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 who lends a dark and dramatic flourish to the sinister & mordant essence of the narrative.

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

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

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

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

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

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 are no horror props, no mysterious mad scientifically developed drug inducement– it is the single act, desire and curiosity of a scientist seeking answers concerning the criminal mind that literally subsumes the nature of the personality examining the questions. i.e. Dr. Clitterhouse becomes not a monster, but a criminal and ultimately a murderer.

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

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

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

Then Humphrey Bogart’s exploration into the diverging genres were apparent in The Return of Doctor X (1939), and The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947) directed by Peter Godfrey.

Humphrey Bogart in The Return of Dr. X (1939) directed by Vincent Sherman

As far as science horror goes -from the opening edge of The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse -frames smoky bubbling flasks. Gothic science horrors would be replete with such laboratory paraphernalia.

The film stars the extraordinarily versatile Edward G. Robinson as Dr. T.S. Clitterhouse, co-stars Claire Trevor as the marvelous self-sufficient crime boss Jo Keller. And Humphrey Bogart as mean as spit ‘Rocks’ Valentine.

Included in the fabulous cast of characters actors are many other beloved Warner Bros. stock players. Alan Jenkins as Okay, Donald Crisp as Inspector Lane, Gale Page as Nurse Randolph, Henry O’Neill as Judge, John Litel as the Prosecuting Attorney, Thurston Hall as Grant, Maxie Rosenbloom as Butch, Bert Hanlon as Pat, Curt Bois as Rabbit, Ward Bond as Tug, Vladimir Sokoloff as Popus.

The film Warner Bros. released in 1938 is an adaption of a British play performed on stage in London a few years earlier with Sir Cedric Hardwicke in the title role.

Apparently Edward G. Robinson wasn’t happy with his role in the film, and Humphrey Bogart like it even less, referring to it as The Amazing Dr. Clitoris. Both actors appeared in three other gangster films where they played adversaries –Bullets and Ballots (1936), director Michael Curtiz’s Kid Gallahad (1937) and Brother Orchid (1940).

Bogart felt that The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse was not advancing his career playing second fiddle to Robinson. Bogart would finally be taken seriously as a leading man in director Raoul Walsh’s They Drive By Night (1940) and High Sierra (1941) co-starring Ida Lupino.

The film stars the extraordinarily versatile every-man who can play it cruel and ruthless or unassuming and weak– Edward G. Robinson as Dr. Clitterhouse brings the perfect measure of seemingly invulnerable genius driven by his short-sighted crusade to study the criminal mind.

The film also stars the seductive and equally versatile actress Claire Trevor who won The Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress as the tragic Gayle Dawn in 1948 for Key Largo (Dead End 1937, director Robert Wise’s Born to Kill 1947 co-starring Laurence Tierney, Raw Deal 1948, Borderline 1950 ) As the gutsy crime boss Jo Keller who heads a gang of lovable miscreants. Jo finds herself drawn to Clitterhouse, partly because he’s not the kind of man she usually runs around with.

Humphrey Bogart brings his gruff hardened criminal type and mean as spit ‘Rocks’ Valentine, whose implacable toughness cuts through Clitterhouse’s sterile academic objectivity in the narrative. The two clash at every turn, until the force of their conflict creates a final verdict.

Robinson, Trevor and Bogart would reunite ten years later in John Huston’s Key Largo (1948) their working chemistry manifests splendidly in the crime genre. While Key Largo is the grittier story, The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse lends these three stellar actors a playground to exercise their tremendous adaptability to any role.

Edward G. Robinson plays T.S. Clitterhouse an esteemed Park Avenue physician who is invited to some the city’s most affluent cocktail parties. What the polite set doesn’t know about their charming intellectual guest is that he is acting as cat burglar stealing fortunes in jewels (not for money, he is quite well off financially) but for the purpose of conducting his research and gaining insight into the pathology of the criminal mind and the physiological changes in the active criminal’s physical and mental conditioning during the commission of a crime which he hopes to publish in a medical tome that will help inform both psychologists and law enforcement.

To indulge in the criminal atmosphere to the fullest, he insinuates himself into the city’s toughest gang and the head of the organization that is able to fence such expensive quality jewels. Jo Keller (Claire Trevor) is the high stakes fence in charge of her gang of thugs and miscreants led by the gruff and vicious ‘Rocks’ Valentine (Bogart) The gang pulls jobs all the while trying to evade capture by one Clitterhouse’s acquaintances, Police Inspector Lewis Lang played by the wonderful character actor Donald Crisp (Jezebel 1938, Wuthering Heights 1939, How Green Was My Valley 1941, The Uninvited 1944.)

The film opens with dramatic music by Max Steiner, on the title screen there is a laboratory with smoking, bubbling flasks behind the credits to invoke the feeling of science, cut away to…

There is a woman singing opera as she is accompanied on a piano at a high brow cocktail party. The camera pulls back and through a window we see a flashlight and someone taking jewelry out of a safe, the flashlight is the only source of light in an otherwise pitch black room. During Mrs. Updyke’s party, it is Dr. Clitterhouse himself who manages to crack the safe full of priceless gems beating one of ‘Rock’s Valentine’s and Jo Keller’s gang to the vault. He examines the expensive jewels and loads them into his medical bag.

A second man, enters into the nearly black room. Later his identity is revealed as of a thief called Candy (Billy Wayne) who climbs into the already open window and Clitterhouse’s flashlight shines on his bewildered face. He is told to put his arms up and turn around and face the wall. He assumes that it is the police. Then Rocks Valentine (Bogart) appears in the window, and is stunned to see what’s going on — he ducks down then climbs back down to the ground.

Clitterhouse’s (Robinson) distinct voice in the darkness tells him to remain with his hands up, as the first intruder (Dr. Clitterhouse) leaves the room, opening the door, and moves toward the sound of the opera singer.

Dr. Clitterhouse appears amidst the guests now as the opera singer finishes her aria. Mrs.Frederick R. Updyke (Georgia Caine) tells him that she’s in good voice this evening- he humors her “Inspiring, simply inspiring Mrs. Updyke.”

As Clitterhouse has takes a snoot full of brandy and walks away rolling his eyes because the caterwauling vocalist has decided to grace the guests with another moving soprano rendition, he makes a phone call to check in with his service, he’ll be going to the hospital to check in on one of his patients soon. Suddenly he hears a scream from upstairs.

Apparently the maid has discovered the safe has been cracked. He remains on the phone calmly giving some prescriptive advice to his nurse, while the rest of the guests head toward the stairs like a herd of well dressed antelope. The maid, “A burglar -your jewels -he came in through the window.” While the guests and Mrs. Updyke are hysterical, Clitterhouse has an amused and knowing smile on his face, finishing his phone call composed and unaffected by the sudden chaos.

The next phone call Clitterhouse dials –police headquarters – “Hello, Good Evening, I want to report a robbery at Mrs. Frederick R. Updyke’s house.”

The third phone call Clitterhouse makes is for an ambulance– the butler has shot Candy one of Jo Keller’s gang and is now the suspected burglar. The comedy of Clitterhouse’s calm, collected and calculated phone calls is subtle and farcical.

Mrs. Updyke- “Are we all going to be frisked?” Officer-“Yes Ma’am I’m sorry.” Mrs.Updyke answers giddily“Oh don’t apologize, I think it’s thrilling.”

Laying on the stretcher Candy who was shot in the shoulder insists he didn’t do ‘nothin’. Clitterhouse examines the bullet wound and Candy looks at him strangely and says  “Say didn’t you and me meet someplace before?”

Clitterhouse’s pedigree shows-“I hardly think so.” Candy asks a guest standing over him –“Who is this fella?” The guest-“Why, Dr. Clitterhouse of course.”  There’s a hand on Clitterhouse’s shoulder, the doctor looks up and it’s Inspector Lane (Donald Crisp) he looks up at him- “Oh, Inspector Lane, Isn’t this a prosaic case for you to be on?” Lane-“It may look like nothing to you, but I’m hoping it’s the end of all my headaches these last few months.” He tells the suspect Candy to hand over the ice, but Candy tells Lane he’s never seen any ice. “I ain’t got no ice on me, your dicks’ll tell ya.” Lane’s officers tell him that they searched him but found nothing. “I’m telling you I never saw it, I never had a chance, somebody beat me to it.” Lane asks him who he’s working with. “Just a lone wolf. What about Rocks Valentine?”Candy tells him-“I never worked, (knowing pause) Rocks who?” “Don’t act dumb you slipped that jewelry to somebody. Come on spill it.”

Lane instructs his men to search everyone, the servants and even the guests. Clitterhouse for a moment looks worried. Lane keeps interrogating the suspect, who insists there was somebody else in the room who was already going through the wall safe when he climbed in the window. “That’s on the level.”

Clitterhouse gets a call, he needs to be at the hospital already for emergency surgery. Lane even gives Clitterhouse a motorcycle escort. Clitterhouse takes his medical bag that was on the floor of the closet from the butler who was certain he had placed it on the shelf above when Clitterhouse first arrived. And as he walks out the —the butler pauses as he ponders a second thought at what just transpired. He knows the bag was on the top of the shelf before the robbery. Curious…

Clitterhouse evades Inspector Lane’s suspicion, all the while holding onto the goods in his medical bag which he brings with him to surgery. His devoted Nurse Randolph (Gale Page) finds the jewels and winds up discovering that it’s been Dr. Clitterhouse who is responsible for all the Park Avenue jewel thefts in order to conduct his research, where he records his blood pressure, pulse, pupil reaction, during and after he commits the crimes.

Nothing hints at the duality of Clitterhouse’s conscience and his Jekyll & Hyde personality more than this cross fade into the next scene. The psychological noir iconography of the mirror symbolic of the dual personae and his conscience represented by the police reflected in the glass.

In the surgical arena Dr. Clitterhouse is about to perform surgery on Counselor Grant who has a serious back problem. Clitterhouse is shown as a highly regarded surgeon having friends in high places, which is convenient for insinuating himself into the investigations for the 4 inexplicable robberies.

Dr. Clitterhouse tells him to relax and not be so jittery. The cantankerous and agitated counselor argues with Clitterhouse- “My dear boy I’ve had over a hundred clients face the electric chair I’ve never been jittery yet.” Clitterhouse-“But your clients were.” Clitterhouse needs his glasses and asks Miss Randolph to fetch his glasses which happen to be in his medical bag.

Nurse Randolph looks in the bag, while the counselor is giving Clitterhouse a hard time about him operating. Randolph finds the bag filled up with a glittering fortune of jewels, she has opened Pandora’s Box. Nurse Randolph watches as Clitterhouse discusses with another doctor how without the elliptical surgery on the counselor’s back, it might result in paralysis. “Oh Miss Randolph… (he sees her with the bag) What are you doing?… aren’t you getting my glasses?” “Yes indeed I have them right here.” “I’m sorry if you had any difficulty finding them?” “Not at all doctor only your bag was unusually full.” Counselor Grant (Thurston Hall) interjects. “Can I interrupt that big medical conference to ask for a cigarette” Clitterhouse-“Oh nurse you won’t forget to keep an eye on my bag.”

He’s already established that Nurse Randolph is an ally, who isn’t planning on turning him in. She is showing her loyalty and respect for him. Nurse Randolph will keep Clitterhouse’s secret.

Give this crank a cigarette please!!!!!!

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Quote of the Day! Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950)

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!

3 Strong Anti-Heroines of 1950 Film Noir: Life’s Rough “You see kid, in this cage, you get tough or you get killed. Better wise up before it’s too late!”

Life’s Rough: Three Strong Anti-Heroines of 1950 Film Noir

“You see kid, in this cage, you get tough or you get killed. Better wise up before it’s too late!”Kitty Stark, Caged (1950)

The 1950 films, Caged!, The Damned Don’t Cry, and The File on Thelma Jordon, contain three women performing female masculinity. A common thread these characters possess is ‘metamorphosis.’ They are forged by male institutions and they must adapt to survive. Each woman is thrust into a noir narrative.

In Caged!, Eleanor Parker leaves innocence outside the prison bars and is transformed into a hardened, jaded criminal in order to survive. Joan Crawford, a poverty-stricken mother in The Damned Don’t Cry rises as a high-powered opulent underworld mistress to prevail and support herself. Barbara Stanwyck is predatory, manipulating a weak man to gain access to her Aunt’s fortune in The File on Thelma Jordon — Stanwyck ultimately becomes a fallen figure of remorse and redemption.

Like their noir male counterparts, they become anti-heroines as past actions come back to haunt them.

Film noir of 1950 desired realism, decadence, and transformation. Femme-fatales thrive using sexuality to claim independence from weak, damaged, sexually-obsessed men, unable to resist dangerous influences. These women master patriarchal organizations, taking control of their bodies and identities to avoid gender enslavement in a male hetero-driven society.

In most noir films men are the central figures–isolated from their surroundings, closed in by circumstances beyond control, but married to fatalistic visions with stoic passivity. By flipping this trope on it’s battered head, these women invoke female masculinity driving their characters. As anti-heroines they adopt masculine armor to navigate masculine institutions. They’re placed in situations that impose a definition of what a woman is and should be. They adopt feminine masculinity to survive.

“Female masculinity is framed as the rejected scraps of dominate masculinity in order that male masculinity may appear to be the real thing… Masculinity in this society inevitably conjures up notions of power and legitimacy and privilege; it often symbolically refers to the power of the state and to uneven distributions of wealth.” — Halberstam, Female Masculinity

Caged! (1950)

You don’t know women until you know them without men!

Directed by John Cromwell, Caged! is set in a women’s prison and plays out like a savage dance with “unremitting pessimism” (Crowther) with the women performing masculinity to gain power. It is a “dames in the hoosegow” film (New York Herald Tribune), indicative of socially conscious 1950s noir. The women are demeaned in prison, and to prevail they appropriate masculine primacy.

Caged! boasts an incredible ensemble. Eleanor Parker’s persuasive performance as Marie Allen, a delicate young woman subjected to cruelty by the sadistic degenerate Matron Evelyn Harper (punctuated to the hilt by imposing 6’ 2” Hope Emerson).

Wonderful character actors include Betty Garde as Kitty Stark, Ellen Corby as Emma Barber, Jan Sterling as Jeta Kovsky (aka Smoochie who loves to kite checks, buys pretty shiny things, and can’t stay out of prison), Olive Deering as June Roberts, Gertrude Michael as Georgia, and Lee Patrick as ‘vice queen’ Elvira Powell.

American actress Eleanor Parker acting in the film ‘Caged’. USA, 1950 (Photo by Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)

The film opens with the police van door swinging opening —“Pile out, you tramps. This is the end of the line”— to reveal the ‘new fish’ in the fatalistic incarceration cycle. The central figure is a timid, pregnant and nervous 19 year old Marie who gets the book thrown at her for helping her husband commit armed robbery- “For that forty bucks I heisted I certainly got myself an education.” Her role as an accomplice, sitting in the car waiting for the bum, lands her 15 years in prison. With a doe-eyed shocked gaze, she is thrown into a primal world. The intake nurse’s examination reveals she is ‘expecting company’ — with her dead husband’s child. Marie, number 93859, is sweet candy for the cold-blooded, menacing Matron Harper.

Marie doesn’t fall for Harper’s charms, thus she is subjected to dehumanizing torture by Harper, the bon bon-eating, romance novel-reading dyke who enjoys personal comforts and flaunts luxuries (as a grotesque phony femme) to the women prisoners who don’t have any privileges.

Harper brutally beats Marie causing her to lose her baby, thus her motherhood is taken away.

Removing her femininity, her identity, Harper shaves Marie’s hair. When vice queen Elvira distributes lipsticks at Christmas, Harper cruelly takes them away. Harper, embedded in the masculine system, creates an environment where the weakest women must become predatory cons, shedding their femininity.

Sympathetic warden Ruth Benton (Agnes Moorhead) allows them to keep cosmetics as a connection to the outside world. Believing in rehabilitation, Benton bucks bureaucracy, but her altruism blinds her from the vicious brutality.

The mood at the prison heats up and Kitty kills Matron Harper. Marie is worn down by the inhumanity of prison life and disillusioned by Harper’s corrupting influence over inmates. She changes from a shivering innocent to a smart-mouthed hard-bitten con. Her efforts to go straight are sabotaged by the sadistic Harper. Marie learns the hard way how to earn parole, but she’s already stigmatized and changed by the system.

Jan Sterling, Ellen Corby, Marjorie Crossland, Olive Deering, Betty Garde, and Eleanor Parker in Caged (1950)

Through Marie’s eyes we experience the dehumanization and objectification, from the moment she is processed, to her release. Influenced by other miscreants and malcontents Marie evolves into a criminal by the system constructed to rehabilitate. She sheds her victimhood and takes on a powerful masculine approach, but not with ruthlessness of a femme fatale. Marie becomes a criminal. She’s independent, as only a man could be in 1950.

When released at the gates, she gets into a fancy sedan with shady characters. She’s become a prostitute for her butch mentor Elvira who has given up on men completely. “If you stay in here too long, you don’t think about guys at all. You just get out of the habit.” –Elvira

Warden Benton keeps Marie’s file open as she watches out the window “Keep it active, She’ll be back” summarizing the Sisyphean absurdity of prison, hardening and transforming women without any hope.

THE DAMNED DON’T CRY (1950)

“Call me CHEAP?” Nothing’s Cheap When You Pay the Price She’s Paying!

Directed by Vincent Sherman, with a screenplay by Harold Medford and Jerome Weidman. Cinematography by Ted D. McCord  (The Treasure of the Sierra Madres 1948, Johnny Belinda 1948, I Died a Thousand Times 1955, The Sound of Music 1965) (wardrobe Sheila O’Brien who worked on all of Joan’s pictures, Sudden Fear 1952, Flamingo Road 1945, Female on the Beach 1955)

Stars Joan Crawford as Ethel Whitehead, David Brian as George Castleman, Steve Cochran as Nick Prenta, Kent Smith as Martin Blackford, Hugh Sanders as Grady, Selena Royle as Patricia Longworth, Jacqueline deWitt as Sandra, Morris Ankrum as Jim Whitehead, Edith Evanson as Mrs. Castleman, Richard Egan as Roy.

Joan Crawford is Ethel Whitehead/Lorna Hansen Forbes, a woman from harrowing poverty, who leaves her husband, Roy, after their son Tommy is tragically killed. She starts over in New York City first as a cigar store clerk, and model for a cheap fashion wholesaler. She eventually climbs to the top of the high society/criminal underworld wearing a facade of respectability. While usually men abandon families, Ethel is the one to leave. Crawford perfectly performs the role of power and masculinity.

The Damned Don’t Cry portrays a bleak, dark, corrupt world. The story is told in flashbacks. Directed by Vincent Sherman (All Through the Night 1942, Mr. Skeffington 1944, Nora Prentiss 1947, Affair in Trinidad 1952, The Garment Jungle 1957) The film co-stars Steve Cochran as Nick Prenta, David Brian as George Castleman, and Kent Smith as Martin Blackford, and Jacqueline de Wit as Sandra.

Ethel begins as unsophisticated modest woman, married to an oil field worker, dirt poor, plain looking, and beaten down. An oppressed housewife and mother, judged harshly by her misogynist father, and husband Roy who says “You’ll never do enough for her.” She becomes an elegant ambitious society climber who dismisses suggestions her life is corrupt and immoral. Crawford manifests her signature cunning in the ferocious pragmatic transformation.

Ethel lives with her parents and beloved son Tommy, who wants a bicycle but Roy says it’s too much money. Wanting her son to be happy, she makes a down payment on the bike. Furious, Roy demands it be returned. On his way to the store Tommy rides down the road, and is hit by a truck, and killed. His death ends their marriage, and Ethel leaves.

Roy says he’s “done the best he could.” Ethel answers “Well it ain’t good enough.”

Unlike male protagonists with more choices, in this narrative Ethel can only be a model or prostitute.  She performs female masculinity by adopting independence. Ethel creates power to choose her own fate, possessing what Hirsch calls ‘a lonely man’ trope.

Another model, Sandra, introduces Ethel to a new world, convincing her to go out with wealthy businessmen. She becomes the glamorous mistress of gangster George Castleman, showered with riches— fur coats, diamonds, and haute couture. George helps Ethel’s metamorphosis into a wealthy socialite, Lorna Hansen Forbes, and she enters the inner circle of gangsters.

Ethel now known as Lorna, exploits her beauty, relying on rich men to pay for the privilege of her company. She learns she must selfishly grab for herself. Negotiating her body for wealth is a means to an end. Lorna’s selfishness emerges.

Lorna surpasses Sandra’s petty schemes to aim for the brass ring of ultimate luxury.

She befriends mild mannered Martin Blackford, an account who falls for her. Encouraging him to become Castleman’s bookkeeper, she uses him to get ahead. Martin brings a dark brooding presence into Lorna’s life which is visually actualized in a scene where Lorna is sunning herself at the pool, Blackford casts a symbolic dark cloud over her light-hearted sexually care free embodiment. The closeup shows Ethel’s face as the sun’s rays emblematically reflect in her sunglasses. Taking them off, she turns off the sunlight, and is confronted with Blackford’s bitterness.

The jaded Lorna tells the neutered Martin “You’re a nice guy, but the world isn’t for nice guys. You gotta kick and punch and belt your way up cuz nobody’s going to give you a life. You’ve got to do it yourself. Cuz nobody cares about us except ourselves… It’s that stuff you take to the bank, that filthy buck that everybody sneers at but slugs to get.” Martin is afraid he’ll lose self-respect. “Don’t tell me about self-respect!” Ethel snaps. “That’s what you tell yourself when you got nothing else!”

Her glamorous life ultimately comes at a price. Castleman wants to use Lorna to spy on Nick Prenta, as he suspects Prenta of killing one of his men Grady (Hugh Sanders) and making it look like a car accident planting a bottle of alcohol at the scene. Castleman fears Nick Prenta is organizing the men against him. He sends Lorna to insinuate herself with Nick Prenta in order to find out what he is up to and report back to him. Setting him up for a hit. Instead Lorna starts falling in love with the handsome rogue gangster who has a reputation for his womanizing. Lorna winds up defying Castleman by not staying in touch and actually falling for the guy instead.

Martin then shows up telling Lorna, (though he still refers to her as Ethel out of spite) that George Castleman has sent him to check up on her, he hasn’t heard from her in a while. The moment we see Martin’s scruples have eroded is during the pool scene which illustrates Martin’s own transformation from a nice decent guy to one of George’s thugs, with his smug tone and his dark sun glasses. He warns Lorna not to hold out on George. He boasts about how powerful he’s become and that people listen to him. He offers her some ‘sound advice’ “Has he promised you the world too!?”  referring to Nick Prenta and sneaking in a good dig at how she used him at one time. “He means nothing to me, except he’s a human being.”Don’t tell me that disturbs you.” Martin has become so jaded and embittered.

Later Nick Prenta asks Lorna to marry him, she is moved to tears as she embraces him. Lorna asks, “Do I really mean that much to you?” Nick tells her, “Everything, why is that enough?” Lorna –“Then get out of this, Nick, I’m scared about what you’re doing, what you’re planning, what it will lead to, if you don’t give this up.” “If that’s what it takes to get you, you’ve got a deal. I can get out of this inside a year” “No, it’ll be too late then” “But I can’t get out now Lorna, this is a big jump I’ve got to see it through.”

Lorna begs him to give it all up, but he kisses and sends her back to her hotel room where she finds Martin and Castleman waiting for her. Castelman is sitting in the dark, giving off a sense of menace from the shadows. “Hello Lorna” he puffs on his cigar then rises from the couch. “Aren’t you glad to see me?” Suddenly he begins grilling her about Nick Prenta’s meeting, but she tells him that she doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Castleman tightens his fist and smacks Lorna across the face, his paranoia about the meeting and his gang aided by Prenta out to get him is driving him into a frenzy.

In his fury, even Martin gets worried about Castleman’s sudden violent outburst. Then he hits Martin and knocks him down, and begins beating Lorna brutally as she tries to convince him that she’s not in love with Nick Prenta, it’s just that she doesn’t want anyone to get hurt. She tells Castleman that she’s still in love with him.  But he growls at her, “You’re lying, you’re so used to lying and cheating and double crossing that you almost make it seem good.”

Castleman throws Lorna into the glass window that shatters. Martin tries to defend her, and calm Castleman down, telling him it’s enough. Castleman says “She’s no good, not even to you” yet Martin thinks fast on his feet, “But she is to you, she can still help, she can still be useful.” Castleman tells Martin looking down at the battered Lorna,  “There’s only one thing to do with dirt, sweep it up.” Martin tells him, “Listen to me, you want Nick don’t you? She can get him” Castleman responds, “You got a brain Marty, best kind, the kind you don’t got go out and buy.”  As Castleman says this he looks disdainfully at poor Lorna lying in a pile of broken glass all bruised and sobbing.

Martin convinces Lorna to call Nick Prenta and get him over to the hotel room. Prenta shows up already knowing her true identity, he must have heard it from Eddie Hart. She is lost in shadow, beaten down and crying, Prenta sarcastically tells Lorna, “I want to apologize for busting in on you like this Mrs. Forbes, but a friend of yours, Eddie Hart said it would be okay, he said Castleman might not like it, but Ethel Whitehead would go for anything.”  But when he sees how badly beaten Lorna is he comes to her side, until he is confronted by Castleman, who emerges out of the shadows and tells him that while Prenta likes to be in the headlines he’s gonna move him over to the obituary column. Prenta turns to Lorna, “You dirty tramp!”

A fight breaks out and Castleman shoots and kills Prenta. In the turmoil, Lorna takes off in her car. Castleman tells Martin that they’ll have to dispose of Prenta first and then “I want her.”

Once Lorna fails to stop Castleman she is transformed once again through resignation and redemption having gone full circle through her own journey of hell.

Martin tries to protect Lorna from Castleman, by telling the police that it was George Castleman who killed Nick Prenta. In the meantime, Castleman wants her dead. And he knows the truth about where Lorna comes from, where she was probably heading and he’s on his way there.

Lorna now home in Bakersfield, arrives at the broken shack with her fur coat and her Ray Foreman coif. Her parents first reject her. The bitter Martin has shed his anger by now, hopelessly in love with Lorna, he shows up to try and protect her from the vicious Castleman. In the films ironic rhythm of fate, she symbolically comes full circle, winding up on the same road where her son died.

Martin tells her that she needs to move on and keep running before Castleman catches up with her, but she’s worried that he’s unfinished business now too, since he’s turned on Castleman. He reminds her “We do what we do– what was it you once said?, because we can’t help ourselves.” 

Castleman shows up at Lorna’s home. She quietly walks out of the house, so as not to endanger her mother and father and Martin who are talking in the kitchen.

In the brutal climax Lorna calmly, stoically and courageously confronts the vicious George Castleman.

He asks for Martin but Lorna lies and covers up for him, saying she hasn’t seen him. She boldly with new resolve walks right up to George Castleman. He asks if she’s been waiting for him. “Strangely enough George there was a time when I did wait for you. And no one else. but that’s over now.”

In a struggle to take the gun away from Castleman, Lorna gets shot and wounded, lying in the dirt wearing her fur coat, –hows that for symbolism! Then Martin comes out of the house and  shoots Castleman down and his getaway car leaves without him, while he’s lying there dead.

The police and the press show up pushing for all the answers to Lorna (Ethel’s) involvement.

Two cops outside the house start talking about the case. Cop one-“Pretty tough living in a place like this” Cop two”Tougher to get out” Cop one“Wouldn’t you?”  Cop two shakes his head “Yes!”

Having traveled through her journey performing the code of female masculinity she has reclaimed herself, found her empowerment and emerged as her own woman again. We are left wondering what the future holds for Lorna/Ethel, now not only emancipated, if not redeemed, as the anti-heroine of The Damned Don’t Cry!

THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON (1950)

Thelma Jordon: “I’m no good for any man for any longer than a kiss!”

Directed by Robert Siodmak, written by Marty Holland with a screenplay by Ketti Frings. Cinematography by George Barnes (Rebecca 1940, Jane Eyre 1943, Spellbound 1945, Mourning Becomes Electra 1947, Force of Evil 1948, War of the Worlds 1953) Costumes designed by Edith head

Starring Barbara Stanwyck as Thelma Jordon, Wendell Corey as Cleve Marshall, Paul Kelly as Miles Scott, Joan Tetzel as Pamela Blackwell Marshall, Stanley Ridges as Kingsly Willes.

Barbara Stanwyck plays Thelma Jordon who uses a gullible attorney to cover up her crimes of murder and larceny, secretly in cahoots with her sleazy husband. As in Double Indemnity, Stanwyck masterfully plays a ‘vice-ridden murderess.’ She performs female masculinity, playing the aggressor— pursing lovers, greed, and power.

Directed by Robert Siodmak, the film opens with Thelma in a small town district attorney’s office reporting burglary attempts at the mansion she shares with her aunt. She begins an affair with DA Cleve Marshall (Wendell Corey), who is in a loveless marriage. Thelma is also married to the sinister Tony Laredo. An icy femme fatale who desires danger, she’s drawn to Tony’s equally nefarious nature and devours Cleve who is weakened by her magnetism. Thelma starts out the femme fatale, her fatal flaw is falling in love with Cleve, feeling remorse, and sacrificing herself to become redeemed in the end.

Thelma’s aunt is murdered in an apparent robbery and her emerald necklace is missing. Fearing Tony will be implicated, she cleans up the evidence, and calls Cleve to help. Thelma is cold and calculating, casting Cleve as her lover and accomplice known only as Mr. X. Cleve tells her to shut the lights and pretend she was asleep when the police arrive. Cleve leaves, making sure to seen but unrecognized by the butler who discovers Aunt Vera’s body.

When Tony’s alibi checks out, Thelma is arrested for murder. While the police try unsuccessfully to prove her guilt, she and Tony plan to leave town. By now Cleve has uncovered Thelma’s checkered past.

He accuses her of duplicity and Thelma admits he was part of the plot. When Cleve confronts her, Tony’s dark presence looms. The camera shows both men juxtaposed in the room, Tony’s dark presence looms— he is too irresistible to let go.. Cleve is too normal and unselfish to be stimulating for her deviant desires. With both men framed in contrast, Thelma realizes she belongs with the dark and dangerous Tony. Tony beats Cleve to a pulp, leaving with Thelma.

But driving down a winding mountain road, Thelma’s pang of conscience gets the better of her and she causes the car to plunge off the cliff. It’s a darkly romantic gesture, suicide by flaming car crash is her attempt at redemption. She hopes with her death, Cleve can repair the ruination of his life. But this is noir, and he cannot wake from the nightmare.

Tony dies but Thelma lives long enough to confess her crimes. She does not give away Cleve as Mr. X, but Miles (Paul Kelly) is suspicious. His career in shambles, Cleve walks off into the uncertain shadows of noir. Thelma dies, redeemed. It’s noir universal justice, Thelma cannot get away with her Aunt’s murder and continue her affair. She must be brought down by fate’s hand.

Miles: ”She’s confessed everything except who her Mr. X is.”

Cleve looks at her “Why don’t you tell him?”

Thelma: “I love him, that’s why. I couldn’t go on with him Cleve. You did that for me. I’m glad I told. All my life struggling, the good and the bad.”

Cleve: “Save your strength darling.”

Thelma: ”Willis said I was two people, he was right. You don’t supposed they could just let half of me die?”

This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying, it’s great to spend time in the darkness of noir’s shadows & under the influence of fate’s pointed finger, but you gotta come out into the light til the next time around!

Happy NoirVember!, Joey

A Trailer a Day Keeps the Boogeyman Away! The Prowler (1951)

THE PROWLER (1951)

Directed by Joseph Losey (M (1951 version) These Are the Damned 1962, Eva 1962, The Servant 1963, Modesty Blaise 1966, Accident 1967, Secret Ceremony 1968) Music by unsung composer Lyn Murray.

The Cinematography by Arthur C. Miller (How Green Was My Valley 1941, The Song of Bernadette 1943) creates both a landscape of alienation within the city and continues to spread even in the wide open spaces. Miller understands how to frame his visual lens in the same way George E. Diskant, Nicholas Musuraca and Conrad L. Hall do. By taking the internal machinations of the players, the subtexts (usually themes of alienation) and either the pervasive or subtle moralizing, is transposed onto the landscape as either closed-in space or vastly wide open in contrast.

Evelyn Keyes (Johnny O’Clock 1947, The Killer Who Stalked New York 1950, Iron Man 1951, Hells Half Acre 1954) who has a natural gutsy ‘real woman’ sex appeal plays a repressed suburban California housewife Susan Gilvray married to the older John (Sherry Hall)who works nights as a late night radio host.

One night she sees a prowler outside her house and calls the police to come Webb Garwood ( Van Heflin) and his partner Bud Crocker (John Maxwell) show up to investigate but don’t find anyone lurking around. There’s something seedy and intrusive about Webb who shows up a second time Susan is more like a shut in and so she invites Webb in for a cup of coffee.

Of course Webb makes a play for Susan as he had already set his sights on her during the initial call. The two wind up in having an affair, until her husband John gets a clue that somethings going on. Susan ends it with Webb and he quits the police force.

Webb concocts a plan to murder John making it look like he is accidentally shot dead during what would be thought to be another prowler incident. At the inquest John’s death is ruled an accident.

Van Heflin plays a perfectly tightly wound psychopath who swarms and suffocates Evelyn Keye’s character Susan until she is trapped by his frightening obsessiveness with control and greed. The climax is quite intense as the pacing leaves you gasping for air a bit in that classic Losey bleak and nihilistic view of human nature that his is style.

  • IMDb trivia—Novelist James Ellroy (“L.A. Confidential”, “The Black Dahlia”) once called this his favorite film and described it as “a masterpiece of sexual creepiness, institutional corruption and suffocating, ugly passion.”

Webb Garwood: “I didn’t do it, Susan. I’ll swear that by the only thing I ever really loved and that’s you.”

I’ll be prowling around The Last Drive In folks! Your EverLovin Joey

MonsterGirl “Listens”: Reflections with great actress Audrey Dalton!

me and my mollusk

Audrey Dalton

The bewitchingly beautiful Audrey Dalton was born in Dublin, Ireland who maintains the most delicately embroidered lilt of Gaelic tones became an American actress of film in the heyday of Hollywood and the Golden Age of television. Knowing from early on that she wanted to be an actress while studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts was discovered by a Paramount Studio executive in London, thus beginning her notable career starring in classic drama, comedy, film noir, science fiction, campy cult classic horror and dramatic television hits!

Audrey My Cousin Rachel
Audrey Dalton as the lovely Louise Kendall in Daphne du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel (1952) directed by Henry Koster.

Recently Audrey Dalton celebrated her birthday on January 21st and I did a little tribute here at The Last Drive In. Visit the link above for more great info and special clips of Audrey Dalton’s work!

Since then I’ve had the incredible honor of chatting with this very special lady whom I consider not only one of THE most ethereal beauties of the silver screen, Audrey Dalton is a versatile actress, and an extremely gracious and kind person.

While I’ve read a few interviews one in particular in a division of USA TODAY: The Spectrum  Audrey Dalton survived a sinking, a ‘Serpent’ and a stallion by Nick Thomas. 

The article in USA Today asked about Titanic, Deborah Kerr, Rita Hayworth, designer Edith head, the pesky mollusk and her appearances in several notable film and television westerns.

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Naturally they inquired about Audrey Dalton’s monumental contribution to one of the biggest beloved 1950s ‘B’ Sci-Fi  treasures and she deserves to be honored for her legacy as the heroine in distress, pursued by a giant Mollusk, no not a Serpent nor giant caterpillar it be!

She is asked… eternally asked about this crusty bug eyed monster, and why not! it’s part of a fabulous celebration of what makes films like The Monster that Challenged the World (1957) memorable for so many of us!

The love for these sentimental sci-fi films are still so much alive! Early this year, Audrey Dalton joined Julie Adams to celebrate with fans both their iconic legacies for starring in two of the most popular monster films of all time… The Monster That Challenged the World (1957) and The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954).

She’s been asked about her wonderful performance as Annette Sturges in Titanic (1953) with focus on her co-stars Barbara Stanwyck and Clifton Webb, and of course about one hilarious anecdote around her role in several westerns, including TV shows like The Big Valley, Gunsmoke, Bonanza and Wagon Train, and her fabulous fear of horses! Even more than that giant drooling crustacean? “That monster was enormous!” –Audrey commented in her interview with USA Today.

I don’t have a video of Ms Dalton on a rambunctious horse, but here she is giving a fine performance in the television hit series that ironically reunites Stanwyck as the matriarch of the Barclay family and Audrey together again…tho Stanwyck is not in this scene, she works well with actor Richard Long in an episode called ‘Hazard’ in The Big Valley (1966). Audrey went on to do one more episode as Ann Snyder in season one called Earthquake.

I am most taken with Audrey Dalton’s wonderful nostalgic joy and her earnest appreciation for the collaborations off camera and on the set- having a true sense of warmth, togetherness and a passion for her craft and fellow cinema & television artists, crew and players. I’ve used the term “players” when I refer to actors, something that Audrey Dalton pointed out to me was not only a very endearing description, but in addition, something I hadn’t known and felt an adrenaline rush to learn that Boris Karloff was known to do as well. Perhaps he is my grandpa after all. I can dream can’t I?

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Drum Beat
Alan Ladd and Audrey Dalton on a horse in Delmer Daves’ western Drum Beat (1954)

Audrey told me that she had a fear of horses, having expanded on it when interviewed by USA Today “I hate horses!” she admitted. “I mean I’m really scared to death of them. In one show I had to ride down a very steep hill and felt sure I was going to fall. I got through it, but when the scene was over the director asked, “Could you do it again, this time with your eyes open?”

My little conversations with Audrey seem to drift more toward our mutual appreciation of her experience working with Boris Karloff in some of the most evocative episodes of that ground breaking television anthology show THRILLER  hosted by the great and dear Boris Karloff.

The Hollow Watcher
Audrey plays the beautiful woman/child Meg O’Danagh Wheeler a mail order bride from Ireland married to Warren Oates the son of a bully played masterfully by Denver Pyle, Meg is a jewel trapped in a tortured space of rural repression and hounded by a folk lorish Boogeyman called The Hollow Watcher released in 1962-Link to past post above.

I hesitated asking one question which this feature is usually founded on. Because of my great admiration for years that I’ve held for Ms.Dalton, I couldn’t put restrictions on this wonderful opportunity to listen to the wisdom and sacred reminiscence by such a special actress.

Normally I call this particular feature MonsterGirl Asks, where I put one specific question to someone special in the entertainment industry, arts or academic world instead a full blown interview asking predictable or possibly stale musings that are often over asked or just not inspiring for all concerned. I’ve had several wonderful chances at getting to ask a question here or there. But I have to say, THIS feature is centered around a very heart-warming exchange between myself and Audrey Dalton, yes the sublimely beautiful, versatile & talented actress of film & television.

So I took a chance and asked if she would agree to do my MonsterGirl Asks feature. What happened was she generously shared some very wonderful memories with me so instead of calling it MonsterGirl Asks, I defer to the much lauded star and changed the title special feature as I humbly open myself up as MonsterGirl Listens to a great star who has had the graciousness and kindness to allow me to share these reminiscings with you.

hayfork & billhook

For years I have been such a fan of this otherworldly beauty, not just from watching Boris Karloff’s Thriller where Audrey graced three of the BEST episodes, nor is it her attractive self-reliance in defying Tim Holt’s priggishness as Lt. Cmdr. John ‘Twill’ Twillinger or showing shear guts in the midst of that giant Mollusk, that Monster That Challenged the World, nor is it just her ability to stare danger and death in the face, the very frightening face of Guy Rolfe otherwise known as Mr. Sardonicus in William Castle’s eerie cheeky masterpiece. Audrey Dalton has appeared in two of the most iconic treasures from exquisitely better times in the realm of Sci-Fi & Classical Horror film. She is still beloved by so many fans!

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Tim Holt and Audrey Dalton in director Arnold Laven’s memorable & beloved  sci-fi jaunt into the giant creature movie of the 1950s!
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Audrey Dalton and Ronald Lewis are unfortunate prisoners of the sadistic Mr. Sardonicus (1961) brought to you by the great showman of cult horror William Castle!

Though Audrey Dalton may have graced the world of cult horror & ‘B’ Sci-Fi phantasmagoria, she is quite the serious actress having been one of the main stars in Titanic (1953). Here she is shown with Robert Wagner.

audrey and wagner Titanic
Audrey Dalton co-stars with Robert Wagner in Titanic (1953)

Then Audrey brings a delightful bit of class to director Delbert Mann’s Separate Tables 1958, Audrey is provocative, self-reliant and wonderfully flirtatious as Jean who joyfully seduces Rod Taylor, keeping him charmingly distracted and constantly on his toes! Though this gif has him pecking her adorable nose!

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audrey with don taylor in the girls of pleasure island 1953
Audrey with Don Taylor in her first film The Girls of Pleasure Island (1953) Alamy Stock Photo.
Rex Reason in Thundering Jets
Audrey Dalton co-stars with Rex Reason in Thundering Jets (1958)

Audrey played the lovely Louise Kendall quite enamored with Richard Burton in Daphne du Maurier’s romantic thriller  My Cousin Rachel 1952 also c0-starring Olivia de Havilland as the cunning Rachel.

with Burton in My Cousin Rachel
Audrey Dalton co-stars with Richard Burton in My Cousin Rachel (1952)-photo: Alamy Stock Photo.

Audrey’s been the elegant Donna Elena Di Gambetta co-starring in the romantic comedy with Bob Hope and Joan Fontaine in Cassanova’s Big Night (1954),

Cassanova's Big Night
Audrey Dalton, Bob Hope and Joan Fontaine in Cassanova’s Big Night : Alamy Stock Photo.
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Here’s Audrey in Drum Beat (1954) as Nancy Meek who must be escorted by Indian fighter Johnny MacKay played by Alan Ladd

Ladd and Dalton in Drum Beat 1954

Alan Ladd Drum Beat 1954
Audrey Dalton as the sensuous Nancy Meek in Delmer Dave’s Drum Beat (1954) co-starring with dreamy Alan Ladd. :Alamy Stock Photo
Audrey Dalton- confession
Audrey plays Louise Nelson in this superb British film noir The Deadliest Sin (1955).

I am so touched by Audrey Dalton’s kindness. She not only possesses a beauty that could be considered otherworldly, and up there in the ranks of so many of the great beauties of that Golden Age of Hollywood, it turns out she is one of THE most gracious and kind people in an industry filled with egos and eccentrics.

I shared a bit about why I call myself MonsterGirl, that I am a singer/songwriter and how much I’ve loved her work in film and television for as far back as I can remember. I mentioned that I had heard so many stories about how kind and gentle Boris Karloff was in real life. That I wished Boris Karloff had been my grandfather. My own was a real ‘meanie’ and so around here we often joke and say Grandpa Boris.

I was so glad that I got the chance to tell her how much her contribution to THRILLER elevated the episodes to a whole new level, including Boris himself who brought to life a confluence of genius, the immense collaborative efforts of some of the most talented artists and people in the industry. Audrey Dalton worked with directors– Herschel Daugherty on Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook, with John Brahm on The Prediction starring along side Boris Karloff and director William F. Claxton and co-starring with another great actor Warren Oates in The Hollow Watcher 

The series has never been imitated nor surpassed in it’s originality and atmosphere. We conferred about our shared love of THRILLER and it’s impact on television as a visionary program and a wonderful working space off camera.

Audrey 2
Audrey Dalton has a fay-like smile, a pair of eyes that are deep & mesmerizing with a sparkle of kindness besides…

MonsterGirl Listens-

Audrey Dalton– “Here’s some thoughts for you on my most beloved work as an actor.”

“I was on a lot of Westerns (despite my fear of horses) but my most favorite show was the Thriller series. I had an agreement with Boris to do one a season. Boris Karloff was a lovely, gentle man who was loved by the crew. Many of them had worked with him years before. That was nice to see. The Thriller set was a wonderful place to be. We all had so much fun working with one another. When we filmed Hay-Fork, we would all go out for late dinners after filming. Alan Napier was very tall and had a wonderful sense of humor about it. He would tease Boris that he should’ve played Frankenstein’s Monster because of his height and strong features. But Boris was the best Monster of all. He was always a gentleman and genuinely enjoyed listening to everyone talk. He was a true actor and director. He watched people and life around him with huge eyes.”

On BORIS KARLOFF and his iconic anthology television series THRILLER:

karloff thriller opening

It must have been wonderful working with Boris Karloff on this remarkable series that possessed an innovative and unique sense of atmosphere, blending mystery & suspense, the crime drama and some of the BEST tales of terror & the supernatural!

Joey“I’m glad to see that you enjoyed working with him {Boris} on the show THRILLER… It was not only ahead of it’s time, and I’m not just trying to impress you, it IS actors like yourself and the quality and the true passion that you brought that helped make the show a very special body of work. It’s so nice to hear that you enjoyed the experience behind the scenes as well… It is one of my favorite classic anthology series. I can re-watch it over and over because it’s so compelling and well done!”

Audrey- “I feel very fortunate to have been working when the film industry was still relatively small and run by creative producers, writers and directors who had the studio solidly behind them, and not by financial conglomerates for whom film making was just one more way to make money. Boris could just call up his favorite film colleagues to work on Thriller, and that made it a wonderful experience. Film making today is a more complicated business with so much more emphasis on the business side and on ratings. We told stories because we were passionate about them. I’m not sure that passion is the same any more.”

“I watched some Thrillers last month after my daughter first saw your website.  They are creepy even for someone who acted in them. It was such a well-done, well-made show.”

on the Moors

“Thriller is such a gem that it would be wonderful if you wrote more about it.  It does not get the attention it deserves. Boris really considered it his masterpiece of so much talent in each episode.”

Joey- I laughed out loud, at your comment that Thriller was “even creepy for someone who acted in them.” I suppose it would be creepy, and I often wonder how the atmosphere of the set and the narrative might influence a performance just by the suggestion of the story and the set design! And the musical score is yet another defining element of the show. Jerry Goldsmith, Pete Rugolo and Mort Stevens’ music is so extraordinary! Moody and evocative. Jerry Goldsmith’s score for The Hollow Watcher is just incredible, it added to the emotionally nuanced scenes you had as the stirring character of Meg secretly married to the conniving Sean McClory in The Hollow Watcher. I will be covering very soon, your two other fantastic appearances in Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook and The Prediction.”

Audrey- “Boris would love to know you think of him as Grandpa Boris. He had a huge heart and I do so love remembering how kind and gentle he was.  I am so grateful to have been one of the lucky few who worked with him.”

On working with Barbara Stanwyck & starring in the classic hit TITANIC (1953)

dalton and stanwyck titanic

Audrey- “My other most cherished project was Titanic. I worked with Barbara Stanwyck and Clifton Webb. Clifton was a little bit like snobbish and mostly kept to himself, but he was very funny with a sharp wit. Barbara Stanwyck was a dream – the ultimate pro, always prepared to act and ready to help the rest of us.”

On starring in director Delbert Mann’s Separate Tables (1958)

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Joey- “I loved your performance in Separate Tables! It’s obvious you were having fun and it was a lovely and playful characterization. As well as pretty modern which I loved! Did it send Rod Taylor running back to the Time Machine because you were such a strong and confident gal…”

Audrey -“Another favorite role of mine was “Separate Tables” with David Niven, Burt Lancaster, Rita Hayworth and Deborah Kerr. It was such a fun little film. We rehearsed for 3 weeks and shot it in sequence, which was very unusual. Niven was a wonderful, funny man, a great raconteur. It was great to just sit quietly in a chair and listen to his wicked sense of humor. Rita was incredibly nervous during filming and was literally shaking. We all had to be quiet to help her get over it. She was such a sweet person, but I think she was having health problems by then.”

Joey- “You were wonderful in Separate Tables! The old gossips like Glady’s Cooper (who –from her performance in Now Voyager, I wouldn’t want to be my Grandma or mother for that matter!) I adore her as an actress though… and Cathleen Nesbit they were hilarious as they watched nosily at your goings on with Rod Taylor… you both brought a very nice bit of comedic lightness to the underlying sad tone of Deborah Kerr and David Niven’s characters.”

Audrey“Now I might have to watch Separate Tables again.”

On ELSA LANCHESTER- 

Elsa The Girls of Pleasure Island

girls of pleasure island

I did wonder if The Girls of Pleasure Island co-star Elsa Lanchester had left an impression on Audrey Dalton, a seemingly feisty character I wondered if she had experienced anything memorable acting in her first feature film along side of another of my favorite actresses.

Audrey- “I don’t remember a lot about Elsa Lanchester. When we filmed “The Girls of Pleasure Island” it was on the Paramount backlot and I remember she always had a camera with her.  She was an avid photographer and she had a wonderful sense of humor.”

On WILLIAM CASTLE and Mr. Sardonicus!

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Ronald Lewis, Audrey Dalton and Guy Rolfe in William Castle’s macabre Gothic masterpiece Mr. Sardonicus (1961)

I read William Castle’s bio and it was quite a hell of a read! The stories about his childhood are wild. Like Audrey said, “he is a legend for good reason”, and Mr. Sardonicus (1961) is quite a macabre masterpiece in so many ways. Castle was considered a master of Bally-Hoo but he truly had an eye for creating weird spaces and stories. Although considered low budget, it doesn’t matter to so many of us, because he left a legacy and Audrey Dalton is part of that…

Joey- “I imagine working with William Castle on Mr. Sardonicus, there must have been a great deal of creepy moments because of that horrific mask that Guy Rolfe wore! and Oskar Homolka and his awful leeches, horrid man… (the character not the actor of course!) I hope it was as enjoyable working with William Castle as it was with Grandpa Boris. You were wonderful in the film!”

Audrey- “Bill Castle was another incredible director I was fortunate to get to work with. He’s a legend for good reason; I don’t think I have ever met someone so creative and driven about his work.  You are right that the mask that Guy wore in Mr. Sardonicus was chilling. I have not seen that film in years but I can see that image as clearly as if it were yesterday.”

Sardonicus

On being friends with actress BEVERLY GARLAND!

The Alligator Man

Audrey“I noticed you wrote a bit about Beverly Garland.  She was such a dear friend of mine.  She was in Pretty Poison with Noel Black who just passed away last year.   Bev died years ago and even though she remained active in the Scarecrow and Mrs King for so long, she loved acting in “B” films the most.”

Joey- “I am a big fan of Beverly Garland! I think she was a versatile and extremely accessible actress! Just wonderful to watch. Even her outre cool 1950’s police show DECOY: Police Woman!… Of course she’ll always be beloved for her ‘B’ movies with Roger Corman.

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It’s so wonderful to hear that you both were good friends. I’m sorry she’s gone. So many wonderful people we’ve lost. It’s so great to know that she enjoyed being known as a “B” movie actress in addition to her other incredible body of work. I loved her in director Noel Black’s Pretty Poison (1968). I forgot that she played the psychopathic Sue Ann Stepaneck’s (Tuesday Weld’s) mom!”

Beverly Garland not only exuded a gutsy streak in every role she took, she shared the notable distinction of starring in one of Boris Karloff’s THRILLER episodes called Knock-Three-One-Two co-starring with the wonderful character actor Joe Maross who has a gambling problem and will be beaten to a pulp if he doesn’t pay his bookie. So he enlists the help of a psychopathic lady killer to murder his wife Beverly for her tightly held purse and large savings account!

On ED NELSON– Like the wonderful Audrey Dalton, Ed Nelson exudes an inner light and sort of tangible kindness.

ed nelson

Joey “One very endearing thing that happened in August 2014 after Ed Nelson passed away, when I wrote a little something about the ubiquitous actor, his son wrote to me in particular to thank me for saying such nice things about his dad. It’s ironic Ed worked on several of Boris Karloff’s  THRILLERs too! When he had passed on, I hoped he knew how many fans he had and could have had the opportunity to enjoy a nice tribute from me for all the work he had done.”

Ed Nelson and Linda Watkins The Cheaters
Ed Nelson and Linda Watkins in The Cheaters episode of Boris Karloff’s anthology television show Thriller!

I just watched the 70s television show Police Woman with Angie Dickinson as Pepper Anderson —Audrey Dalton starred in the episode called Shoefly.” It was so nice to see her playing the wife of actor Ed Nelson, since they both starred in several roles of Thriller! and the chemistry between them was very genuine. And I told her so, and did ask about him.

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Ed Nelson plays Lieutenant John Hess married to the loving Rose in Police Woman episode ‘Shoefly” 1974

Audrey “I did know Ed Nelson quite well, by the way. We lost touch over the years, but during the time we were first filming Killers in Paradise and then again while filming Police Woman. He was a kind man and very smart.  And he was a very busy actor.”

COMING SOON: Boris Karloff’s anthology television show THRILLER  featuring Audrey Dalton in 2 memorable & evocative episodes– HAY -FORK and BILL-HOOK  and THE PREDICTION!

the prediction

Hay Fork and Bill Hook
Audrey Dalton in Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook shown here with Doris Lloyd as Mother Evans. There’s witchcraft afoot in the Welsh moors.

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Audrey- “Your website brings back wonderful memories and I have enjoyed reading it so very much. It is such a treasure.”

Joey- With all my sincerest gratitude and ever lasting admiration, it’s been one of the greatest thrills of my life, speaking to you, the amazing Audrey Dalton!

Love always, Joey

 

 

 

 

 

Postcards From Shadowland: no. 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pyewacket and Kim Novak in 1958 Bell, Book and Candle

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

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

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

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

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Jack Lemmon and Kim Novak in The Notorious Landlady (1962)
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Kim Novak as Jeanne in the biopic Jeanne Eagels (1957)
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Kim Novak with director Robert Aldrich on the set of the 60s deviant trashy melodrama The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE LEGEND OF LYLAH CLARE (1968)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Peter Finch, Kim Novak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Molly- “She’s a degenerate swine!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

DRAGONWYCK  (1946)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ghostly Dragonwyck

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

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

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

Vincent Price in House of Usher, 1960.

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

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

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

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

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Nietzsche quote

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

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

Ghost Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oleander

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Miranda meets the despondent Katrine… a hapless child

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

As Johanna shoves another bon bon into her mouth…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quote of the Day! Pitfall (1948)

“Have you ever noticed it… for some reason you want to feel completely out of step with the rest of the world, the only thing to do is sit around a cocktail lounge for the afternoon?”-Lizabeth Scott’s Mona Stevens to Dick Powell’s John Forbes in Pitfall (1948)