures themselves. Any film without a Code Seal would be fined $25,000.

After some revisions, they agreed to the stipulations of the Code. … negotiated cuts from films and there were definite—albeit loose—constraints, a significant … against homosexuals, all in clear violation of the Hollywood Production Code.

Any sexual act considered perverted, including any suggestion of same sex relationships, sex, or romance, was ruled out.

Thus, during the Golden Age of Hollywood, the PCA scrutinized and censored, everything coming out of Hollywood and put its seal on each movie released. The Hollywood executives preferred to call it “self-regulation” and feared that censorship by the PCA would be even worse if they tampered with the creative ‘source’ of their product. Because of the studios’ defiance, Roman Catholics formed the National Legion of Decency, which became an influential group that would put Hollywood’s transgressions through the ordeal, of boycotts, picketing theaters, urging Catholics not to patronize these immoral movies or fall “under the pain of sin”, being met by hoards of angry protestors at the gates of the studio. Now religious groups and other moral traditionalists began a warlike campaign for the government to regulate what was shown on the screen.

Mae West: She Done Him Wrong 1933

Also, government officials were bent on making gay people invisible from cinematic narratives and the United States Supreme Court handed down the ruling that filmmakers were not protected by the First Amendment in the matter of free speech. They considered Hollywood to be a powerful mechanism that to exploit ‘sinful’ behavior on the screen and influence American audiences. This laid the groundwork for local governments that could weigh in and ban films from their theaters if they considered them immoral. Hollywood could not afford to lose money at the box office from governmental authorities, by negative publicity, or from the threatening boycotts by rabid church groups.

Motion pictures could be regulated and run out of town by cities, states, and by ominous extension, the federal government.

“After all, censorship had been a fact of creative and commercial life for motion picture producers from the very birth of the medium, when even the modest osculations of the middle-aged lovebirds in Thomas Edison’s The Kiss (1896) scandalized cadres of (literally) Victorian ministers, matrons, and other variants of a sour-faced species known as the “bluenose.” By common consent, the artistically vital and culturally disruptive spectacle of the motion picture – an entertainment accessible to all levels of society and degrees of moral temperament, including unassimilated immigrants,impressionable juveniles, and other menacing types – required editorial supervision from more mature, pious, and usually Protestant sensibilities” -from Archives Unbound

Hollywood was in the grip of the Code that saw the ‘dream factory’ movie machine as a Hollywood Babylon. While the powers that be were busy policing the murmuration of taboos, Pre-Code was a brief moment in history, a fruitful period between 1929 to 1934. Hays then appointed someone who could intercede between studio moguls and anti-Hollywood groups, Joseph I. Breen. “The vulgar, the cheap, and the tawdry is out!”

The PCA had been known as the Hays Office but to those in Hollywood, once the oversight became an operation with teeth, it became known as the Breen Office. Breen came in to take over the weak Studio Relations Committee (SRC). The Code consisted of thirty-six rules that informed Hollywood filmmakers to limit the representation of or normalization of subject matter considered by religious groups to be “unsavory or morally corrupt.” The SRC and the PCA were the inner mechanisms within the film industry, shaping the content of the film and heading off any ethical problems the film might encounter before it reached the local censors.

Dorothy Mackaill’s Safe in Hell (1931)

Many scenarios disappeared from the movies by mid-1934: for example, audiences would no longer see women’s navels, couples laying in bed together, murderers going unpunished, an illustration of a bedroom that isn’t merely recognized as a bed chamber. The normalization of drug use, the glamourization of criminal behavior, or not following the law, and of course any overtly revealed gay or lesbian character. After 1934, women would not be sporting short haircuts and tailored suits, confidently smoking cigars. Men toned down the gushy gestures that would be interpreted as flamboyant. Gay men and women were transformed into dowdy spinsters and high-strung bachelors.

What we started to see was an ambiguity, a narrative uncertainty that took the burden of responsibility off of the filmmakers and dropped the perception of the content into the laps of the audience. Since the Code asserted that no picture should lower the moral standards of those who saw it, it was a law that bound Hollywood’s accountability for their plots. Ruth Vasey calls the antithesis of this “the principle of deniability” which refers to the ambiguity of the textual vaguery that shifted the message to the individual spectator. Lugowski cites Lea Jacobs, “Under the Code ‘offensive ideas could survive at the price of an instability of meaning… There was constant negotiation about how explicit films could be and by what means (through the image, sound, language) offensive ideas could find representation.” The studios would have to come up with a structure of ‘representational conventions’, that could be understood by a more sophisticated audience yet would fly over the heads of more inexperienced spectatorship. Though producers felt the sharp sting of the Code as a mechanism of restraint, in terms of ‘queerness’ on screen, film studios could use the leverage of deniability to argue about the interpretation of certain scenes.

Once the limits of explicit “sophistication” had been established, the production industry had to find ways of appealing to both “innocent” and “sophisticated” sensibilities in the same object without transgressing the boundaries of public acceptability. This involved devising systems and codes of representation in which “innocence” was inscribed into the text while “sophisticated” viewers were able to “read into” movies whatever meanings they were pleased to find, so long as producers could use the Production Code to deny that they had put them there. Much of the work of self-regulation lay in the maintenance of this system of conventions, and as such, it operated, however perversely, as an enabling mechanism at the same time that it was a repressive one.-(Documents from the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, Inc., 1922 – 1939)

… by assuming that the social crisis over cinematic representation in the early 1930s was caused by the content of motion pictures. The institution of censorship in Hollywood was not primarily about controlling the content of movies at the level of forbidden words or actions or inhibiting the freedom of expression of individual producers. Rather, it was about the cultural function of entertainment and the possession of cultural power. (Tino Balio: Grand Design Hollywood as a Modern Business Enterprise 1930-1939)

Geoff Shurlock was appointed as acting director of the Production Code in the 1940s and as permanent director in 1954. Over the years, Shurlock would straddle the conflict, appeasing both movie producers, and morality mongers trying to persuade the Association Board that introducing more liberal thinking could protect the PCA from fading away. There were attempts to ease up on the Code, in 1954 he introduced an amendment that would eliminate various taboos, for instance, miscegenation, liquor, and some profane words, but producers felt that there weren’t enough considerations to the amendment and the Catholic Legion of Decency felt that even that much went too far. Shurlock had a tough time making everyone happy.

The 1950s witnessed a weakening of the Production Code to restrict specific representations such as adultery, prostitution, and miscegenation. By the beginning of the 1960s, the only specific restriction left was homosexuality = “sex perversion.”

In the 1960s, filmmakers pressured the Production Code Administration. In the fall of 1961, two films went into production that would deal with homosexual subject matter. William Wyler, who had initially directed Miriam Hopkins and Merle Oberon in These Three (1936), revealed that he was working on a more faithful treatment of Lillian Hellman’s play The Children’s Hour; that dealt overtly with the love that dare not speak it’s named. Around the same time director Otto Preminger began to adapt Allen Drury’s political novel Advise and Consent 1962, which delves into the lives of Senatorial candidates that uncovers controversial secrets, including Don Murray’s homosexual encounter.

Throughout Preminger’s career, he challenged the restrictions of the Code and eventually influenced their decision to allow homosexuality to be shown on screen. Also fighting to change the stifling rules was Arthur Krim, president of United Artists, who threatened to ignore the Code and release the film without the mandatory “seal of approval” forcing them to amend it’s ideological strangle hold.

On October 3, 1961, the Production Code Administration backed off: “In keeping with the culture, the mores and values of our time, homosexuality and other sexual aberrations may now be treated with care, discretion, and restraint.”

In order to maintain control of the Administration’s power at least in terms of how homosexuals were portrayed on film, they insisted that the subject be infused with medical overtones, to show it as an ‘illness’. Sympathy or illness in psychological terms, were two key factors. The Code’s changed the use of the word “sex perversion” and replaced it with “homosexuality.”

Don Murray –gay bar scene in Advise and Consent 1962

Another interesting shift was that they owned up to the fact that “mores and values of our time” were changing whether they liked it or not, people were becoming more in touch with the freedom to express their sexuality, society was becoming more permissive, the love generation was upon them and sexual representation was a fearless exploration reflected by a new generation of filmgoers.

Otto Preminger was the only major producer able to successfully release films without the Production Code’s Seal of Approval. He defied the Code (Hadleigh) with movies like Advise and Consent (1961) The Man with Golden Arm (1955) Anatomy of a Murder (1959) Wendell Mayes said “Look at the record–you’ll discover that many of the changes in the Code were a result of Otto Preminger breaking the rules”

Though the Code had been revised in 1961 to open up the door for portrayals of gays on screen, the sissy effete and predatory dyke took on a more sinister role. Because they had been hidden in plain sight using symbology that hinted at either failed masculinity or women performing masculinity. When the MPPA rating system was established in 1968 gays on screen were starting to kick the doors open but what was awaiting them was an even crueler denouement than during the reign of the Code. Queers were now portrayed as suicidal, predatory, or homicidal maniacs. And much like the coded gay characters under the Production Code, things moved very slowly in terms of progress for positive representations of being ‘queer.’

Dirk Bogarde and Dennis Price in Basil Dearden’s brave film Victim (1961)

Between January and June 1962, five films were released that dealt with homosexuality, almost as many as in the previous three decades. One did not receive a seal of approval from the Production Code Administration but was released nonetheless. Even without the seal of approval, British director, Basil Dearden’s Victim (1961) was reviewed in all the publications being considered. The liberal Catholic magazine Commonweal even disagreed with the Production Code Administration’s claim that the film made pleas ‘for social acceptance of the homosexual.’ “63 Still, the consensus among reviewers was that of the Production Code Administration and society at large: films should not and, for the most part, did not condone homosexuality. (Noriega)

This ban applied to all characters attracted to the same gender or characters who differed in their gender presentation or identity. While nudity and violence were quickly reintegrated into film canon following the abandonment of the Production Code, LGBT characters remained taboo. For decades after LGBT characters were allowed to appear in films, their sexuality and gender was shrouded in thinly-veiled innuendos and visual cues. If a character was to be openly same-gender attracted or transgender, they would be gruesomely killed or presented as morally corrupted. (Cleghorn)

Like the Code’s authors, film critics tend to examine the film itself, and not the discursive acts that surround a film and play a sometimes central role shaping its meaning(s). Contemporary gay and lesbian film criticism of Production Code era films operates on the same principle, with the added limitations that historical evidence and homosexual “images” censored. Thus, in order to ensure “the survival of subcultural identity within an oppressive society,” gay and lesbian film critics have employed a wide range of interpretive strategies to recuperate a history of homosexual images from the censored screen. The emphasis, therefore, has been on “subtexting” censored films from a singular presentist perspective. (Sophie Cleghorn)

Sources:

*Mike Mashon & James Bell for Pre-Code Hollywood Before the Censors-BFI  Sight & Sound Magazine (April 2019)

*Archives Unbound (1http://gdc.gale.com/archivesunbound/)

*Sophie Cleghorn: The Hollywood Production Code of 1930 and LGBT Characters.

*Wikipedia-Pre-Code

*David Lugowski-Queering the (New) Deal)

*Chon Noriega

During the period of Pre-Code, queer humor appeared in films such as Just Imagine (1930) and The Warrior’s Husband (1933). The male characters were feminized because of their affinity for writing poetry. This asserted that they must be queer.

The Warrior’s Husband directed by Walter Lang, is a film primarily cast with women. Yet the air of queerness permeates throughout because the women, featuring a butch Queen, are Amazons. Gender is inverted and several other female rulers cross-dress and exude a lesbian vibe. It is inhabited by independent women and swishy men who camped it up as ‘queens’ amusing themselves by flirting with all the good-looking men.

The Warrior’s Husband image courtesy Peplums Blogspot.com

Like so much self deemed culturally aberrant, the homosexual appears with greater frequency and readier acceptance in Pre-Code Hollywood cinema “The thirties was surprisingly full of fruity character comedians and gravel-voice bulldyke character comediennes” film critic Andrew Sarris observed in his touchstone study The American Cinema “but it was always played so straight that when ((character actors) Franklin Pangborn or Cecil Cunningham went into their routines, it was possible to laugh without being too sophisticated.” Maybe in the later thirties the homosexual was played straight but in the Pre-Code era, he and she was playing queer. No sophistication was needed to read the same sex orientations as gender disorientations.- Pre-Code Hollywood; Sex, Immorality and Insurrection in American Cinema 1930-1934 by Thomas Doherty.

Miriam Hopkins got the part of free-spirited Gilda in Ernst Lubitsch’s Design for Living 1933. This original Noël Coward play actually featured a Ménage à Trois between the three Bohemian lovebirds in Paris in the decadent thirties. The film also starred Gary Cooper as artist George Cooper and Fredric March as playwright Tom Chambers. The liberated Gilda becomes the girl both men fall in love with. The three make a pact to keep their mutual attractions platonic, but that doesn’t last too long, and they each begin a sexual relationship. When George comes back from a trip to Nice, he finds that Tom has taken up with Gilda. “I can’t believe I loved you both.”

Ben Hecht’s screenplay didn’t have a trace of any of Coward’s romantic relationship between George and Tom. Ernst Lubitsch, known for his sophisticated style, directed memorable witty interactions between all four players. Edward Everett Horton as Max Plunkett plays Miriam’s bland suitor. Horton is, as usual, a whimsical idiosyncratic delight to watch. And Franklin Pangborn Mr. Douglas, Theatrical Producer is a perfect theatrical queen who is thoroughly annoyed when Gilda approaches him in the restaurant about Tom’s (Fredric March) play “Good Night Bassington”, as she leaves him with this thought, “There, read it, I’m sure you’ll adore it, it’s a woman’s play…”

Al Jolson “Boys will be boys” Wonder Bar (1934)

Any portrayal of on-screen “sex perversion” or homosexuality, even those connected with various tropes of ‘deviant’ sexual behavior were restricted after the enforcement of the Production Code in 1934.

Lending the Code moral authority even within the limits of pure love, asserted the Code delicately certain facts have been universally regarded by lawmakers as outside the limits of safe presentation Father Lord and Mr. Quigley saw no need to defile the document by typesetting long lists of “pointed profanity” or “vulgar expressions” Likewise, the prohibition against homosexuality dared not speak the name, but it didn’t need to spell it out. “Impure Love” the love which society has always regarded as wrong and which has been named by divine law… must not be presented as attractive or beautiful.”-Pre-Code Hollywood; Sex, Immorality and Insurrection in American Cinema 1930-1934 by Thomas Doherty.

Different From the Others (1919) Conrad Veidt and Fritz Schulz two musicians in love — during the period of Pre-Code.

But, outside of the United States, films were a little more adventurous. Austrian director Richard Oswald’s film bravely shows two men in love. The “third sex” was eventually mocked. One of the earliest films to feature two men in love was the 1919 silent film from Germany,  Different From the Others. Director Richard Oswald’s story of two male musicians in love had a typical unhappy ending, but it depicted gay people in a positive light. The film condemned the German law known as Paragraph 175, which outlawed gay behavior. Different Than the Others was censored soon after it was released. Starring Conrad Veidt it is considered the first pro-gay film.

Joseph Breen viewed any meaningful treatment of queer cinema as perverted. Conrad Veidt also gave an emotionally evocative role in The Man Who Laughs 1928, playing a violinist who falls for his student and is then blackmailed for it. The rising Nazi party in Germany attempted to erase these films from the screen, and this made Oswald flee to America.

But, the Hays Code made certain that no films of this type would be seen in the United States. Even books and plays with gay, lesbian, or bisexual narratives were reworked and any content related to the subject was erased in order to meet the social code of the time.

Other non-American films included Dreyer’s Michael (1924) and Mädchen in Uniform (1931) directed by Leontine Sagan and again in (1958) with Lilli Palmer as Fräulein Elisabeth von Bernburg and Romy Schneider as Manuela von Meinhardis. And Viktor Und Viktoria (1933) directed by Reinhold Schünzel.

Mädchen in Uniform (1931) was directed by Leotine Sagan, and starred Dorothea Wieck and Hertha Thiele.

William Dieterle’s Pre-Code German film Sex in Chains (1928) stars the director as Franz Sommer a man sent to prison for manslaughter who, though longing for his wife, develops a close relationship with his cellmate. A fellow inmate informs Franz that he’s “lived to see someone unman himself, just so he could finally sleep.”

In 1927, during the Pre-Code period, director William Wellman’s Wings won an Academy Award for Best Picture, and it also depicted the first gay kiss between two men in American cinema.

Wings follows two Air Force pilots in World War I, Jack (Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers and Dave (Richard Arlen) who at first rivals for the affections of the beautiful Mary (Clara Bow) before they discover the underlying love they begin to feel for each other. During a boxing match at training camp gets too rough and Jack knocks Dave bloody and silly. Dave gazes up at Jack with an epiphany and the two walk off arm and arm as close ‘buddies’. The relationship is referred to as friendship, but the film paints a picture of two men falling in love.

Dave is mortally wounded in combat at the end of the picture, Jack embraces his dying ‘friend’ with a tender yet impassioned kiss while Mary looks on, framed with her on the outside looking in. Wellman humanizes the men’s close relationship in this scene when Jack leans into Dave to embrace him as he dies. He lets him know that nothing has meant more to him than their relationship. The moment feels sympathetic instead of exploitative, yet he mourns Dave’s death. And though it is tinged with homoerotic elements, the case can always be made that it is a story about war, which brought two men closer together.

The Knocking Knees dance. Horton’s homosexuality – comedic, subtle, and acceptable in The Gay Divorcee (1934)

In The Gay Divorcee (1934) crossing the threshold is the archetypal ‘Sissy’, Edward Everett Horton. Marginalized audiences were looking to the movies for any indication of the familiar, any little crumbs left as a trail to be picked up. For instance, there is a moment in Johnny Guitar, the fiercely burning with sensual brawn, Joan Crawford. Bigger than life up on that screen, androgynous in her black cowboy shirt, strides down the stairs, gun in her holster waiting to confront coded dyke, Mercedes McCambridge. Many women’s chests, mine included, heaved a little with delight. That flutter of excitement hit us again when Doris Day sings the sentimental “Secret Love” in Calamity Jane (1953).

In Myrt and Marge (1934) Ray Hedges plays the flaming stagehand Clarence Tiffingtuffer he’s told “Here put this in the trunk and don’t wear it” speaking about one of the show girls costumes. In his boldly effete manner “If we got the runs on the show, the way the girls got in their stockings, I could put the 2nd down payment on my Kimono.”

Clara Bow, Willard Robertson, and Estelle Taylor in Call Her Savage (1932)

From Call Her Savage 1932 purportedly the first on-screen gay bar.

In director William Wyler’s These Three (1936) the relationship between Miriam Hopkin’s Martha and Merle Oberon’s Karen was delicately subtle and though to mainstream audiences might be seemingly obvious to interpret as two women attracted to the male lead, Joel McCrea. It revised Hellman’s play that centered around Martha’s love that dare not speak its name, for Karen. Sam Goldwyn bought the rights to Lillian Hellman’s play The Children’s Hour, a story depicting the supposed ‘carryings-on’ of two female teachers at a private school for girls. Though, These Three on its face is the story of a love triangle between two women and a man, it could read as Martha being more uncomfortable with the presence of Dr. Cardin (McCrea) because he is intruding on her closed relationship with Karen. The later screenplay adapted into the film, The Children’s Hour (1961) directed by William Wyler, was boldly more explicit and revealed the true nature of Martha’s predicament and her struggle with her love for Karen.

These Three (1936) Merle Oberon and Miriam Hopkins.

The Children’s Hour (1961) Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn.

Coded characters in the film were on the screen relaying messages and signaling to those of us who understand and who are “in the life: that movies can reflect the existence of a queer reality. These representations were not necessarily positive, but films showed evidence that we exist. You would see it in a revealing gesture, or an air of difference about them, though it would be inconspicuous to audiences that were unaware of the cues.

Continue reading “Chapter 2 – Queers and Dykes in the Dark: Classic, Noir & Horror Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters:”

THE BIG VIOLENCE OF FRITZ LANG’S THE BIG HEAT (1953)

“Lang’s almost musical control of violence deferred both apprehension and catharsis” –Carlos Clarens

“The “heat” in this instance is the appalling cruelty; but the “big heat” is criminal slang for a large-scale investigation and an allusion to the hellish state of the city.” —David Thomson

The Big Heat (1953) is perhaps one of Fritz Lang’s most violent noirs. It is an explosive noir masterpiece filled with striking images of the urban milieu that is often the site of Lang’s allegorical urban war. But here there are also themes of revenge, obsession, sexual hostility, and corruption. The nightmare exposed as realism in the everyday spaces of the city.

“Violence is the most consistent motif in the film noir; virtually no noir is without it. Its importance is complicated and often explained in sociological terms to justify its aesthetic power. As a statement in itself, violence in noir cinema a distinctive use. Whereas its purpose in the pure gangster film has often been to explain the sociopathic breeding and greed of thuggish personalities who reach power and control, violence in the noir is less explicable and more arbitrary less a matter of historical cause and effect than an unexpected and intense exercise of rage. […] The Big Heat—each has moments of violence that jar us by their cold-bloodedness, occasionally terrify us in their perverseness. suggest a darker cruel impulse.”
—From Violence In The Noir Street With No Name: A History of the Classic American Film Noir by Andrew Dickos

The film’s cold dimensions come from Sidney Boehm’s script (based on the novel by William P. McGivern) which conveys perhaps the most ferocious rage in the noir canon. It opens with a gunshot. A corrupt police records sergeant, Tom Duncan, blows his brains out, leaving a suicide note which reveals how gangster Mike Lagana (Alexander Scourby) —a first-generation immigrant— has risen to power, holding the city in the clutches of highly organized criminals. Just as Homicide Detective Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford) who is a working class family man, Lagana is an upper-class family man, worshiping the memory of his mother and doting on his daughter. In contrast, Lagana made his money through shady dealings. Duncan’s suicide sets forth a chain of events in where the narrative of the film pivots on it’s violence.

JEANETTE NOLAN & GLENN FORD Film ‘THE BIG HEAT'(1953)Directed By FRITZ LANG 1Oct. 1953 CTJ27877Allstar/Cinetex COLUMBIA

Duncan’s widow Bertha (Jeanette Nolan) shows no emotion over her dead husband’s lifeless body and stashes the letter. She telephones Lagana, cleverly signaling the implications of her husband’s suicide. Now that she possesses evidence that can expose the syndicate boss who runs the city from his palatial mansion, Bertha proceeds to blackmail Lagana. She is thinking of providing for herself a better lifestyle than a cop’s salary.

When Bannion comes to the door she must pretend to be the grieving widow. Bertha gazes at herself in the mirror, the camera holding mirrors in the background as symbols of deceit. And it’s a premonition of Bannion’s fractured morality as he is about to go on a mission of retaliation. The noir iconography of mirrors depicts duplicity and fragmentation. Charles Lang’s cinematography transforms the ordinary environment, texturing it with anxiety.

Lagana lives against skyscrapers and a starry city night scene, but in his home, there are antiques and expensive artwork, a hive of servants, and classical music: this riles Bannion. “Cops have homes, too. Only sometimes there isn’t enough money to pay the rent, because an honest cop gets hounded off the force by your thievin’ cockroaches for tryin’ to do an honest job.”

Bannion refuses to drop the investigation into Duncan’s suicide. His domestic bliss is shattered when his wife Katie (Jocelyn Brando) first gets an obscene call. This leads him right to the door of Lagana’s opulent home to threaten him. When Bannion insults Lagana’s pride, he plants a bomb in Bannion’s car that accidentally kills his wife. The violent act itself happens offscreen, but the brutal aftermath of such evil becomes the center of the film, a cautionary tale of human behavior and corruption.

The film juxtaposes scenes of the domestic innocence of Bannion’s family yet with the explosive violence he is capable of when he is driven to bring people down. He’s transformed into an avenging angel. He goes on a personal crusade against Lagana, resigning from the force after he’s warned by corrupt Commissioner Higgins (Howard Wendell) to lay off. He tosses his badge, but not his .38, simmering “That (gun) doesn’t belong to the department, I bought it.”

Bannion’s life is now bleak with his private war to expose Lagana’s grip on the city and the corruption within the police. He leaves the wholesome suburban home he shared with his wife, now empty except for his daughter’s baby carriage in a barren room. With no future before him, he leaves his former home without a trace of his once blissful life.

It is this desolation that springs the violence to come. Bannion rampages through the screen, threatening and intimidating poker-playing bullies as he invades with vigilante fantasy Lagana’s corrupt landscape. Bannion, once an average man, turned into the bitter vision of a noir hero who is being pushed to his capacity for violence. Bannion becomes obsessed with vengeance against the Syndicate boss and his chief thug, the sadistic Vince Stone (Lee Marvin). He roughs up hired gunman (Adam Williams), just short of killing him.

Bannion hunts down Duncan’s mistress, a B-girl Lucy Chapman (Dorothy Green) who knows where the bodies are buried and she tries to salvage Duncan’s reputation. But Bannion accuses her of “a shakedown,” walking out of the bar feeling morally superior to Lucy.

She is found the next day outside of town, tortured and murdered by sadistic criminals. The brutal murder takes place off-camera but we still hear the horrifying account in the coroner’s report. The morgue attendant asks “You saw those cigarette burns on her body?”, “Yeah, I saw them. Every single one of them.” As he crushes his cigarette into the ashtray, a nod to his culpability in her death.

Hirsch claims that few film noirs can or even try to sustain the pitch of these intensely violent moments. “These privileged moments are isolated from the rest of the films in which they occur by their special intensity but not by their content: the best film noir thrillers ‘earn’ and can absorb these moments of visual and theatrical virtuosity; the violence and mania that are highlighted in these passages of kinky vaudevillian cinema flow directly from the noir milieu.” – From Film Noir The Dark Side of the Screen by Foster Hirsch

Vicious Vince Stone, a vicious deranged hoodlum who gets off on torturing women, using one of them as an ashtray, burning a cigarette into a barfly Doris’ (Carolyn Jones) hand — a disquieting show of cruelty. Gloria Grahame is sexy, incendiary, and delightful as Stone’s girl, Debbie Marsh. Debbie is a smart-mouthed girl drifting amid the macho posturing of the gang. She becomes an ally of Bannion’s after she realizes her life palling around with criminals is aimless and dangerous. Bannion gives her a gun for protection, “the big heat falls for Lagana, for Stone, and all the rest of the lice.” The big heat purifies Debbie and Bannion in the climax.

As Debbie, Gloria Grahame possesses a sharp wit, moral ambiguity (half of her face is covered with bandages, two distinct profiles she presents), and enigmatic sensuality. “I’ll have to go through life sideways…” “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Believe me, rich is better.” Looking around Ford’s hotel room, “I like this. Early nothing.” Debbie’s a positive counterpoint to the materialistic middle-class Mrs. Duncan, who pushed for her husband to lie down with Lagana, and eventually, kill himself.

Debbie becomes Bannion’s agent of death, blasting open the whole corrupt system. She shoots Bertha Duncan at the same desk her husband committed suicide. In this pivotal moment, she exposes the depth of evil in the narrative by handing over the suicide letter.

Just before Debbie shoots Bertha, “You know Bertha, we’re sisters under the mink.” Hailing from the gutter, Debbie’s only complicity with Bertha and her corruption is that they share the same symbol of greed and luxury. And they are both marked for a fall and a noir fate.

The Big Heat has some of the most virulently aggressive attitudes and scenes, not least of which is the iconic moment when Lee Marvin splashes a scalding hot pot of coffee in Gloria Grahame’s face, scarring her for what’s left of her life on screen. After she is savagely injured when in a jealous rage, Debbie retaliates at her ex-boyfriend by scalding his face the same way. In the escalating crescendo of Debbie’s dramatic demise, Vince shoots her in the stomach. Debby dies looking for love and approval from Bannion, her gruesome scars are obscured by her beloved mink coat. As she dies, she is redeemed and her morality is restored.

Toward the end, Bannion can’t look at Debbie’s face until their one intimate moment before she dies. He confesses wanting to kill Bertha Duncan, acknowledging his rage and finally seeing her in himself. The shadow patterns projected onto them by the window suggest a symmetry in their relationship. Bannion maintains his moral superiority and doesn’t submit to his murderous temptations.

All of the women in Bannion’s life meet with a tragic end. Bannion is unselfconscious of the victims he leaves in the wake of his mission. Most are women, with four dying violent deaths during the film, suggestive of Lang’s streak of misogyny.

“Lang’s almost musical control of violence deferred both apprehension and catharsis. Quiet, intimate moments were invested with characteristic threat through the intrusion in the frame of a lampshade or even a potted plant, empty rooms seemed to lie in wait for people. The tension was so expertly set up that when the picture finally let go with the violence, the viewer was ready—indeed rooting—for it.” — From Crime Movies by Carlos Clarens

This is you EverLovin’ Joey sayin’ stay out of trouble, will ya!

From the Vault: Ace in the Hole (1951) It’s a good story today. Tomorrow, they’ll wrap a fish in it.

Rough, tough Chuck Tatum, who battered his way to the top … trampling everything in his path – men, women, and morals!

Directed by Billy Wilder, and written by Billy Wilder, Lesser Samuels, and Walter Newman. Ace in the Hole stars Kirk Douglas as journalist Chuck Tatum, who Molly Haskell points out gives a “ferociously determined–over the top, sadomasochistic performance.” Jan Sterling is brilliant as she pulls off disdain and a bitter indifference to her dying husband, with “tremendous, nervy gusto” and a quite witty toss-out of funny one-liners. The cast also includes Robert Arthur, Porter Hall, Frank Cady as Al Federber, Richard Benedict as Leo Minosa, Lewis Martin, Ray Teal, and Gene Evans. The film has an eye-piercing grasp of realist cinematography by Charles Lang (The Ghost and Mrs. Muir 1947,  Some Like it Hot 1959, Charade 1963, Wait Until Dark 1967), a stirring score by Hugo Friedhofer, and costume design by Edith Head.

Ace in the Hole can be categorized as a socio-noir film, not unlike the films of Elia Kazan. Writer Molly Haskell puts it this way:

Noir in Broad Daylight By Molly Haskell Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole “almost requires an honorary expansion of the term film noir. There are no private eyes in seedy offices or femmes fatales lurking in the shadows of neon-lit doorways, no forces of evil arrayed against a relatively honorable hero. This emotional snake pit, the darkest of Wilder’s dark meditations on American folkways, takes place under the relentless sun of a flat New Mexican desert. The noir is the interior inside a mountain tunnel where a man is trapped and suffocating, and inside the mind of a reporter rotting from accumulated layer of self-induced moral grime.”

Andrew Dickos says in Street With No Name that “Wilder’s film noirs are problematic cases because their visions are steeped in cruel and corrosive humor, distinctive in its own right and in its ability to function apart from the noir universe.”

Film Noir The Directors edited by Alain Silver and James Ursini–“Wilder’s sunlit visual style set outdoors in rural New Mexico daylight shows a brighter noir look while his bleak worldview slams media, reporters, TV, radio, even the American public. Wilder constructed a huge set near ancient ruins with chiaroscuro tunnels where Tatum shines a flashlight for eerie demon lighting. His antihero reporter is a failed writer in an extraordinary cold hearted performance by Kirk Douglas who is caustic and unsympathetic toying with a philandering married blonde femme.”

An unethical crackerjack journalist Charles Tatum –recently fired from his job in New York rolls into town– is literally towed in without a cent in his pocket, and is virtually stranded in the sleepy New Mexican town of Escudero. He boldly walks into the small newspaper office and offers himself up for sixty dollars a week to the editor Jacob Boot (Porter Hall) who wears suspenders and a belt, both. After a year of dull reporting, Boot sends Charles Tatum to cover a rattlesnake hunt. Charles takes photographer Herbie (Robert Arthur) along with him, looking for a real story that he can grab hold of. On their way to cover the rattlesnake hunt, they stumble onto a local tourist attraction right off the main highway. There has been a cave and Leo Menosa is trapped. Leo was sacrilegiously poaching burial possessions from the ancient Indian cave dwelling, and that perhaps sealed his fate. He sells the pots at his family’s general store/diner run by his wife Lorraine (Jan Sterling). Lorraine is a sassy and icy-bleached blond who’s fed up with her life with Leo. Leo finds his legs pinned beneath heavy rocks with dirt and dust snowing all over his unshaven face. The sense of claustrophobia can make your own chest heave with the lack of oxygen each frame draws you inside the buried hole in the cave. 

Tatum hasn’t any morals and delays the rescue to develop a ‘human interest’ story — a real front page shocker!– that will probably get his job back at his cushy desk in New York City. He has his eyes on the Pulitzer Prize and not on the safety of the poor schnook who is buried alive in the cave. Tatum brazenly begins to manipulate the players around him so that he is in control of the story. He first arranges for the rescue operation to be diverted to the engineer going in through the top of the mountain which will prolong his recovery by a week instead of the 12 hours it could take to get poor Leo out. He ingratiates himself with the crooked sheriff angling for re-election and promises big-time publicity. This puts him in a position to keep other journalists from getting access to the story.

Charles Tatum: “I don’t belong in your office. Not with that embroidered sign on the wall; it gets in my way.”

Jacob Q. Boot : “Then it does bother you a little.”

Charles Tatum: “Not enough to stop me. I’m on my way back to the top, and if it takes a deal with a crooked sheriff, that’s alright with me! And if I have to fancy it up with an Indian curse and a broken-hearted wife for Leo, then that’s alright too!”

 

Herbie Cook: “The old man sure looked bad. Did you see his face?”

Charles Tatum: “Yeah.”

Herbie Cook: “Like the faces of those folks you see outside a coal mine with maybe 84 men trapped inside.”

Charles Tatum: “One man’s better than 84. Didn’t they teach you that?”

Herbie Cook: “Teach me what?”

Charles Tatum: “Human interest. You pick up the paper, you read about 84 men or 284, or a million men, like in a Chinese famine. You read it, but it doesn’t stay with you. One man’s different, you want to know all about him. That’s human interest.”

Jan Sterling wants to just take her suitcase and leave the poor slob in the literal dust and get out of there. But Tatum, after a hard two slaps to the face raising welts (I swear those slaps were real!) tells her that she is going to play the grieving wife for the public face of the story. She decides to stay around when spectators from all over begin showing up and the money starts flowing in. They renamed the film The Big Carnival, as the entire site becomes a voyeuristic masturbatory orgy of onlookers and parasites who want to see Leo in the midst of his predicament. The unsavory hawkers sell their goods, Carnivals set up a Ferris wheel and rides, and push cotton candy and hot dogs, and balladeers make up hero songs about Leo and swarm like ants all over the tragedy to feed off the situation for their own curiosity. The human interest story in the film is more about the way human nature is geared toward our tendency to be social piranha, than about caring individuals who want to reach out a hand and help.

Tatum and Sheriff Gus Kretzer (Teal) strong-arm the construction contractor (Lewis Martin ) to take a longer route to the waning Leo to drag the story out for the week it will take for Tatum to make the headlines nationally. Drawing out the tragedy, Leo becomes a victim twice. The whole mood of the piece is claustrophobic and unsettling.

Lorraine throws herself at Tatum who treats her like garbage all the while Leo is daydreaming about getting out of the hole and celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary, for which he’s bought her a garish fur wrap.

From the beginning, Tatum has pretended to be Leo’s advocate to get himself out of the hole. Bringing him the newspaper and cigars, offering him a chance to come with him to New York City once he gets out. Even as Leo is slipping away, Tatum keeps trying to suck more life out of the guy just to prolong the story. He’s like a man who has made a deal with the devil and sold his soul for the story. He’s made it so he is the only one authorized to go into the cave and visit with Leo. Leo trusts him and considers him his friend, and doesn’t realize that he is exploiting him as a bargaining tool to get his NYC boss to rehire him back to the newspaper at $1000 a day.

The film is bold, in-your-face, and starkly grim. The frenetic outside “carnival” is offset by the closing in of the hole in the cave that is quickly closing in on Leo.

The film was a hit outside of the United States but did not do well in the U.S. Douglas and Starling were phenomenal in their roles. It was hard to decide who was the worse human being, though, Tatum comes in first as the conundrum of the self-effacing self-aggrandizing provocateur who laughs at the sampler in the office that boasts TELL THE TRUTH, who then causes Leo to lose his life. “Bad news sells best. Cause good news is no news.”

Sterling had some of the best lines in the film.  “I met a lot of hard-boiled eggs in my life, But you, You’re twenty minutes!”

When Tatum suggests that she get some rosaries and go with the ladies to pray for Leo she tells him–

“I don’t go to church, kneeling bags my nylons.” – Lorraine

 

In the end, the devil catches up with Charles Tatum…

He says to Editor Boot–“How’d you like to make yourself a thousand dollars a day, Mr. Boot? I’m a thousand-dollar-a-day newspaperman. You can have me for nothing.

The film possesses intense moments while Douglas stares into the abyss, his eyes on fire, his face locked in a monomaniacal grimace as Leo slowly takes his last breath. There is not one atonement in Chuck Tatum’s character to iron out the cynicism of Wilder’s dark vision. There are few players who exhibit a scrap of humanity.

From Film Noir Reader 3 Billy WIlder interview by Robert Porfirio:

RB: Critics still haven’t written a great deal about it, but it was deeply affecting…{…}…being a depiction of how some people exploit others’ tragedies.

BW:   Our man, the reporter, was played by Mr. Kirk Douglas. Now, he was on the skids and he thought that a great story would get him back into the big time, big leagues. He remembered the Floyd Collins story.  Now, I looked up the Floyd Collins story. They composed a song, they were selling hot dogs, there was a circus up there, literally a circus, people came. I was attacked by every paper because of that movie. They loathed it. It was cynical, my ass. I tell you, you read about a plane crash somewhere nearby and you want to check out the scene, you can’t get to it because ten thousand people are already there: They’re picking up little scraps, ghoulish souvenir hunters. After I read those horrifying reviews about Ace in the Hole, I remember I was going down Wilshire Boulevard and there was an automobile accident. Somebody was run over. I stopped my car. I wanted to help that guy who was run over. Then another guy jumps out of his car and photographs the thing. “You’d better call an ambulance” I said. “Call a doctor my ass. I’ve got to get to the L.A. Times I’ve got a picture. I’ve got to move. I just took a picture here. I’ve got to deliver it.” But you say that in a movie, and the critics think you’re exaggerating.”

This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying just give me a shout if you’re ever stuck in a hole and I’ll come running!

The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938) A magnificent specimen of pure viciousness & pure scientific research… by a magnificent Screwball

THE AMAZING DR. CLITTERHOUSE (1938)

Dr. T.S Clitterhouse-“Crime and research.”

Dr. T.S. Clitterhouse-“The greatest crime of all!” ‘Rocks’ Valentine-“What’s that?” Dr. T.S.Clitterhouse“Why, Homicide naturally.”

Directed by Anatole Litvak (The Sisters 1938, Confessions of a Nazi Spy 1939, Out of the Fog 1941, Blues in the Night 1941, Snake Pit 1948, Sorry, Wrong Number 1948, The Night of the Generals 1967) With a screenplay co-written by John Huston and John Huxley. Based on the play by Barré Lyndon – Music by Max Steiner lends a dark and dramatic flourish to the sinister & mordant essence of the narrative.

Cinematography by Tony Gaudio (The Mask of Fu Manchu 1932, Lady Killer 1933, The Man With Two Faces 1934, Bordertown 1935, The Story of Louis Pasteur 1936, The Life of Emile Zola 1937, The Sisters 1938, Brother Orchid 1940, The Letter 1940, High Sierra 1941, The Man Who Came to Dinner 1942, Larceny, Inc. 1942, Experiment Perilous 1944, Love From a Stranger 1947)

The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse converges into several genres–black comedy with deadly dark overtones, crime drama, the gangster movie, suspense & psychological noir with classical horror elements evidenced by the duality of the schizophrenic hero.

Though absurd, it’s enjoyable Litvak’s direction, Huston’s screenplay, and Gaudio’s arousing photography make it an enjoyable film to watch.

While watching Litvak’s film again, it suddenly hit me (smack between my green eyes) there is one significant trope that stood out so obviously, so clearly to me. Strange that I hadn’t realized it during my first viewing.

Dr. Clitterhouse is an archetypal Jekyll & Hyde figure, using his immersion into criminal activity rather than a smoky elixir to drink down his uneasy gullet, that would normally transform his outer appearance into a fiend, Clitterhouse still becomes transfigured as a criminal and a murderer by and because of his endeavors.

Edward G. Robinson as Pete Morgan in The Red House (1947) directed by Delmer Daves.

The story raises the question of the duality inherent in the protagonist J.T. Clitterhouse, where it is possible to tap into the dark side, the doctor diverges into a classical medical/science horror with personality traits being tainted by the evil/immoral tendencies that people are capable of. When exploring immoral activities that can ‘change a man’s personality’ there is always a fatalistic inevitability. The disambiguation of the situation-there is no horror props, no mysterious mad scientifically developed drug inducement– it is the single act, desire, and curiosity of a scientist seeking answers concerning the criminal mind that literally subsumes the nature of the personality examining the questions. i.e. Dr. Clitterhouse becomes not a monster, but a criminal and ultimately a murderer.

Clitterhouse is seduced by the excitement he experiences and embraces the darker side of himself without the use of a scientific ‘horror’ concoction. While presented as a gangster film, its conceptualization of medical/science experimentation on vicious human nature, aberrations in psychology, and the criminal mind elucidates the clear philosophical themes of classical medical-science horror.

Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948) written by Barré Lyndon stars Edward G. Robinson as a phony mentalist haunted by greed and a sense of impending doom. Co-stars Gail Russell and John Lund.

Film genres’ lines were often blurred in the 1930s & 1940s, in particular a few of Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart’s films which intersected with crime, noir, and horror narratives. In particular director Delmer Daves’s frightening The Red House (1947) and director Julien Duvivier’s Flesh and Fantasy (1943) and Night Has a Thousand Eyes 1948 starring Edward G. Robinson.

Continue reading “The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938) A magnificent specimen of pure viciousness & pure scientific research… by a magnificent Screwball”

Quote of the Day! Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950)

Directed by Gordon Douglas and screenplay by Harry Brown (A Place in the Sun 1951, Ocean’s 11 1960)– Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye is a violent, unrelenting bit of noir that stars James Cagney as Ralph Cotter, Barbara Payton as Holiday Carleton and co-stars Luther Adler, Ward Bond, Steve Brodie, and Helena Carter. The film draws you in by way of a flashback to Ralph Cotter who lacks a sense of right and wrong, a loathsome sociopath who with the help of Holiday Carleton makes a bold jailbreak. The ruthless Cotter manages to pull a series of robberies but when he manipulates a naive overindulged socialite Margaret Dobson (Helena Carter) a crooked lawyer and two corrupt cops on his in the picture, they become his downfall.

Holiday Carleton (Barbara Payton) to Ralph Cotter (James Cagney) “You only said one true thing in your life, and that’s when you said you were going away tonight. And you are. Many miles out of town and six feet under. All alone, with nobody to lie to. And you can kiss tomorrow goodbye.”

Your EverLovin’ Joey saying there’s no need for us to say goodbye, we’ll always have tomorrow!