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

me and my mollusk

Audrey Dalton

Audrey Dalton 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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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.

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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.

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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 her first film The Girls of Pleasure Island (1953) Alamy Stock Photo.
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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

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Audrey Dalton as the sensuous Nancy Meek in Delmer Dave’s Drum Beat (1954) co-starring with dreamy Alan Ladd. :Alamy Stock Photo
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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.

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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:

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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)

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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.

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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!

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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

 

 

 

 

 

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…!

Kim Novak

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

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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.

Kim Novak

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

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

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

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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)

Betty and Joan Baby Jane?

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

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

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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!” *”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda 1953

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT DOES PSYCHOTRONIC MEAN?

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

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

FILM NOIR HAD AN INEVITABLE TRAJECTORY…

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

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

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

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

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

The Miriam Hopkins Blogathon! The Doomsday Bride & Bitter Blood of Lily Mortar

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Thanks to Silver ScreeningsA Small Press Life and Font & Frock–we’re celebrating the work of Miriam Hopkins!

Miriam Hopkins

Miriam Hopkins has a luminous, quiet dreamy beauty.

Born in Savannah Georgia Oct. 18th 1902 she died Oct 9, 1972-a chorus girl in New York city at the age of 20 she made her first motion picture after signing with Paramount Pictures called Fast and Loose (1930).

In 1931, she raised some eyebrows in 1931’s horror thriller Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde directed by Rouben Mamoulian’s.

In Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), Miriam Hopkins portrayed the character Ivy Pearson, a prostitute who becomes mesmerized by Jekyll and Hyde a tale of sexuality in revolt. Though many of her scenes were cut from the film she still managed to get rave reviews for the mere 5 minutes she spent on the screen.

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Frederick March walked away with the Oscar for Best Leading Man in that horror gem. Miriam Hopkins had been up for the part of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind being that she was an authentic Southern lady, but the part… of course went to Vivien Leigh… “As God as my witness they’re not going to lick me”

Miriam would make three pictures with  Ernst Lubitsch, The Smiling Lieutenant 1931, Trouble in Paradise 1932, and Design for Living 1933. Design for Living being my favorite!

From Wikipedia-Nevertheless her career ascended swiftly thereafter and in 1932 she scored her breakthrough in Ernst Lubitsch‘s Trouble in Paradise, where she proved her charm and wit as a beautiful and jealous pickpocket. During the pre-code Hollywood of the early 1930s, she appeared in The Smiling Lieutenant, The Story of Temple Drake and Design for Living, all of which were box office successes and critically acclaimed.[4] Her pre-code films were also considered risqué for their time, with The Story of Temple Drake depicting a rape scene and Design for Living featuring a ménage à trois with Fredric March and Gary Cooper.

William Wyler revising the film release of The Children’s Hour 1961, had been based on his original theatrical presentation with Hopkin’s in what was called These Three (1936). In the remake, she plays Aunt Lily Mortar to Shirley MacLaine’s troubled Martha, stepping into the role that Hopkins once portrayed.

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These Three (1936) starring Joel McCrea, Merle Oberon and our Miriam Hopkins as Martha Dobie in William Wyler’s toned down version of the Lillian Hellman play

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THE CHILDREN’S HOUR 1961

IMDb trivia: William Wyler cut several scenes hinting at Martha’s homosexuality for fear of not receiving the seal of approval from the Motion Picture Production Code. At the time, any story about homosexuality was forbidden by the production code.  

Directed by William Wyler, cinematography by Franz Planer (Criss Cross 1949,Breakfast at Tiffany’s 1961) working with Wyler they used effective mood changes with his lighting, creating an often provocative atmosphere. The film showcases some truly great performances by the entire cast, Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine and James Garner (who sadly passed away on July 19th of this year.) Including Veronica Cartwright and Fay Bainter. Miriam Hopkins mixes a sad yet infuriating empathy toward her flighty judgmental and often elusive tie to the theatre she harkens back to. She is incapable of being there for her tormented niece.

The story concerns the struggle of two young and independent women trying to make a go of it by running a private boarding school for adolescent girls. The intrusion of a lie, ultimately founded on a malicious rumor concocted by the spoiled young niece Mary Tilford (Karen Balkin) begins to spread like deadly poison that Karen (Hepburn) and Martha (Maclean) are having a lesbian relationship. And the lie proceeds to ruin Karen’s engagement to Joe, worried parents flood to the school to pull out their children at risk of being exposed to that ‘love that dare not speak it’s name!’ and basically causes the ruination of Karen and Martha’s dream.

Whether the idea be true or not, the wake of the devastation of all the lives involved lead to poetic & unfortunate tragedy.

Martha and Karen’s quite independent business relationship and personal friendship seemed to challenge very conventional standards of a woman’s role, creating an uncomfortable pall over the town, the school and the women involved in the scandal, and we sense this dis-ease on film. This all seems to feed the accessibility of suspicion when Mary makes her accusation, fueled by things she’s overheard Aunt Lily recklessly say about Martha.

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Mrs. Lily Mortar“Friendship between women, yes. But not this insane devotion! Why, it’s unnatural. Just as unnatural as can be.”

Mrs. Lily Mortar: Any day that he’s in the house is a bad day. You can’t stand them being together and you’re taking out on me. You’ve always had a jealous, possessive nature even as a child. If you had a friend, you’d be upset if she liked anybody else. And that’s what’s happening now. And it’s unnatural. It’s just as unnatural as it can be.

Mrs. Lily Mortar: God will punish you.

Martha: He‘s doing all right.

Miriam Hopkins, is an added unpleasant moral eccentric and parasite who feeds off Karen and her niece Martha who have always had an apparently strained relationship because she’s money-grubbing, spineless and a user right from the beginning.

Miriam Hopkin’s Aunt Lily glides through the film like narcissus’ secretary waiting for that great part that is never coming. Supposedly on tour with a drama company, or just avoiding the scandal, when she could have cleared the women’s reputations and saved the school from being shut down.

At time’s she histrionic, over-theatrical, melodramatic and a relic of bygone days. Like an obsolete thespian Harpy who lingers around the house, tormenting poor Martha who is struggling with her own inner demons that Aunt Lily seems all too well to recognize.

Aunt Lily trying to stir up dramaturgical dust while teaching her pupils elocution, she shows herself to be out of fashion, a bit of an outcast, and as dried up as the dead flowers, the young conniving and at times socio-pathic Mary steals from the garbage to give to Lily as a ruse for being late to class.

Aunt Lily is needful, maneuvering and scheming as she insinuates herself into the lives of Karen (Audrey Hepburn) and her niece Martha (Shirley MacLaine) A non stop know it all… with a showy flare for dramatics.

At the school, Aunt Lily teaches the girl elocution lessons, music and theatre which is perfect for her narcissistic compulsion to inflate her own ego while pushing her highfalutin ideas of breeding “breeding is everything”. Lily is materialistic, money hungry and will use Martha for whatever she can get out of her.

After Lily accuses Martha’s relationship with Karen as being ‘unnatural’ And how her mood changes when ever Joe, Karen’s fiance (James Garner) is in the house. Martha throws her out. Paying her off so she’ll stay away. Hopkins does a truly perfect job of being the parasitic opportunist who offers nothing but grief.

I loved Miriam Hopkins  as the gutsy Mrs. Shipton -‘The Duchess’ in The Outcasts of Poker Flats 1952.

Until 1970 when like most great screen sirens, who seemed to inevitably get handed that part of Grande Dame Guignol caricature of the fading Hollywood star. Hopkin’s last film was the brutally disturbing Strange Intruder in 1970. She playing the recluse Katharine Parker, who is befriended by a psychopathic woman hater, then terrorized by him- John David Garfield (Yes son of the great John Garfield). Gale Sondergaard plays her companion Leslie who staunchly remains at her side to no avail.

While Miriam Hopkins who played Martha in the original film These Three (1936) agreed to play the part of Martha’s Aunt Lily,  Merle Oberon, who played Karen in the original film, turned down the part of Mrs. Tilford.

Mr. Happy… Bosley Crowther once again fangs the performances of The Children’s Hour with his serpentine wit. Published in The New York Times review March 15th 1962

“But here it is, fidgeting and fuming, like some dotty old doll in bombazine with her mouth sagging open in shocked amazement at the batedly whispered hint that a couple of female schoolteachers could be attached to each other by an “unnatural” love.

If you remember the stage play, that was its delicate point, and it was handled even then with a degree of reticence that was a little behind the sophistication of the times. (Of course, the film made from the stage play in 1936 and called “These Three” avoided that dark hint altogether; it went for scandal down a commoner avenue.)

But here in this new film version, directed and produced by the same William Wyler who directed the precautionary “These Three,” the hint is intruded with such astonishment and it is made to seem such a shattering thing (even without evidence to support it) that it becomes socially absurd. It is incredable that educated people living in an urban American community today would react as violently and cruelly to a questionable innuendo as they are made to do in this film.

And that is not the only incredible thing in it. More incredible is its assumption of human credulity. It asks us to believe that the parents of all twenty pupils in a private school for girls would yank them out in a matter of hours on the slanderously spread advice of the grandmother of one of the pupils that two young teachers in the school were “unnatural.”

It asks us to believe the grandmother would have been convinced of this by what she hears from her 12-year-old granddaughter, who is a dubious little darling at best. And, most provokingly, it asks us to imagine that an American court of law would not protect the innocent victims of such a slander when all the evidence it had to go upon was the word of two children and the failure of a key witness to appear.

In short, there are several glaring holes in the fabric of the plot, and obviously Miss Hellman, who did the adaptation, and John Michael Hayes, who wrote the script, knew they were there, for they have plainly sidestepped the biggest of them. They have not let us know what the youngster whispered to the grandmother that made her hoot with startled indignation and go rushing to the telephone. Was it something that a 12-year-old girl could have conceivably made up out of her imagination (which is what she was doing in this scene)?

And they have not let us into the courtroom where the critical suit for slander was tried. They have only reported the trial and the verdict in one quickly tossed off line.

So this drama that was supposed to be so novel and daring because of its muted theme is really quite unrealistic and scandalous in a prim and priggish way. What’s more, it is not too well acted, except by Audrey Hepburn in the role of the younger of the school teachers. She gives the impression of being sensitive and pure.

Shirley MacLaine as the older school teacher, the one who eventually admits in a final scene with her companion that she did have a yen for her, inclines to be too kittenish in some scenes and do too much vocal hand-wringing toward the end.

Fay Bainter is fairly grim as the grandmother but little Karen Balkin as the mendacious child is simply not sufficiently tidy as a holy terror to make her seem formidable. James Garner as the fiancé of Miss Hepburn and Miriam Hopkins as the aunt of Miss MacLaine give performances of such artificial laboring that Mr. Wyler should hang his head in shame.”

 

Continue reading “The Miriam Hopkins Blogathon! The Doomsday Bride & Bitter Blood of Lily Mortar”

Walter Graumen puts Olivia de Havilland in peril as a Lady in a Cage (1964) “Right now I am all *animal*” or “Oh, dear Lord… I am… a monster!”

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THE GREAT VILLAIN BLOGATHON APRIL 20-26, 2014 hosted by Speakeasy*Shadows and Satin * Silver Screenings

“She was very badly raped, you see! We were assaulted by a gang of vicious, young, hoodlums in this house! In this very room you are sitting in now! I was left a helpless cripple, but for her the agony was too great! The doctor said it was pneumonia; because it happened some months later! During a flu epidemic! The doctors told me it was pneumonia, but I knew what it was! A VICTIM OF THE MODERN AGE! Poor, poor girl!”-quote from Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971)

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James Caan- is the violent anti-social ruffian Randall Simpson O’Connell and a good choice for ‘The Great Villain Blogathon’ since I’ve covered two sympathetic antagonists, I thought it was necessary to write about a true villain in every sense of the word. He’s an *animal* as he calls himself. He is not an anti-hero, he is a sadistic, and violently wired punk a, a vicious hoodlum, a product of a modern age.

The young James Caan embodies such a sociopathic, undomesticated menacing rage that even through the cliché stocking on his face, it makes him all the more frightening. Randall is the axis of this amoral trio who are such anti-social, narcissistic degenerates that they do not evoke a smidgen of sympathy from the audience. Though he may come from trouble beginnings, his displaced rage pits him against Hilyard who represents everything he despises.

Randall is a misogynist brute who beats his girlfriend Elaine (we hear the blows from behind the door as she both screams and exults in sexual excitement), and would have probably sexually harassed Mrs. Hilyard but for the fact that he mentions how he hates his grandmother, an older and sexless figure. He is physically rough with her, feeling that she is an ‘old crow’ who is controlling and manipulative and has pushed her son to threaten suicide. Undertones of an Oedipal nature run through the plot line as Randall is raging against the devouring mother, that Hilyard represents in the story, which truly plays like a modern mythic tragedy. Randall traumatizes Hilyard until she is almost insane with fear.

Lady in a Cage is a grimy urban ordeal drenched in taboo, and inhabited by drunken derelicts, boozy dames, doped-up delinquents and a menacing cruelty that escalates until it is almost unbearable. 

de Havilland’s lovely face distorts in the reflected mirrored panel of the elevator as she begins to unravel from the brutality and captivity she confronts, all within the vanilla white tonality of her quiet house. The interior shots alternating with the outer rat race, the urban grime and modern desolation.

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Randall leers at Hilyard from under the stocking like a vicious hob goblin

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As Tony Williams writes in his chapter Trying to Survive on the Darker Side in The Dread of Difference-edited by Barry Keith Grant-where he cites Grauman’s film “The monstrous adult child product of a traumatic family situation existed in earlier decades, as works such as Curse of the Cat People 1944, Psycho, The Strangler 1963, Lady in a Cage 1964, Marnie 1964, I Dismember Mama 1972, The Killing Kind 1973.”
James Caan had made an appearance as a soldier with radio in Billy Wilder’s Irma La Douce (1963)
Randall was James Caan’s first credited feature film role after getting his start with small television parts such as The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, “Memo from Purgatory” where he plays a writer who goes undercover in a street gang so he can get inspiration for his book. Kraft Suspense Theatre in 1963, Dr. Kildare, Death Valley Days, Combat!, and the ruthless Marty Feketi in ‘Bullets Cost Too Much’ episode of The Naked City 1961 extraordinary social commentary police procedural tv series that ran from 1958-1963. I’m still working through my new dvd box set, and let me tell you, there ain’t nothing like this show with it’s incredible cast of character actors, dramatic story telling and on location cinematography in New York City in the 60s.

A snippet of the exchange between Hilyard and Randall…

Mrs.Hilyard-“You’re from an asylum?”

Randall-“Asylum? Oh no, you don’t. Reformatory. Work farm. I been inside every way there is to be inside. I been some kind of inside since I was nine years old.

Mrs. Hilyard-“Oh I see. You’re one of the many bits of offal produced by the welfare state. You’re what so much of my tax dollars goes for the care and feeding of.”

Caan, with his very ‘masculine’ hairy chest, was a much more subtle psychopath in Curtis Harrington’s psychological thriller Games 1967 where he gaslights the beautiful but emotionally delicate Katherine Ross with the help of sensual goddess Simone Signoret. BTW, I’ll be doing a special feature on the works of Curtis Harrington hopefully by the summer.

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James Caan in Curtis Harrington’s Games 1967 with Katherine Ross

Randall even takes off on Marlon Brando’s Stanley Kowalski from Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named Desire, as he belches, shirtless (most of the film) and leers and smirks in his outre tight jeans.

This evokes “I think I’m going to be sick” from the respectable Mrs. Hilyard who voices her scorn. Randall is in control and enjoys the power struggle, sadistically amused by her indignation and repulsion, “Watch the human being be sick in a cage.” He’s looking for any excuse to lash out.

Randall says [to George Brady the bum] “We’re gonna kill you. First you, then the pig (Sade)… and then, the human being!”

It is suggested that Randall also likes to beat up on his girlfriend Elaine, as she has a black eye. As I stated earlier, off camera while up in the master bathroom behind closed doors,  it is implied that she actually vocalizes pleasure when he hits her. Elaine herself is an angry and hyper-sexual oddity, perhaps even a  sociopath as well, as she moves her body provocatively, quite aware of her seductive maneuvering. She enjoys watching violent acts and she dances to a small music box in a very sexually inappropriate way. Obviously she is wired to believe that sexuality and violence go together.

Olivia de Havilland  as Mrs. Cornelia Hilyard is terrorized by James Caan as the violent Randall Simpson O’Connell and his gang of sociopathic miscreants.

de Havilland’s Cornelia Hilyard suffers from delusions toward the climax –that Randall is her son Malcolm. First when she faints after she speaks to Randall thinking he is Malcolm and then again when he reads the letter and uses the words ‘release’ – as the screen becomes all wavy, as she self-accuses that she is a ‘monster.’

de Havilland having taken the role after Joan Crawford turned down the part of Cornelia Hilyard, and then ironically stepping in a little later that year to fill Joan’s high heels in Hush Hush… Sweet Charlotte when personalities clashed on the set with Bette Davis and Robert Aldrich.

Walter Grauman (his first film obscure B cult classic- The Disembodied 1957, writing for television Peter Gunn, Matinee Theatre, Perry Mason, The New Breed, The Untouchables, Naked City, Twilight Zone (Miniature) Route 66, Burke’s Law, Kraft Suspense Theatre, Honey West, The Fugitive , The Streets of San Fransisco and Barnaby Jones- Directing tv movie horrors like Daughter of the Mind, The Man Who Cried Wolf, Crowhaven Farm, Paper Man, They Call it Murder and The Golden Gate Murders ’79, a terrific hard to find film with David Janssen and Susannah York.

I just love Grauman’s realist style– it’s raw and captivating mise en scène and here he directs this very taut thriller, that somehow seems to elude a definitive genre category as it falls into place amongst the transgressive noir-hybrids of the 60s, it’s been linked with Grande Dame Guignol cinema, and it’s every bit a suspense crime drama but there is little written about it in any of my books on the THRILLER or NOIR film genres. Film historian Kim Newman points out that the sub-genre that was a popular psycho trend of the 1960s where “the aging actress as *monster* was inaugurated” by Aldrich’s Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

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It’s also showcases elements of the horror style rampant in the 60s and yet again, I’ve found it difficult to locate it in any index, and I’ve got a full library on that subject as you can imagine. The idea of home invasion and torture isn’t a subject that’s been missed this side of the 21st Century. It’s been a featured narrative on shows like Law and Order, Dexter and Criminal Minds comes to mind.

Gregory A Waller writes in the introduction in American Horrors: Essays on the Modern American Horror Film- “The 60’s provided a number of noteworthy horror films -still disturbing oddities like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?(1962), Lady in a Cage (1964) and The Haunting (1964) with it’s restrained ‘adult’ major studio, quasi Victorian terror.”

The idea of the home being invaded in an era which was coming off of the industrial age of suburban comforts, ice maker refrigerators, frozen dinners, air conditioners, appliances for an easier way to be a home-maker. the notion of this once safe, comfortable and innocent lifestyle is thus shattered by the intrusion of a doomed and violent world out of control. Even more stunning is that the action happens in broad daylight.

Martin Rubin sums it up in his book Thrillers-Lady in a Cage “epitomizes modern day social decay through the predicament of a cut-off shut-in Olivia de Havilland terrorized by lowlifes and juvenile delinquents”

introducing James Caan-exteriors key to framing an atmosphere of symbolic visual entrapment
The shots of exteriors, interiors and certain objects are key to framing a visual atmosphere of entrapment.

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The script was written by writer/produce Luther Davis  The Hucksters 1047, B.F.’s Daughter 1948, Kismet 1965, Across 110th Street (1972, tv movies Daughter of the Mind 1969 with Ray Milland and Gene Tierney, The Old Man Who Cried Wolf 1970 with Edgar G. Robinson.

co-starring as Caan’s female sidekick is Jennifer Billingsly as Elaine, Rafael Campos is Essie ( very hard working character actor in the sixties and seventies, I especially loved him as Little Emanuel with one leg shorter than the other in All in the Family), William Swan as Malcom Hilyard, Scatman Crothers as the junkman’s assistant,

Lady in a Cage also includes Ann Sothern as the weary and wanton Sade, Jeff Corey as the derelict George L Brady/ who decries, “Repent, repent” the two outliers of society, taking advantage of Mrs. Hilyard’s predicament instead of helping her.

With art direction and production design by Hal Pereira who worked on such great Hitchcock thrillers as Rear Window ’54, Vertigo ’58 and Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s ’61

The evocative soundtrack of beat jazz and experimental nuances by composer Paul Glass  (Bunny Lake is Missing 1965, Five Desperate Women 1971 tv movie, To the Devil a Daughter 1976)

At times Glass underscores the world gone awry with sounds akin to the mechanism of social order having just snapped a spring, and becoming uncoiled and shorted out!

The opening credits are framed with the use of bar like graphics symbolic of not only the literal plot entrapment but the atmosphere of being caged in as well. The linear graphics that interplay with the rolling list of credits remind me of the work of title designer Saul Bass.

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The titles are reminiscent of Saul Bass

Ann Southern as Sade

Leon Barsha takes care of the tense editing. Barsha knows how to create a claustrophobic chaos as he did with Joan Crawford in Sudden Fear 1952, Midnight Lace 1960, editing a few of the most outstanding episodes of The Twilight Zone– A Penny For Your Thoughts ’61, The Grave ’61 and Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up ’61.

Rudolph Sternad production designer/art director-died a year before the film was released. Just to mention a few of his credits-(Dead Reckoning 1947, Walk a Crooked Mile 1948, The Member of the Wedding 1952, High Noon 1952, The Wild One 1953, The Defiant Ones 1958, Inherit the Wind 1960, It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World 1963) Set designers were Sam Comer and Joseph Kish.

Cinematographer Lee Garmes has some list of credits, having started as a painters assistant and prop boy. He lensed some of the most beautifully visual films,  The Garden of Allah 1927, Lilies of the Field 1930, Scarface 1932, Call Her Savage 1932, Strange Interlude 1932 then later uncredited for Gone With the Wind, Guest in the House 1944, and of course some of my favorite films, Nightmare Alley 1947, The Paradine Case 1947 and Portrait of Jennie 1948 onto noirs, Detective Story and The Captive City.

Garmes sets up certain shots that give the impression of a brutally grotesque modern masquerade fête of social misfits on a rampage in a woman-in peril film.

With various close ups on the players faces, in particular de Havilland as she begins to lose it. Often the trio are framed at angles where they look over Mrs. Hilyard who appears like a trapped animal in a cage, as they taunt her from above. She seems smaller and helpless. de Havilland begins to lose her coiffed appearance as she devolves, her hair becomes unkempt and she is drenched in perspiration. It’s quite visually disturbing and graphically unnerving. As these good shockers often are as Grauman and Garmes use extreme close ups of de Havilland’s mouth when she screams for help. The emphasized shots of the alarm bell ringing to no avail, reminds of the detail that cinematographer Ernest Haller paid toward elements of communication and non-escape (the myriad shots of the phone, the stairs) in Aldrich’s What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?

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Emphasis on anonymous hands blasting car horns all modern lines of communication that are chaotic and used in an audibly offensive way-dehumanizing noise.
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To show the indifference and cruelty of the world, a little girl runs her roller skates along a bums leg…

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As voyeurs we see Malcolm through window blinds, peering through the bars of his private world- He writes a letter to his mother-“Darling”

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Malcolm is a coded gay character of the film

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Malcolm’s misadventure with the car sets off a chain reaction of horrific events to follow–fate is in the driver’s seat.
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throughout Lady in a Cage Lee Garme’s camera focuses on objects of communication or the lack thereof… Modern conveniences and bourgeois trifle

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Twenty First Century Desolation

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Lady in a CageHal Pereira’s set is more modern, sterile and streamline, inharmonious and unwelcoming. There are many disturbing scenes with the subtle distinction of this hostility and inhumanity like the girl who runs her roller skates over the leg of an unconscious man, an evangelist spouts off about the evils of the world on the radio, a dog hit by a car that drivers keep passing by without stopping.

The date is the 4th of July, it is extremely hot day, people’s nerves are more sensitive and agitated during these heat waves which usually leads to more crime. There are exploding garbage cans in the street to mark the holiday.

Garmes focuses on Mrs Hilyard through the bars on her cage and the reflections in the mirrored panel. We begin as voyeurs. Malcolm is writing his letter, addressing his mother as ‘darling.’ Perhaps a little undeveloped sub-text to be discussed in a different kind of post. Considering that this one is in a series of ‘love notes’ he writes to her. “Darling” Hhmm???

It is made apparent though not explicitly, that Malcolm is in fact gay, and his mother’s domineering personality is at the source of his homosexuality, which is what films of the 60s & 70s would tend to illustrate.

de Havilland has a screen presence that is quite sophisticated and almost imposing with her sense of stylish intellect and decorum. This puts de Havilland’s Mrs. Hilyard in an interesting position on the graph of class struggle, as Randall and his gang aren’t just fighting amongst their own contemporaries, he is challenging an upper class society lady and mother figure to attack back.

Ironically what sets off the sequence of actions that ensue is Malcolm whose car hits a ladder, that tears out wires that short out the power lines. He causes the accident that creates the electricity going out leaving his mother stranded in her gilded prison. He is yet another character in the film who is distracted by his own agenda, self-absorbed carelessness and indifference. Played out like a tragedy, it is at the chance moment when Malcolm causes the power outage that his mother wearing a sheer negligee gets into her elevated cage locking herself inside like a sitting canary. The ‘cage’ has a mirrored panel by the buttons, that allow for de Havilland/Mrs.Hilyard to be seen from various angles and expressions.

With her in her gilded trap is a transistor radio, which is reporting about the uncovered murder victim, a woman who has been decapitated!

Mrs. Hilyard (Olivia de Havilland) is a poetess and a wealthy widow who lives in a stifling bourgeois mansion with her son Malcolm (William Swan) Cornelia, though she is never actually called by her first name, has had an elevator installed in her mansion after she breaks her hip. We see Malcolm writing a letter to his mother as he is about to go away for a weekend, leaving his mother all alone in the house. Malcolm appears to be stifled by his mother’s overbearing love, even to the point of her insisting that he drink his orange juice. As he leaves in his car, he backs into a ladder which nudges a wire that short circuits.

Through this subtle set of events triggering a negative chain reaction causing a power outage, it only sparks the larger series of violent circumstances that begin to spiral out of control. Of course Cornelia Hilyard is now trapped in her gilded cage of an elevator. She has an emergency alarm, which she uses while the electricity is out, but only one person is aroused by the alarm. A derelict wino named George L. Brady (Jeff Corey) hearing the alarm in the alley he ignores her cries for help, and instead helps himself to some of her things. Brady feigns muteness while he rummages around her things, as she is helpless to do anything about it. In desperation she tries to bargain with him to help her, “I will build a shrine to you.”

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The use of white is so vanilla–like Mrs Hilyard

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Repent is tattooed on Brady’s hand

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Much like Joan Crawford’s Blanche Hudson whose entrapment was because she was wheelchair bound, the camera would often focus on the distance between the phone that was always out of reach. The lines of communication had been a constant hurdle to invoke the sense of dread and captivity

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Randall and his little band of riff raff wonder where the old bum stumbled onto a $40 toaster and packs of cigarettes

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Brady shows up at Sade’s apartment, telling her about the house filled with so much loot!

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But Brady is only the first character who will prey on the weakness and vulnerability of Mrs Hilyard. The ferocious and unsympathetic opportunism is a theme that will carry through the film’s story telling. And none is likable and no one is safe from harm. While we might feel slightly ambivalent toward the poor souls who are down and out on their luck, or the proper and uptight Mrs Hilyard who is the central sufferer in the piece, the narrative doesn’t allow much time for us to feel compassion which only illustrates that the message of nihilism translates with an authentic sting. Mrs. Hilyard is every bit part of the testimony of elitist apathy and arrogance that comes along with a hypocritical and so-called civilized modern society.

The film begins to escalate with a real sense of urgency and smothering atmosphere of dread. The derelict Brady fences the goods and then pays a visit to his slovenly dame Sade (Ann Sothern). This sets off yet another ripple in the threatening current that is building in the narrative.

Following Brady from the junk dealer to Sade’s apartment the vicious trio learn about Mrs Hilyard’s house. The savage bunch of hoodlums Randall, Elaine and Essie hang back and wait for the right time to strike. The three lowlifes follow George and Sade to the mansion wearing stockings to obscure their identities, as they start ravaging the place. Eventually they kill the old bum George L Brady who is in a way the second catalyst for the crime of invading and tormenting the trapped Mrs. Hilyard. Hypocritical too as he decries, ‘repent’ though he not only ignores her pleadings for help, he engages the mechanism of ill-fate-he must also be the first to be disposed of. And although we do not see any of the gory details when they stab him to death, the murder is still quite gruesome, as the force of violence still permeates the screen with Paul Glass’ use of music box nuance to create contrast between the two experiences.

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When the phone rings, it startles both Sade and Brady.
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As Mrs.Hilyard yells into the phone after it rings she knocks it off the hook, but Sade rips the wire out of the wall. Hilyard starts to lose it, calling out for help, calling out ’emergency’. Sade creeps up the stairs while Hilyard hangs in mid air in her cage. Hilyard tells her “this is my house, my sons and mine. I broke my hip and am somewhat incapacitated.”

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Sade coldly ignores Mrs Hilyard’s pleading for help “Haven’t you ever needed help?” but Sade stops and only thinks for a split second and continues to walk away.
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“Perfume, is that perfume? A woman, are you a woman?… Listen, Hello my name is Hilyard. I am Mrs Hilyard.” The bum Brady creeps around the stairs and cage. As if the house has been invaded by termites come to pick it clean. Hilyard continues to try and make contact with her intruders “What’s your name. Won’t you answer me. Please answer me” She moves around the inside confines of her gilded prison calling out for them to answer her. With no success.

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“Please help me get out of this horrible cage. Please, please PLEASE!!!!”
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Suddenly the moment is broken with a horrifying wail, as the three hoodlums rush the stairs wearing stocking masks. It’s a immobilizing stunner in the film, that breaks the initial inertia of Hilyard’s entrapment and the circular photography that creates a whirlpool effect. At first an mind numbing monotony and then a blitz of chaos.

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Randall makes Sade his pick up truck
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Hilyard soaked in sweat and crazed has already been driven half mad. Now she is terrified.
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Randall appears at the stair case looming down on her. His face concealed by the stocking mask. Grinning at her he smacks his fists together. A show of brutish force.
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“Who, what monsters… Do you stink… get out…. steal and get out. What sort of creatures are you? Randall slithers over to her and pounds on the top of the cage. “Oh even animals would have more civil compassion than you” Randall –“What… what you. You’re something holier than thou? Huh… You’re something ah. You ain’t no animal?” Hilyard- “I am a human being… a thinking feeling creature” He belches in her face. she winces. “Ah well me I”m an animal. Right now I am all animal. Lot of times I can’t even make animal. A lot of times I’m what do ya call, an inmate. But animal’s better.” Hilyard-“What do you mean inmate… asylum… you’re from some asylum?” He says-“Asylum…(tisk) Oh no you don’t. hahaha… reformatory. Work farm. I been inside everywhere there is to be inside. I been some kind of inside since I was a, 9 years old.” Hilyard with contempt in her voice-“Oh I see… you’re one of the many bits of offal produced by the welfare state. You’re what so much of my tax dollars go to the care and feeding of.” Randall answers her-“Well a, I don’t know from offal, but yeah… yeah. And I sure do want to thank you ma’am for all them tax dollars. The food is lousy though… belch, haha” He begins to literally rattle her cage.

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This image of the ‘outside world’ gazing at us– the audience while they are confronting Hilyard creates a chilling moment that is truly indicative of a horror film– We too become voyeurs looking in on society as it implodes from violence and apathy The four intruders watch her with their masks on. As the monsters watch their prey lose control she cracks within her captivity. They study her. We study them watching her. The entire plot closes in on itself in that moment. The world turns –inside out from outside in.

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She begins an inner monologue “The world must have ended. Someone on one side or the other must have pushed the button. Dropped the bomb.” She puts on her little transistor radio… She hears...”Ladies and gentleman, here stands before us, the man of tomorrow” the radio spouts its media dogma. Modern experimental music underscores the insanity of the moment. The complete loss of rational thought. Civility and safety. Applause The sounds of haywire, slipped cogs and shorted fuses. the noise of chaos. She laughs and drops the radio out of the elevator it lands on the floor and smashes. She begins to laugh heartily. She has lost it.

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