70s Cinema: Runaway Trains, Racing toward oblivion, Psycho-sexual machinations, and ‘the self loathing whore’ Part 1


The early seventies witnessed a fertile moment in film-making that reflected a uniquely framed vision of sexual exploration and an ever changing measurement of morality. The studios too were taking more risks with their films conveying realism. What developed on screen was an explosion of symbolic portrayals featuring sex and violence and explicit imagery for American audiences to process. With the arrival of the women’s movement during the mid sixties through the seventies, until it was killed off in the eighties by Reagenism, these films did not push forward an evolved perspective or positive representation of women. Often the suggestion of women’s sexual freedom was portrayed as demeaning and counter-productive to women’s empowerment. As feminist theorist and critic Molly Haskell writes “the ten years from 1963 to 1973 have been the most disheartening in screen history.”

Conversely men were portrayed as rogue outsiders and anti heroes not unlike noir figures but pushing the envelope with a hyper violent masculinity often without the usual fatalistic culmination of judgement and universal law that bound their destiny. When they die, it is their decision, they are in a dance with death, it is not an unmitigated penalty for breaking the rules. In particular these themes are seen within the suspense-thriller.

The seventies offered a gritty, stylized world that enhanced and synthesized focus on the dark underbelly of society, cultural unrest, paranoia, masochism, neurosis and psycho-sexual wiles. From American Cinema of the 1970s: Themes and Variations — Movies and the Exploitation of Excess by Mia Mask “Women Take Center Stage: Klute and McCabe & Mrs. Miller- “For feminist critics and scholars, Alan J. Pakula’s Klute perfectly exemplifies this period’s ambivalence toward women, particularly in regard to its prostitute-heroine Bree Daniels (Jane Fonda). The film recasts and updates conventions of classic film noir by centralizing the investigatory/confessional pattern while making sexuality figure more obviously in the narrative.”

Klute (1971)

One man is missing. Two girls lie dead. …and someone breathing on the other end of the phone.

You’d never take her for a call girl. You’d never take him for a cop.

“There are little corners of everyone that are better left alone.”

Klute (1971) directed by Alan J. Pakula (The Parallax View 1974, All the President’s Men 1976, producer To Kill a Mockingbird 1962, Love with the Proper Stranger, , Up the Down Staircase and director of Sophie’s Choice 1982) written by brothers Andy Lewis and Dave Lewis who mainly wrote for television drama series. Cinematography by Gordon Willis nicknamed The Prince of Darkness (The Landlord 1970, The Godfather 1972, The Godfather II 1974, The Paper Chase 1973, Annie Hall 1977).

Pakula on Willis and setting up the framing of the cinematography- “From the visual point of view, I wanted Klute to be a vertical film. And with Gordon Willis, the director of photography, I tried to go against the horizontal format of Panavision, by seeking out verticals. Horizontals open out, create a pastoral feeling, and I wanted tension. Bree’s apartment should have been seen as if at the end of a long tunnel. I framed a lot of shots with the back of another character in front, to mask a part of the screen, or made use of other sombre surfaces as masks, in order to create this feeling of claustrophobia which reflects the life of this girl.” – from 1972

The evocative score adds to the illusory tension and arresting mood of the film. The music is written by Michael Small (The Stepford Wives 1975, Night Moves 1975, Marathon Man 1976, Audrey Rose 1977, The Postman Always Rings Twice 1981, Black Widow 1987). Small’s haunting lullaby blankets the film in a pensive swaddle, with the uneasy tinkling of a piano like a childlike music box and vocalizations. The score awakens a voyeuristic ambience as if someones is watching, which they are– throughout the entire film.

“New York City as a site of, and metaphor for, the extremes of urban existence.

It places them in film history, New York City history, and U.S. urban history more generally, finding that they offer an update on earlier century narratives of the connections between urban areas and deviant sexuality. In this modern version, it is not just a moral tale but also an economic one, where, because of the historical decline of the U.S.city and of New York in particular,sex work becomes a plausible, if unsettling means of support.These films find both narrative and spatial terms for advancing the contemporary anti-urban narrative, envisioning New York as an impinging vertical space and seeing possible redemption only in the protagonists leaving the city.” From Stanley Corkin’s Sex and the City in Decline: Midnight Cowboy (1969) and Klute (1971)-Journal of Urban History

The film stars Jane Fonda (who was coming off playing ingenues in Barefoot in the Park and Barbarella when she had her breakthrough performance in Sidney Pollack’s They Shoot Horses Don’t They? 1969) as call-girl Bree Daniels with a complex inner life, Donald Sutherland as the quiet spectator detective John Klute, Charles Cioffi as psycho Peter Cable, Roy Scheider as pimp Frank Ligourin, Dorothy Tristan as Arlyn Page, Rita Gam as Trina Gruneman, Vivian Nathan as the psychotherapist, Morris Strassberg as Mr. Goldfarb, the nice old Jewish john who works in the garment district, and Shirley Stoler (The Honeymoon Killers 1969) as Mama Reese. With appearances by Jean Stapleton as Mr. Goldfarb’s secretary, Richard Jordan as the young man who kisses Jane Fonda in the bar scene, porn star Harry Reems at the Discothèque and Candy Darling. 

The film brings into play various traditions of film noir as it lays out the search for the missing Gruneman and emphasizes the relationship between the cop and the call girl.

Klute was nominated for two academy awards, best actress and best screenplay, with Jane Fonda winning the Oscar.

From Mark Harris “menace seems to choke every frame, contains almost no violence at all”

The use of tape recorders as visually recurring iconography “finally deployed as a monstrous psychological weapon at the film’s climax.”

“When Alan J. Pakula began preparing for the production of Klute (1971), he screened a lot of Alfred Hitchcock films…{…} instead he came away dispirited at the thought that he was about to make might contradict one of Hitchcock’s central principles: “You don’t try to do a character study in a melodrama” Pakula said. “Klute, of course, is a violation of that.”

Klute features Donald Sutherland as the film’s protagonist John Klute, a Tuscarora Pennsylvania private investigator hired to locate a friend Tom Gruneman who has vanished in New York City and may be living a double life. Obscene letters to a NYC prostitute have been uncovered in his desk at work “written by a very disturbed man”. Gruneman went missing six months prior and John Klute offers to leave his suburban shelter to investigate in the big bad city. The trail leads Klute to a complicated and seductive New York call girl Bree Daniels an “emotionally introspective” prostitute (skillfully brought out by Jane Fonda). Bree is an unwitting connection to a brutal murder and Klute becomes her paternalistic protector/lover. Bree is shut off from her feelings, driven by her instincts of suspicion, ambivalence and low-self esteem. “I wish I was faceless and body-less and be left alone.”

Bree is a complex character who seeks to emotionally remove herself from society through the flawed principle that she is in control of her life and her body. Frequenting a psychotherapist, going on modeling cattle-calls, (similarly she is peddling her flesh, though legally and publicly) studying acting, smoking grass, and reading books like Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs, a primer of the seventies metaphysical movement. Living in her own private world of her Manhattan apartment with her calico cat, Bree surrounds herself with the only space that truly insulates and isolates her from the vicious and people-eating world. A world of sin, glitter and wickedness. A world of voyeurs.

Klute watches as well as listens to Bree’s conversations recording equipment to tap her phone from his little dank room as one of her voyeurs. She tells him “go get those tapes and we’ll have a party.”

“Men would pay $200 for me, and here you are turning down a freebie. You could get a perfectly good dishwasher for that.”

She also admits to him that she’s in the midst of paranoia “I’m afraid of the dark, it’s just nerves I’m a nervous broad.” But this is not paranoia, the fear is real… everyone is watching everyone else.

He watches her when she visits the old Jewish widow where Bree dresses like a cabaret singer, regaling the gentle Mr. Goldfarb of her nights in Cannes with a sophisticated older man not unlike himself. She tells Klute he never lays a hand on her. Klute’s silent, morally superior, unemotional manner seems to provoke Bree’s animosity toward family type men and uptight provincial.

“What’s your bag, Klute? What do you like? Are you a talker? A button freak? Maybe you like to get your chest walked around with high heeled shoes. Or make ’em watch you tinkle. Or maybe you get off wearing women’s clothes. Goddamned hypocrite squares!” When he asks her about the john who tried to kill her and beat her up, “he wasn’t kidding, usually it’s a fake out.”

She shrugs Klute off, “Look, will you please just try to get it from my side? A year ago I was in the life full time. I was living on Park Avenue. It was a very nice apartment, leather furniture… and then the cops dropped on me, they caged me. They started asking me about a guy, some guy, that I’m supposed to have seen a year before that. Two years ago! He could be in Yemen. Gruneman… what does that mean? It’s a name! I don’t know him! And they start showing me these pictures, and they don’t mean anything to me. And then they started asking me if I’ve been getting letters from some guy out in Cabbageville.”

After Bree comes down to Klute’s little room in her pajamas and they have sex, she mocks him “Don’t feel bad about losing your virtue. I sort of knew you would. Everybody always does.” Once Bree starts to feel some kind of emotion toward Klute, she feels the need to destroy it, she had more control with her tricks.

During her various appointments with her shrink, Bree asks her “why do I still want to trick?” Her therapist becomes more forceful explaining that she can’t just fix Bree, telling her she has “no magic potion.”  “Cause when you’re a call girl you can control it. They want a woman and I know I’m good… And for an hour… for an hour, I’m the best actress in the world, and the best fuck in the world.” “Why do you say you’re the best actress in the world.” “Well, because it’s an act.”

There is a bit of not only a slight intrusion of a laugh, in the midst of all the darkness, when Bree is in bed with a john and she’s doing an acting job as if he’s turning her on while he’s on top of her, she coos for him- “Oh my angel! Oh my angel!” looking over his shoulder at her watch… It’s telling of how Bree can cut herself off from being a sex-worker and the men she is with, and how she aspires to be an actress and basically how many women may feel while they are having sex they feel nothing. Bree is great at role playing believes there is nothing wrong with it morally and doesn’t enjoy it physically.

Bree- “You don’t have to feel anything, care for anybody, just lead them by the ring in their nose. In the direction that they think they want to go in. Get a lot of money out of them in as short of period of time as possible. And you control it, and you call the shots, and I always feel just great afterwards.”

Therapist- “And you enjoyed it?” 

Bree- “No”

Therapist- “Why not? You said there’s nothing wrong with it. Why not?”

Bree- “Well there’s a difference. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it morally, I didn’t enjoy it physically. I came to enjoy it because it made me feel good. It made me feel like I wasn’t alone. It made me feel like I had some control over myself that I had some control over my life. That I could determine things for myself.”

We learn about Bree’s impressions of the world, her motivations and hints at past trauma through the scenes involving sessions with her therapist (Vivian Nathan). As a neo-noir film, it follows that the heroine experiences alienation and is punished for her female sexuality and excesses. Even as the film opens depicting a scene at a ‘family’ dinner, the intrusion of Bree’s lifestyle shows the downfall and breakdown of the American family. Invading bourgeois landscape, we see the tableau of desperate junkies, disco dives, the pimp’s flat, — all decadent and corrupt secret underworlds of the city, damned for it’s self-indulgence, materialism and perverted gratifications.

In some ways there are certain divergences from the noir traditions of the 1940s. There is a linear movement in the narrative with the hero retaining control of the events, in contrast to the revolving story, reversals and breaks in the plot. In terms of the investigation and the heroine’s sexuality, Bree’s place is different within the story, she is not the catalyst of Tom Gruneman’s fate she is the signpost to discovering his outcome. Therefore the relationship between John Klute and Bree is very different from what is usually the case in classic film noir. In this way Pakula explores the potential of the genre through a contemporary lens. “The metaphoric power of noir conventions is brought into more conscious play” (Gledhill)

Another consideration of Pakula’s film depicting a feminist backlash is how the women are positioned as ‘objects’ and physical products, emblematic not only by the scenes where Bree is selling her body, but where she sits in a line-up with other beautiful women waiting to be chosen for a modeling job. The agency executives heads are cut off in the scene which accentuates the human disconnection and impersonal enterprise of being picked for profitability and worth. Each one scanned then dismissed because of their perceived faults, both models and prostitutes symbolize the fetishization of desirability and society’s measurement of a woman’s value. If dissecting the film’s symbology more closely there are carefully placed clues as suggested by Judith Gustafson who observes the images behind the models impersonal scrutiny and the wall photos behind them of a face dotted in silver like ‘bullet holes’ on either side depicted by the identical image yet in negative that makes the female face appear as an ‘alien being.’

“Has anybody talked to you about the financial arrangements? Well that depends naturally on how long you want me for, and what you want to do. I know you, it will be very nice. Well I’d like to spend the evening with you if its, if you’d like that. Have you ever done it with a woman before, paying her? Do you like it? I mean I have the feeling that that turns you on very particularly. What turns me on is because I have a good imagination, and I like pleasing. Do you mind if I take my sweater off. Well I think in the confines of one’s house one should be free of clothing and inhibitions. Oh inhibitions are nice, cause its always to nice to overcome. Don’t be afraid, I’m not. As long as you don’t hurt me, more than I like to be hurt. I will do anything you ask. You should never be ashamed of things like that. I mean you mustn’t be. You know there’s nothing wrong. Nothing. Nothing is wrong. I think the only way that any of us can ever be happy is to, is to let it all hang out ya know. Do it all and fuck it!”

When Klute meets Bree she toys with him, flaunting her independence and manifesting a casual attitude about his investigation. Her self aligned liberation dictates contempt for convention and criticism. Hard-edged Bree enjoys her freedom though she is seduced by the need to pick up the phone and maintain her high-class status as a pimp free call girl. Roy Scheider plays her old predatory pimp Frank Ligourin who flashes his Italian silk shirts and his Mephistophelean smile. Ligourin and call-girl Janie McKenna who was jealous of Bree are the ones responsible for sending Bree to the psycho john who beat her up. “put the freak onto Bree.”

Though it’s not what drives the story, in the darkened halls of the film is the sadistic degenerate Peter Cable ( first time actor Charles Cioffi), affluent businessman and friend and associate of the missing Tom Gruneman (Robert Milli) and detective John Klute.

Cable is a psychopathic misogynist who obsessively listens to his secret recordings of his exploits with Bree. He begins stalking her, suspecting that she may reveal his identity as the perverted John who beat her up and murdered her friend Janie and eventually kills another prostitute, a strung out junkie Arlyn Page (Dorothy Tristan).

“Make a man think that he’s accepted. It’s all a great big game to you. I mean, you’re all obviously too lazy and too warped to do anything meaningful with your lives so you prey upon the sexual fantasies of others. I’m sure it comes as no great surprise to you when I say that there are little corners in everyone which were better off left alone; sicknesses, weaknesses, which-which should never be exposed. But… that’s your stock in trade, isn’t it – a man’s weakness? And I was never really fully aware of mine… until you brought them out.”

Pretty much into the beginning of the picture we know who the killer is. The plot-line is more focused on the journey and relationship/character study of silent John Klute and turbulent Bree Daniels, and drawing the killer out into the open. It is the examination of the darker side of human nature, collective disorder and the undercurrent of psycho-sexual machinations as one of the central points to the film.

According to Joan Mellen not only is Klute a study in female sexuality, villain Peter Cable is the “projection of Bree’s self-contempt — a materialization of her fear of the dark.” Though the film presents an atmosphere of paranoia the threat is very real. Cable is “he also represents what she believes she deserves, the all destroying punisher who will make her pay for having bartered herself so cheaply.”

Jane Fonda’s Bree Daniels is shown in her room as Willis’ camera pulls back it informs us that she is afraid of the phone ringing and the menacing breather on the other end. This is when John Klute first shows up. There is an interesting correlation with the two men, cop and killer. 

The idea that this film is feminist in nature because of the sexual freedom of it’s central character is best challenged by feminist scholar Christine Gledhill. “The ideological project surrounding this version of the independent woman stereotype is the same as when it emerged in the 1890s under the guise of the New Woman… However fascinating, different, admirable the would-be-emancipated woman, struggling to assert her own identity in a male world, and professing a new, nonrepressive sexual morality, in the end she is really neurotic, fragile, lonely and unhappy.”

Critic Pauline Kael had a much different experience of the film upon its initial release, she called Bree Daniels “one of the strongest feminine characters to reach the screen” though Fonda’s brilliant performance creates a complexity worthy of analysis, in the end, she is still an object of male fantasy.

While the film’s critics focus mainly on feminist shortcomings there is also the understanding by some that it also shines a lens on masculinity. Klute “lacks dynamism” “sexless” and “out of place” perhaps or virtual psychopaths, and castrated males. Perhaps a commentary on men’s sweeping fear of the women’s movement and the transformations of femininity and masculinity. Also an interesting observation by Mia Mask is how the protagonist John Klute and psychopath Peter Cable though essentially an antithesis of each other’s persona’s there is an element of a ‘doppelgänger motif’. Diane Giddis points at the the threat of Cable, Bree’s potential killer can be seen as the incarnation of the emotional danger she feels threatened by with the emergence of John Klute. From the beginning of the film, “the two men are almost always shown in juxtaposition.” The morning after Bree gets the eerie ‘breather’ phone call from her stalker, Klute appears at her door.

“Like Cable, Klute appears uninvited at her door. He, too, spies on her through windows and from archways. He, too, violates the privacy of her telephone by secretly recording her calls, just as Cable secretly records his session with her. The film even emphasized these parallels by showing the men in similar shots…{…} Ultimately Klute and Cable are two sides of the same male personality. One side punishes women for their sexuality and power plays; the other neutralizes the threat by inviting child-like dependence.” –Judith Gustafson from Cineaste (1981) The Whore with the Heart of Gold

At the time of Klute’s release it gave the appearance as not only a straight suspense story but that of a radical film, filled with contradictions between what feminist critics would say is artifice and what represents women in real situations. Within this ‘new American cinema’ the film purports to be about a ‘liberated’ heroine inhabiting the structure of a thriller with an homage to the femme fatales of film noir. The contradictory implications lie between the film’s ‘modernity’, psychotherapy and the problem of women places it within a humanist realist tradition of European art cinema’ (Gledhill). Yet it also bares the stylistic qualities –a highly detailed visual polish and ‘baroque stereotypes’ in noir thrillers, an atmosphere predominately summoned by American films of the seventies. “The real world and fictional production” Gledhill asserts that stems from the Women’s Movement rather than studies in film theory. The idea of realism and genre are in total opposition with each other. Klute presents as an independent heroine yet each frame reveals the attack on Bree’s free will.

“While realism embraces such cultural values as ‘real life’, truth or credibility, genre production holds negative connotations such as ‘illusion’, ‘myth’, ‘conventionality’, ‘stereotypes’. The Hollywood genres represent the fictional elaboration of a patriarchal culture which produces macho heroes and a subordinate, demeaning and objectified place for women.”

And beyond the constructs of film noir, seventies thriller genre and criticism by feminist theorists of Pakula’s Klute, Bree Daniel’s conflicts are a universal struggle for women ‘the assertion of love vs the affirmation of self-determination. Bree’s uneasy self reflection makes the perspective of a movie prostitute as a breakthrough characterization. She isn’t a tragic figure nor is she weak nor contemptible. Bree explores her compulsion and potential self destructive behavior as a sex worker as an externalized symptom stemming from past mental and internalized physical injury and she strives to uncover the answers in her own way.

Pakula re-invents some of the noir traditions and places them within an examination of the modern world. With his masterful film, he strives not only for visual ecstasy, the dramatic flourish of the thriller genre and though there has been acute dissection of his film, he seeks to the divulge a truth that becomes a revelation of acting by Jane Fonda.

In a 2019 interview with Jane Fonda conducted by Illeana Douglas, Fonda refers to Alan J. Pakula whom she worked in subsequent films, Comes a Horseman and Rollover, as a “still director.” “He allowed time for things to happen.” Jane Fonda explains that she loves films from the seventies because there was time left for things to happen. “more silence, than words.”

During the rehearsal for Klute Jane Fonda in order to prepare for her role as Bree Daniels, arranged to spend a lot of time with call-girls, streetwalkers and madams. Prostitutes on the bottom rung, strung out from the underbelly of the city and very wealthy madams, whom Fonda said made it clear the more money the client the weirder the sexual appetites and fantasies. She also talked about her decade living in France where she got to know the legendary Madam Claude, famous for taking beautiful women and molding them into high price call girls. Jane Fonda got to know many of them. Many she met were tough, often sexually aggressive she she said, and also sexually confident. She had learned that often they were the survivors of sexual abuse. What she referred having their ‘agency taken away’. These women inspired Fonda to model Bree after them. This is why Fonda’s performance pivots so well from self-confidence to vulnerability.

Illeana Douglas compliments Fonda by telling her that there’s “something going on in your eyes” which made Fonda recall that acting instructor Lee Strasberg had told her the very same thing in his class, that something was going on in her eyes that made him think that more is going on.

Fonda also had what she calls a ‘hair epiphany’. She had just come off filming cult sensation directed by husband, Roger Vadim’s Barbarella where she had all those blonde waves. Her friend hairdresser Paul MacGregor who lived in the village worked on what is now her iconic hair style from Klute.

Jane Fonda worried that as a white privileged middle class actress couldn’t possibly bring to life a prostitute and make it believable. She insisted to her director Alan J. Pakula that he hire Faye Dunaway instead. Pakula burst out laughing.

Jane Fonda was allowed to add a lot of her own insight into the character of Bree, little details and director Pakula often took them as excellent suggestions that worked well with the story. For instance, it was Fonda’s idea to live in the apartment for weeks. She lay there at night as if she were Bree trying to get inside Bree’s head and summon up the things she would do within her private time. We don’t know the backstory behind Bree Daniels many permutations. We are only to privy to hints of the damage.

Jane Fonda conceptualized many of the set’s subtleties. What would Bree read, what would adorn her little space. She thought of having a cat, because cats symbolize independence and Fonda imagined that Bree’s persona wanted a companion that would be more like herself. In many ways, Jane Fonda dressed the set with these little introspective details. The film became a very personal experience for her. And one that initiated her feminist transformation. Even when she was smoking the spliff in her apartment, it wasn’t in the script but she spontaneously began to sing that little hymn, it was very natural and emphasized how real her character was. Fonda tells of how this was a very spontaneous improvisation as a plot detail that was not in the script but struck her at the moment.

Illeana Douglas also astutely pointed out that there was a lot of glamour to the film. There were moments where Klute was framed with close ups of Bree. Even with the evocative Cymbalon melody – the Klezmer (traditional Eastern European Jewish music) movement that guides the scene it reminds of the languid strut of Marlene Dietrich, the allure of Greta Garbo and had the flavor of night club singers in Paris and Germany. When I watched the incredibly thoughtful and in-depth interview it hit me how much that was true. I saw it as clear as day, that Jane Fonda’s aura did truly give off that mystique that essence of glamour of the great actresses’ personae. Superb fashion and costume designer Ann Roth chose the alluring dress that Bree wears when she visits the old man, Mr. Goldfarb. 

Jane Fonda also points out that Bree could have been a great actress but within her craft something would have triggered her to return to selling her body, which is a violation to the soul, and it’s very different than acting, as it comes from a deep place of trauma and the need to control and not open up her heart.

[voiceover] “I have no idea what’s going to happen. I… I just can’t stay in this city, you know? Maybe I’ll come back. You’ll probably see me next week.”

 This is your EverLovin Joey saying see you on the tracks! Part 2 coming up!

 

Quote of the Day! The Hustler (1961) “You’re too hungry”

“A searching look into the innermost depths of a woman’s heart . . . and a man’s desires!”

The Hustler (1961)

Sarah to Eddie “You’re too hungry”

Director/Screenwriter Robert Rossen wrote the screenplay for Marked Woman (1937), They Won’t Forget (1937), Dust Be My Destiny (1939), Out of the Fog (1941), Blues in the Night (1941), Edge of Darkness (1943), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), Johnny O’Clock (1947), Desert Fury (1947) and wrote the screenplay for Billy Budd. Rossen also wrote and directed All the Kings Men (1949), Mambo (1954), and the psycho-sexual labyrinth set in a mental institution in the early 1960s starring Jean Seberg-Lilith (1964) perhaps Rossen’s most dark and nihilistic vision of the human spirit yet. He directed John Garfield and Lilli Palmer in Body and Soul (1947). Robert Rossen was a pool hustler himself as a youth. Based on the novel by Walter S. Tevis.

Music by Kenyon Hopkins (12 Angry Men 1957, The Strange One 1957, The Fugitive Kind 1960, Elmer Gantry 1960, East Side/West Side 1963-46, Lilith 1964, television movies, Dr. Cook’s Garden 1971, Women in Chains 1972, Night of Terror 1972, The Devil’s Daughter 1973 and tv’s The Odd Couple 1970-73).

Robert Rossen is one of the most fascinating unexplored American directors, for his interesting viewpoint on alienation in the world and that constant elusive souvenir of the spirit one’s identity. Rossen has been quoted as saying that his favorite Shakespearean play was Macbeth. In it he said he found a “dramatization of the ambiguity of the human condition… man reaching for the symbols of his identity, rather than the reality, destroying yet finding himself in the tragic process.” 

In Rossen’s collection of works you can see the more aggressive symbols played out as the representations of male power, domination and violence as physical love. He told The New York Sun in 1947 that “Real life is ugly… but we can’t make good pictures until we’re ready to tell about it.”

Body and Soul (1947) written by Robert Rossen and Directed by Abraham PolonskyShown: back: William Conrad (as Quinn), Joseph Pevney (as Shorty Polaski) , John Garfield (as Charlie Davis)

After his gangster film Johnny O’Clock Rossen directed with the conventions of the crime genre Body and Soul (1947). Then Rossen directed The Hustler which used a breakthrough in technique and stretched the boundaries of social realism in the way Kazan had. The film like his All the Kings Men is still about the corrupt influences of money but on a deeper level it is driven by a darker motivation-the illusionary symbols of self worth, with George C. Scott’s character playing at Eddie’s weakness as a gambler and a seeker, like a devil daring him toward damnation. He is a sadist and ultimately seeks Eddies dependency and ruination and Sarah’s self-destruction.

Sarah tells Eddie “We are all crippled.” Sarah has the insight to see into the future yet she is beyond all the wounds inflicted in her life and can not forestall what will happen outside the confines of their little world that is her cluttered apartment. Sarah and Bert battle it out for Eddie’s soul. It is an ugly power struggle, and there are so many brilliantly executed frames that represent Rossen’s complex themes within The Hustler.

The film also co-stars Michael Constantine, Vincent Gardenia, Murray Hamilton and Myron McCormick who is always compelling in any role, plays Eddie’s devoted manager Charlie Burns who takes the journey with Eddie at first and winds up being pushed out by the hostile and rancorous Bert Gordon. Murry Hamilton is fantastic as he inhabits the coded gay character of the pretentious and effete gambler Findley.

The Hustler is a a moral allegory about life and the inter-relationships of miscreants, losers and lost souls struggling to find themselves in a gritty, unsatisfying world that permeates the world of the competitive underground sport of shooting pool. Fast Eddie has been working his way up to finally have a showdown with the reigning legend Minnesota Fats. The film is a restless contemplation merged with some dynamic scenes of maneuvering on the pool table.

The film opens with a smoke filled pool palace in Pittsburgh with a sign ‘gambling not allowed’. It’s a hangout for pool sharks, called hustlers. Paul Newman plays Fast Eddie, a smug young man who was born to take suckers for a ride, feeling that wood between his anxious fingers he can spot a ripe table waiting for him to swoop in for the kill. But Eddie with all his mythological ambition just doesn’t know when it’s time to quit. Eddie goes 25 consecutive rounds with the legendary Minnesota Fats and it appears like he’s got the marathon match in his corner pocket when he starts knocking back the whiskey, and can’t just take win with dignity he has to demolish Fats and allow his ego to drive the rest of the rest of the way home. The scene is shot in a dynamic half hour sequence using gorgeous black and white photography in cinemascope and Schüfftan‘s (who won an Oscar for his camera-work) eye for detail he honed on Fritz Lang’s surreal Metropolis, the film he developed special effects for. The sequence of this film is nothing short of riveting. The set up is mesmerizing as we are drawn into a timeless expanse as the different approaches to the game unfold, as pool stick meets ball, ball dances with ball and fills the pockets like cannon fire, while the spectators whose expressions are glued to every move as if in a trance.

Fats who is way more graceful and composed manages to win back his loot and leave the cocky and exhausted Eddie practically penniless. Eddie’s got a keen skill for the game but he doesn’t have self control or character. Bert Gordon played by actor George C. Scott tempts Eddie like Mephistopheles to sell his soul to him with the promise that he can not only make his dream come true of being the greatest, but to also avenge the ass kicking that he took from Fats. As cock-sure as Eddie appears, he has no fortitude and winds up abandoning his honor and his love for Sarah in order to seek the rematch with the Fat man.

Piper Laurie’s character Sarah Packard is a liberated forward-thinking woman who while bares the damages of life, is independent though alienated from the rest of the world because of her open wounds. She is trying to be a writer and drinks too much. She wants to be loved, and Eddie wants to be the best.

And so he sells his soul to Bert Gordon who is the films Faustian metaphor. The early 60s began an era of films that began to embrace controversial adult themed narratives, that dealt with race, class dynamics and the changing roles that were taking place with gender.

[Fast Eddie is bothered because Bert called him a born loser]

Fast Eddie: “Cause, ya see, twice, Sarah… once at Ames with Minnesota Fats and then again at Arthur’s, in that cheap, crummy pool room, now why’d I do it, Sarah? Why’d I do it? I coulda beat that guy, coulda beat ‘im cold, he never woulda known. But I just hadda show ‘im. Just hadda show those creeps and those punks what the game is like when it’s great, when it’s REALLY great. You know, like anything can be great, anything can be great. I don’t care, BRICKLAYING can be great, if a guy knows. If he knows what he’s doing and why and if he can make it come off. When I’m goin’, I mean, when I’m REALLY goin’ I feel like a… like a jockey must feel. He’s sittin’ on his horse, he’s got all that speed and that power underneath him… he’s comin’ into the stretch, the pressure’s on ‘im, and he KNOWS… just feels… when to let it go and how much. Cause he’s got everything workin’ for ‘im: timing, touch. It’s a great feeling, boy, it’s a real great feeling when you’re right and you KNOW you’re right. It’s like all of a sudden I got oil in my arm. The pool cue’s part of me. You know, it’s uh – pool cue, it’s got nerves in it. It’s a piece of wood, it’s got nerves in it. Feel the roll of those balls, you don’t have to look, you just KNOW. You make shots that nobody’s ever made before. I can play that game the way… NOBODY’S ever played it before.”

Sarah Packard: “You’re not a loser, Eddie, you’re a winner. Some men never get to feel that way about anything.”

Rossen wrote the screenplay and directed this gripping story of fast Eddie Felson, as he strives to knock Minnesota Fats down a peg and capture the title of best pool hustler in the country, taking Fats (Jackie Gleason who was perfect as he manifested the character of Fats, well-dressed, reserved and showed a deep reverence and concentration to the game.) on in a high-stakes game that challenges no only his keen gift for shooting pool but on the line is his self respect and his nebulous masculine identity.

Fast Eddie to Fats: You know, I got a hunch, fat man. I got a hunch it’s me from here on in. One ball, corner pocket. I mean, that ever happen to you? You know, all of a sudden you feel like you can’t miss? ‘Cause I dreamed about this game, fat man. I dreamed about this game every night on the road. Five ball. You know, this is my table, man. I own it.

Along the way, he falls in love with Sarah Packford immortalized on the screen in an arresting performance by Piper Laurie (Kim Novak had turned down the role) who should have won the Oscar for Best Actress with her nuanced, and heart wrenching interpretation of the vulnerable loner and self-loathing Sarah. Rossen has often dealt with the intricacies within the psychological landscape of his films.

Sarah Packard is a complicated woman who has a tenuous connection to the world but allows herself to fall in love with Eddie who is driven to succeed and land at the top as the greatest pool hustler. Sarah is a lost soul longing for someone who will love her. She’s receives a stipend from her wealthy father, but there is no sign of affection or acceptance from him, his is non-existent. Eddie awakens desire in her, but he cannot deliver anything but his hunger and ambition to beat Minnesota Fats and attain the title. Fast Eddie destroys everything he touches. In order to really throw herself into the role of Sarah Packard Piper Laurie actually hung out at the Greyhound terminal at night.

Piper Laurie (Has Anybody Seen My Gal 1952, The Mississippi Gambler 1953, Dangerous Mission 1954, Johnny Dark 1954, Ain’t Misbehavin’ 1955, and director Curtis Harrington’s Ruby 1977, Children of a Lesser God 1986, Dario Argento’s Trauma 1993, The Crossing Guard 1995, The Dead Girl 2006 and television series-Naked City, Ben Casey, The Eleventh Hour) discovered that Paul Newman was truly down to earth – “He really didn’t believe in himself as an actor at all. He thought he had great limitations, and owed everything to other people- the Actors Studio, Joanne- he seemed not to take credit for himself.”

Laurie didn’t make another film over the course of 15 years until she returned to the screen in Brian dePalma’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie (1976), which earned her a second Oscar nomination as the religious fanatic archetypal devouring mother a role that would ignite a new fire under the icons of horror movie fiends and villains.

Sarah and Eddie meet in the bus terminal. They both have a drinking problem, especially Sarah who drowns her self-pity in booze. She was born with a deformity in her foot which makes her limp, and gives her a feeling of self hatred and undesirability that Eddie breaks through with his smooth talking swagger. He manages to reach in and touch her heart but his reckless abandon to win, overshadows Sarah’s cries for help and her self destructive nature cannot withstand the competition for Eddie’s soul.

Sarah Packard: I love you, Eddie.

Fast Eddie: You know, someday, Sarah, you’re gonna settle down… you’re gonna marry a college professor and you’re gonna write a great book. Maybe about me. Huh? Fast Eddie Felson… hustler.

Sarah Packard: I love you.

Fast Eddie: You need the words?

Sarah Packard: Yes, I need them very much. If you ever say them I’ll never let you take them back.

To achieve Sarah’s limp, Piper Laurie first experimented with walking around with pebbles in her shoes. “Finally, I just did it without anything, because Rossen didn’t want an obvious limp; he didn’t want it consistent because he felt he wanted the audience to be aware of it sometimes and not other times.”

The two shack up and set up house in Sarah’s apartment that is subsidized by her father’s money. Eddie is obsessed with winning. Their relationship is turbulent and dysfunctional, then enters George C. Scott as Bert Gordon a misanthropic snake in the grass who exploits Eddie and interferes with his relationship with Sarah. Once Bert Gordon slithers into the closed world of Eddie’s pool hustling and his love affair with Sarah, that world is corrupted, and Eddie begins to lose his way.

Ulu Grosbard later noted that the interior of Sarah’s apartment was built in a studio at 55th St. and 10th Ave. He said the actors’ dressing rooms there were very small and, in his memory, without windows, “like cells,” but that Piper Laurie furnished hers “as if she were going to live in it the rest of her life.” It was Grosbard’s impression that Laurie would sometimes spend the night there.

Bert Gordon: Eddie, is it alright if I get personal?

Fast Eddie: Whaddaya been so far?

Bert Gordon: Eddie, you’re a born loser.

Fast Eddie: What’s that supposed to mean?

Bert Gordon: First time in ten years I ever saw Minnesota Fats hooked… really hooked. But you let him off.

Fast Eddie: I told you I got drunk.

Bert Gordon: Sure you got drunk. You have the best excuse in the world for losing; no trouble losing when you got a good excuse. Winning… that can be heavy on your back, too, like a monkey. You’ll drop that load too when you got an excuse. All you gotta do is learn to feel sorry for yourself. One of the best indoor sports, feeling sorry for yourself. A sport enjoyed by all, especially the born losers.

Bert Gordon: You’re here on a rain check and I know it. You’re hangin’ on by your nails. You let that glory whistle blow loud and clear for Eddie and you’re a wreck on a railroad track… you’re a horse that finished last. So don’t make trouble, Miss Ladybird. Live and let live! While you can. I’ll make it up to you.

Sarah Packard: How?

Bert Gordon: You tell me.

Fast Eddie: I loved her, Bert. I traded her in on a pool game. But that wouldn’t mean anything to you. Because who did you ever care about? Just win, win, you said, win, that’s the important thing. You don’t know what winnin’ is, Bert. You’re a loser. ‘Cause you’re dead inside, and you can’t live unless you make everything else dead around ya.

The Hustler is an extraordinary character study of the how humans bang into each other like the balls on the table, and no one really wins. It’s got a slick rhythm to it’s movement and editing by the wonderful Dede Allen and the Eugen Schüfftan (Metropolis 1927, Bluebeard (1944), Strange Illusion (1945), The Strange Woman 1946, The Bloody Brood (1959), Eyes Without a Face 1960,  Something Wild (1961) Lilith (1964) Eugen Schüfftan’s style is uniquely dark and almost mythic in it’s visual abstraction of reality.

IMDb trivia –

The picture was shot by Eugen Schüfftan, who had invented an optical effects process that employed mirrors to create backgrounds. According to crew reports, many of the pool room shots employed this process to varying degrees. The picture was also shot in CinemaScope, a wide-screen process usually reserved for big epics and action pictures.

The camera descends like Orpheus into the seedy smoky hidden world of the American pool hall, gazing at the sweaty mercenaries who hunger to hear the clicking and smacking of the balls making contact as they encircle the pool tables like birds of prey.

According to editor Dede Allen, an entire scene from this film was omitted after much deliberation between Allen and her director Robert Rossen. Even though both agreed that the scene, an impassioned speech by Paul Newman in the pool room, was possibly the best part of his entire performance, they had to throw it out because “…it didn’t move the story.” Newman, though Oscar-nominated, later claimed that the deleted scene most likely cost him the Academy Award. Dede Allen liked working with Robert Rossen because he was the kind of director who shot scenes from every possible angle, providing her with a wide range of cover footage that allowed for various interpretations and possibilities.

American actress Piper Laurie as Sarah Packard in ‘The Hustler’, directed by Robert Rossen, 1961. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

The film was also somewhat autobiographical for Robert Rossen, relating to his dealings with the House Un-American Activities Committee. A screenwriter during the 1930s and ’40s, he had been involved with the Communist Party in the 1930s and refused to name names at his first HUAC appearance. Ultimately he changed his mind and identified friends and colleagues as party members. Similarly, Felson sells his soul and betrays the one person who really knows and loves him in a Faustian pact to gain character.

When it was necessary to show some of the trickier shots, 14 time world billiards champion Willie Mosconi (who was also the film’s technical advisor) would play the stunt hands.

Otherwise Jackie Gleason who was already an accomplished pool plays and Paul Newman had never held a pool cue before he landed the role of Fast Eddie Felson. He took out the dining room table from his home and installed a pool table so he could spend every waking hour practicing and polishing up his skills

This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying wrack ’em up and then join me for another go around here at The Last Drive In

 

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.

Grayson Hall Satan in High Heels
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”

Edward Dmytryk’s Walk on the Wild Side (1962) At the Doll House; “When people are kind to each other why do they have to find a dirty word for it”

As part of The Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon hosted by The Girl With the White Parasol

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Barbara Stanwyck in Samuel Fuller’s Forty Guns (1957)

WALK ON THE WILD SIDE (1962)

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The Graphic Genius of Saul Bass post here:

In Edward Dmytryk’s Walk on the Wild Side Barbara Stanwyck is no ordinary ‘Jo’

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Stanwyck was the epitome of independence and determination. She had a streak of non-conformity, toughness, and resilience.

Stanwyck was born Ruby Stevens in Brooklyn, July 16th 1907. A New Yorker like me and a fellow Cancerian. Her mother died and her father disappeared when she was 4, leaving her and her brother in the care of her older sister Mildred and foster homes where she’d often run away. At age 9 Ruby toured with her dancer sister, a John Cort Showgirl practicing the routines back stage. Watching her idol Pearl White on the big screen inspired her to go into showbiz. She quitt school at age 14, followed her sister’s lead and became a Ziegfeld Follies girl.

Ziegfeld Girl 1924 Stanwyck
Ziegfeld Girl 1924 Barbara Stanwyck

In 1929 Stanwyck had the lead in the road company production of the Broadway hit ‘Burlesque’ which was a hit in theater. She shared the stage with Mary Tomlinson, a clergyman’s daughter who most likely ran away from home because she was a lesbian. Mary changed her name to Marjorie Main and become the quick talkin’ ‘Ma’ in the raucous Ma and Pa Kettle series from ’49-’57.

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Marjorie Main as the unflappable Ma Kettle

One of her good friends during those years was pianist Oscar Levant who said Stanwyck was “wary of sophisticates and phonies.”

Ruby became Barbara Stanwyck at age 19 while she had the lead in ‘The Noose’ on Broadway. At 21 she was introduce by Levant to Frank Fay star of Vaudeville and ten years older than she, a closet homosexual, alcoholic and abusive husband. They married and moved to Hollywood in 1929 when Stanwyck was on her way to becoming a star of the silver screen. They used her money and bought a mansion in Brentwood. That’s how she and Joan Crawford (married to Franchot Tone at the time) became neighbors and close friends.

At first Stanwyck starred in a few B movies but began getting attention for her roles in Ladies of Leisure30, Illicit ’31, Night Nurse ’31, and Miracle Woman ’31.

Stanwyck in Illicit
Stanwyck in Illicit 1931

While working with Frank Capra on Ladies of Leisure he taught her that much of acting was conveyed with the eyes, and that unless the audience was drawn in, the dialogue didn’t matter. This was her breakthrough movie. Edward Bernds who worked with Capra said “That first take with Stanwyck was sacred.”

Stanwyck’s first Academy Award nomination was for the down trodden mother Stella Dallas ’37 where her old friend Marjorie Main played her mother-in-law.

Three nominations followed for Ball of Fire ’42 with Gary Cooper, Double Indemnity ’44, and Sorry Wrong Number ’48 with Burt Lancaster. Stanwyck was now on her second marriage to another gay man, the handsome Robert Taylor. Their ’39 marriage was arranged by the studio. The couple had separate bedrooms.

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Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor on the cover of Movie Life

Stanwyck had a life-long relationship with her publicist Helen Ferguson. In ’35 she played the rugged farm girl living in a man’s world– Annie Oakley, a masculine woman who was great with a gun.

Annie Oakley

She did a slew of romantic comedies with charismatic co-stars. Twice with Henry Fonda in the screw ball The Mad Miss Manton ’38, and Preston SturgesThe Lady Eve ’41. Remember The Night ’40 opposite Fred MacMurray was her first film with costume designer Edith Head.

Some of my favorite films of her’s were: playing opposite co-star William Holden in Rouben Mamoulian’s Golden Boy ’39. Then Meet John Doe 1941, Lady of Burlesque, and the immortal femme fatale Phyllis Dietrichson in 1944 Double Indemnity, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers ’46, The Two Mrs. Carrolls ’47, Cry Wolf ’47, B. F.’s Daughter ’48, Sorry, Wrong Number ’48, in 1950 The File on Thelma Jordan, No Man of Her Own  & The Furies. Fritz Lang’s tumultuous Mae Doyle opposite Robert Ryan in Clash By Night ’52, Witness to Murder ’56, There’s Always Tomorrow ’56, Crime of Passion ’57 & Forty Guns ’57.

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Phyllis Dietrichson is brought to life by Barbara Stanwyck in the noir staple Double Indemnity ’44

Stanwyck and MacMurray Double Indemnity
Stanwyck and MacMurray Double Indemnity ’44

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Stanwyck and Wendell Corey in The File on Thelma Jordan 1950

Clifton Webb who co-starred in Titanic 53 called her his “Favorite Hollywood Lesbian.” It’s pretty significant that Barbara had finally played her one and only screen lesbian in Walk on the Wild Side ’62. Barbara Stanwyck’s sexual orientation has been called ‘the best kept secret in the movies’ by Axel Madsen who wrote the very engaging The Sewing Circle. It’s a hell of a read!

Three years later she created a new image for herself as the gutsy matriarch Victoria Barkley in the television western The Big Valley. Stanwyck loved her character ‘an old broad who combines elegance with guts.’ 

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Stanwyck as classy & rugged frontier woman Victoria Barkley  in 60s television show The Big Valley 1968

Walk on the Wild Side was Barbara Stanwyck’s return to the big screen since playing Cattle Queen Jessica Drummond in Sam Fuller’s sexually charged western Forty Guns 1957 which had this fantastic line, `Can I touch it?’ asks Jessica referring to Griff Bonnell’s (Barry Sullivan) gun. Griff tells her, ‘It might go off in your face’  Stanwyck was in love with the Western genre.

Stanwyck and Sullivan Forty Guns
Stanwyck and Sullivan Forty Guns ’57

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She was thrilled to accept a good part in a film, that of Jo Courtney the iron-willed lesbian madame of a ritzy bordello named The Doll House in New Orleans. The film still maintains that clichéd whiff of mothballs from The Celluloid Closet holding the mystique and stereotypes of homosexuals and lesbians who are all either sad souls, psychopaths, or villains. Yet Stanwyck’s Jo Courtney poured from concrete and as dangerous as a steel trap conveys a pathos transcending the caricature of a predatory lesbian. It’s probably what made her such a beloved lesbian icon. Stanwyck proved she could go head to head with any man or woman who came her way. And although she never came out of the closet she went through two marriages to gay men without a hitch of scandal.

in 1962 the film sets this lurid lesbian melodrama and peek at the underbelly of bordello life, down in the midst of the underworld revisiting the archetypes of gays being part of the illicit subculture of society. Revisiting the ‘sexual ghetto’ in quite the same way the briefly liberated films of the early Thirties depicted them. As Vito Russo says in The Celluloid Closet, “The movies simply reflected what little they could identify of a hidden world and, in both pre-Code and post-Code times saw Homosexuals solely in sexual terms because that what had always been sold.”

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For over thirty years the subject had not been talked about, so when the ban was lifted, filmmakers picked up where they had left off. The film was able to represent the whore house openly as just that, a house of prostitution.

Walk on the Wild Side is the story of a New Orleans brothel and the seductive melodrama surrounding an obsessed drifter in search of his lost love, the lugubrious courtesan who is ensnared in a tangled web of vice, decadence and the lesbian madame who desires to possess her.

The bordello is stocked with liquor, a bartender who never quits pouring, and a full jazz ensemble who play fabulous bluesy melodies that cater to their clients while the employees all seem to suffer from a collective languorous state of mind.

Languid ladies of The Doll House

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Stanwyck’s Jo Courtney villainous nature accepts her own lesbianism. Instead of killing herself like Shirley MacLaine’s Martha in The Children’s Hour ’61, Jo decides to declare her power by opening up a brothel, and selling sexuality on her own terms.

Jo lusts after and loves her object of desire Hallie, played by model actress Capucine. But the love that dare not speak it’s name finds itself disrupted once smooth talking Texas farmer Dove Linkhorn (Laurence Harvey) comes looking for Hallie. Three years prior Hallie and Dove swam and kissed each other and danced themselves silly til Dove was hopelessly hooked on the lovely divinity that he refers to as his ‘religion.’ Dove had to wait for his ailing father to die before he could come and claim his love.

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Jo bitterly resents the intrusion of Dove and feels threatened by this young buck’s presence. The camera frames his coming between Jo and Hallie

The film was not the huge success they thought it would be despite the adult themes and stellar cast. Probably because of it’s screenplay which doesn’t allow Algren’s novel to freely express it’s most provocative and sociological themes. Nelson Algren’s book focused on the seedy underbelly of the New Orleans of Depression Era 30s. Screenwriters, Fante, Morris and Hecht while synthesizing the essence of the story, their observations gloss over the grittier descriptiveness and atmosphere of Algren’s murky brothels filled with even more vile and violent pimps. A world that showcased fetishistic patrons and sullen whores who wade around in the muck hoping for a better life. While the film has a way of self-moralizing the plot to death at times, Algren’s novel did not show contempt for his prostitutes. It had a real strain of class conscious angst and didn’t sermonize about the unpalatable people who lived on the fringe of society but rather focused on those in power who exploited them. In some ways the film hones in on the story making it a more intimate venture into melodrama.

Continue reading “Edward Dmytryk’s Walk on the Wild Side (1962) At the Doll House; “When people are kind to each other why do they have to find a dirty word for it””

MonsterGirl’s 13 Days of Halloween: Obscure Films Better Than Candy Corn!

13 Days of schlock, shock…horror and some truly authentic moments of terror…it’s my pre celebratory Halloween viewing schedule which could change at any time, given a whim or access to a long coveted obscure gem!

No doubt AMC and TCM will be running a slew of gems from the archives of Horror films to celebrate this coming Halloween! Films we LOVE and could watch over and over never tiring of them at all….

For my 13 days of Halloween, I thought I might watch a mix of obscure little gems, some vintage horror & Sci-Fi , film noir and mystery/thriller. Halloween is a day to celebrate masterpieces like The Haunting, The Tingler, House on Haunted Hill, Curse of The Demon, Pit and The Pendulum, Let’s Scare Jessica To Death, Psycho just to name a few favorites.

But the days leading up to this fine night of film consumption, should be tempered with rare and weird beauties filled with a great cast of actors and actresses. Film’s that repulse and mystify, part oddity and partly plain delicious fun. Somewhat like Candy Corn is…for me!

I’ll be adding my own stills in a bit!…so stay tuned and watch a few of these for yourselves!

The Witch Who Came From The Sea 1976

Millie Perkins bravely plays a very disturbed woman who goes on a gruesome killing spree, culminating from years of abuse from her drunken brute of a father. Very surreal and disturbing, Perkins is a perfect delusional waif who is bare breasted most of the time.

Ghost Story/Circle of Fear: Television Anthology series

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The Phantom of Herald Square starring David Soul as a man who remains ageless, sort of.

House of Evil, starring Melvin Douglas as a vindictive grandpa who uses the power of telepathy to communicate with his only granddaughter (Jodie Foster) Judy who is a deaf mute. Beware the creepy muffin people.

A Touch of Madness, stars Rip Torn and Geraldine Page and the lovely Lynn Loring. Nothing is as it seems in the old family mansion. Is it madness that runs in the family or unsettled ghosts?

Bad Connection starring Karen Black as a woman haunted by her dead husband’s ghost.

The Dead We Leave Behind starring Jason Robards and Stella Stevens. Do the dead rise up if you don’t bury them in time, and can they speak through a simple television set.

Night Warning 1983

Susan Tyrrell plays Aunt Cheryl to Jimmy McNichol’s Billy, a boy who lost his parents at age 3 in a bad car wreck leaving him to be raised by his nutty Aunt. Billy’s on the verge of turning 17 and planning on leaving the sickly clutches of doting Aunt Cheryl and she’ll kill anyone who gets in the way of keeping her beloved boy with her always….Tyrrell is soooo good at being sleazy, she could almost join the Baby Jane club of Grande Dame Hag Cinema, making Bette Davis’s Baby Jane seem wholesome in comparison.

Also known as Butcher Baker Nightmare Maker...

Murder By Natural Causes (1979 Made for TV movie)

Written by Richard Levinson and William Link the geniuses who gave us Columbo, this film is a masterpiece in cat and mouse. Wonderfully acted by veteran players, Hal Holbrook, Katherine Ross and Richard Anderson and Barry Bostwick. Holbrook plays a famous mentalist, and his cheating wife has plans to kill him off.

Tension 1949

from IMDb -A meek pharmacist creates an alternate identity under which he plans to murder the bullying liquor salesman who has become his wife’s lover. Starring Richard Basehart, Audrey Totter , Cyd Charisse and Barry Sullivan

Messiah of Evil aka Dead People 1973

A girl arrives on the California coast looking for her father, only to learn that he’s disappeared. The town is filled with eerie people, and a strange atmosphere of dread. She hooks up with a drifter and they both uncover the true nature of the weird locals and what they’re up to. They learn the horrific secret about the townspeople…This film is very atmospheric and quite an original moody piece. Starring Marianna Hill, Michael Greer, Joy Bang and Elisha Cook Jr.

Devil times Five aka Peopletoys 1974

This film is a very unsettling ride about a bus load of extremely psychopathic children who escape after their transport bus crashes. Finding their way to a lodge, they are taken in by the vacationing adults and are eventually terrorized by these really sick kids. Claustrophobic and disturbing. Stars Sorrell Booke, Gene Evans. Leif Garrett plays one of the violently homicidal kids.

The Night Digger 1971

Starring the great Patricia Neal, this is based on the Joy Cowley novel and penned with Cowley for the screen by the wonderfully dark Roald Dahl, Neal’s husband at the time.

From IMDb -Effective psychological love story with a macabre twist not found in the original Joy Cowley novel. The dreary existence of middle- aged spinster Maura Prince takes an unexpected turn with the arrival of young handyman Billy Jarvis, but there is more to Billy than meets the eye. This well-crafted film, full of sexual tension and Gothic flavor, was Patricia Neal’s second after her return to acting, her real-life stroke worked deftly into the story by then-husband Roald Dahl. Written by Shane Pitkin

They Call It Murder (1971 Made for TV movie)

A small-town district attorney has his hands filled with several major investigations, including a gambler’s murder and a possible insurance scam. Starring Jim Hutton, Lloyd Bochner, Leslie Nielsen, Ed Asner and Jo Anne Pflug

A Knife For The Ladies 1974

Starring Ruth Roman and Jack Elam, there is a jack the ripper like killer terrorizing this small Southwest town. Most all the victims are prostitutes. A power struggle ensues between the town’s Sheriff and Investigator Burns who tries to solve the murders.

Born To Kill 1947

Directed by the amazing Robert Wise ( The Haunting, West Side Story, Day The Earth Stood Still )this exploration into brutal noir is perhaps one of the most darkly brooding films of the genre. Starring that notorious bad guy of cinema Lawrence Tierney who plays Sam Wild, of all things, a violent man who has already killed a girl he liked and her boyfriend. He hops a train to San Francisco where he meets Helen played by Claire Trevor who is immediately drawn to this dangerous man.

The Strangler 1964

Starring the inimitably imposing Victor Buono, who plays mama’s ( Ellen Corby/Grandma Walton) boy Leo Kroll, a psychopathic mysogynous serial killer, under the thumb of his emasculating mother. Kroll’s got a doll fetish and a fever for strangling young women with their own panty hose. The opening scene is chilling as we watch only Buono’s facial expressions as he masturbates while stripping one of the dolls nude by his last victim’s body. Part police procedural, this is a fascinating film, and Buono is riveting as Leo Kroll a psycho-sexual fetish killer who is really destroying his mother each time he murders another young woman. Really cool film by Allied Artist

Murder Once Removed (1971 made for tv movie)

A doctor and the wife of one of his wealthy patients hatch a plot to get rid of her husband so they can be together and get his money.Starring John Forsythe, Richard Kiley and Barbara Bain.

Scream Pretty Peggy (1973 made for tv movie)

This stars Bette Davis who plays Mrs. Elliot. Ted Bessell’s plays her son Jeffrey Elliot a sculptor who hires young women to take care of his elderly mother and his insane sister who both live in the family mansion with him. Also stars Sian Barbara Allen. What can I say. I love Bette Davis in anything, especially made for tv movies, where something isn’t quite right with the family dynamic. Lots of vintage fun directed by Gordon Hessler

The Man Who Cheated Himself 1950

A veteran homicide detective witnesses his socialite girlfriend kill her husband. Then what ensues is his inexperienced brother is assigned to the case.Starring Lee J.Cobb, Jane Wyatt and John Dall

The Flying Serpent 1946

Classic horror/sci fi flick that just doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Almost as fun as The Killer Shrews.  Starring veteran actor George Zucco

The Pyjama Girl Case 1977

This more obscure Giallo film directed by Flavio Mogherini and starring one of my favorite actors Ray Milland, Also starring Mel Ferrer and the beautiful model/actress Delilah Di Lazzaro. I’ve left my passion for Giallo films in the dust these days, but I decided to watch one that was a little off the beaten track.

From IMDb- Two seemingly separate stories in New South Wales: a burned, murdered body of a young woman is found on the beach, and a retired inspector makes inquiries; also, Linda, a waitress and ferry attendant, has several lovers and marries one, but continues seeing the others. The police have a suspect in the murder, but the retired inspector is convinced they’re wrong; he continues a methodical investigation. Linda and her husband separate, and there are complications. Will the stories cross or are they already twisted together? Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

Cul-de Sac 1966

Directed by Roman Polanski starring Donald Pleasance and  Françoise Dorléac as Teresa

A wounded criminal and his dying partner take refuge in a sea side castle inhabited by a cowardly Englishman and his strong willed French wife. A bizarre dynamic unfolds as this eccentric couple once captives of the criminals at first, their relationship, strangely begins to evolve into something else.

Dr Tarr’s Terror Dungeon aka Mansion of Madness 1973

This is a mysterious and nightmarish excursion into “the inmates have taken over the asylum” theme. Based upon Edgar Allan Poe’s The System of Dr Tarr and Professor Feather

Blue Sunshine 1978

Three women are murdered at a party. the wrong man is accused of the crimes. yet still more brutal killings continue throughout the town. What is the shocking truth behind these bizarre epidemic of …people are losing their hair and turning into violent psychopaths?

Homebodies 1974

Starring Peter Brocco, Francis Fuller, William Hanson, the adorable Ruth McDevitt, Ian Wolfe and Paula Trueman playing elderly tenants who first try to thwart by rigging accidents, a group of developers from tearing down their building. Old homes and old people…It turns into murder! This is a wonderfully campy 70s stylized black comedy/horror film. I love Ruth McDevitt as Miss Emily in Kolchak : The Night Stalker series.

The ensemble cast is brilliantly droll and subtly gruesome as they try to stave off the impending eviction and relocation to the institutional prison life of a cold nursing home facility.

A modern Gothic commentary on Urban Sprawl, the side effects of Capitalism on the elderly and their dust covered dreams, and the fine balance between reverence for the past, and the inevitability of modernity.

The jaunty music by Bernardo Segáll and lyrics by Jeremy Kronsberg for “Sassafras Sundays” is fabulous!

The Evictors 1979

Directed by Charles B. Pierce whose style has somewhat of a documentary feel ( The Town That Dreaded  Sundown 1976 Legend of Boggy Creek 1972) This film has a very stark and dreading tone. Starring one of my favorite unsung naturally beautiful actresses, Jessica Harper ( Suspiria, Love and Death, Stardust Memories, and the muse Pheonix in DePalma’s Faustian musical Phantom of The Paradise ) and another great actor Michael Parks. A young couple Ruth and Ben Watkins move into a beautiful old farmhouse in a small town in Louisiana. The house has a violent past, and things start happening that evoke fear and dread for the newlyweds. Are the townspeople trying to drive them out, or is there something more nefarious at work? Very atmospheric and quietly brutal at times. Also stars Vic Morrow

Jennifer 1953

Starring Ida Lupino and Howard Duff. Agnes Langsley gets a job as a caretaker of an old estate. The last occupant was the owner’s cousin Jennifer who has mysteriously disappeared. Agnes starts to believe that Jennifer might have been murdered. Is Jim Hollis the man whom she is now in love with… responsible?

Lured 1947

Directed by Douglas Sirk and starring Lucille Ball, George Sanders and my beloved Boris Karloff!

There is a serial killer in London, who lures his young female victims through the personal ads. He taunts the police by sending cryptic notes right before he is about to murder again. Great cast includes Cedric Hardwicke, George Zucco and Charles Coburn...

Love From A Stranger 1947

A newly married woman begins to suspect that her husband is a killer, and that she is soon to be his next victim.Starring John Hodiak and and Sylvia Sidney

Savage Weekend 1979

Several couples head upstate to the country and are stalked by a murderer behind a ghoulish mask.

The Beguiled 1971

Directed by the great Don Siegel ( Invasion of The Body Snatchers 1956, The Killers 1964 Dirty Harry 1971 This stars Clint Eastwood, Geraldine Page and Elizabeth Hartman. Eastwood plays John McBurney who is a Union soldier imprisoned in a Confederate girls boarding school.  A very slow yet tautly drawn web of psycho sexual unease forms as he works his charms on each of these lonely women’s psyche.

The Mad Doctor of Market Street 1942

An old forgotten classic horror, starring Lionel Atwill and Una Merkel. Atwill plays A mad scientist forced out of society when his experiments are discovered. He winds up on a tropical island, there by holding the locals hostage by controlling and terrorizing them.

The Man Who Changed His Mind original title (The Man Who Lived Again) 1936

Directed by Robert Stevenson. Starring my most favorite of all Boris Karloff, and Anna Lee of Bedlam

Karloff plays Dr. Laurence, a once-respected scientist who begins to delve into the origins of the mind and  soul connection.

Like any good classic mad scientist film, the science community rejects him, and so he risks losing everything for which he has worked, shunned by the scientific community he continues to experiment and further his research, but at what cost!…

The Monster Maker 1944

This stars J. Carrol Naish and Ralph Morgan. Naish plays Dr Igor Markoff who injects his enemies with the virus that causes Acromegaly, a deformity that enlarges the head and facial structures of his victims.

The Pyx 1973

I love Karen Black and not just because she let herself be chased by that evil Zuni doll in Trilogy of Terror or dressed up like Mrs Allardice in Burnt Offerings. She’s been in so many memorable films, in particular for me from the 70s. Here she plays Elizabeth Lucy a woman who might have fallen victim to a devil cult. Christopher Plummer plays detective  Sgt. Jim Henderson investigating the death of this heroin-addicted prostitute. The story is told using the device of flash back to tell Elizabeth’s story.

Five Minutes To Live 1961

Johnny Cash, the immortal man in black, plays the very unstable Johnny Cabot, who is part of a gang of thugs who terrorize a small town. This is a low budget thriller later released as Door to Door Maniac. I could listen to Cash tune his guitar while drinking warm beer and I’d be satisfied, the man just gives me chills. Swooning little me…….!

The Psychic 1977

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In this more obscure EuroShocker, a clairvoyant… the gorgeous Jennifer O’ Neill, suffers from visions, which inspire her to smash open a section of wall in her husband’s home where she discovers a skeleton behind it.

She sets out to find the truth about how the victim wound up there, and if there’s a connection between their death and her fate as well!

Too Scared To Scream 1985

Directed by actor Tony Lo Bianco A killer is brutally attacking several tenants that live in a high rise apartment building in New York City.Mike Connors stars as Detective Lt. Alex Dinardo who investigates the killings. Also stars another unsung actress, Anne Archer, Leon Isaac Kennedy and Ian McShane

Violent Midnight 1963

An axe murderer is running loose in a New England town! Also known as Psychomania not to be confused with the fabulous British film of devil worshiping bikers who come back to life starring Beryl Reid. This film features Dick Van Patten, Sylvia Miles, James Farentino and Sheppard Strudwick. It’s got it’s own creepy little pace going for it.

When Worlds Collide 1951

Another classic sci fi world is headed toward destruction film, that I remember from my childhood. Starring Barbara Rush and John Hoyt, two of my favorite character actors. It’s a lot of fun to watch and a well made film that’s off the beaten path from… Forbidden Planet and War of The Worlds.

All The Kind Strangers  (1974 made for tv film)

Starring Stacy Keach, Sammantha Eggar, John Savage and Robby Benson

A couple traveling through a backwoods area are held hostage by a a group of orphan children who want them to be their parents. When ever an adult refuses to participate in the delusion, they are killed. Great disturbing made for tv movie.

The Todd Killings 1971

Directed by Barry Shear and starring Robert F. Lyons as Skipper Todd, a very sociopathic young man who holds sway over his younger followers like a modern day Svengali. Also starring Richard Thomas, Belinda Montgomery and the great Barbara Bel Geddes as Skippers mother who takes care of the elderly.

From IMDb-“Based on the true story of ’60s thrill-killer Charles Schmidt (“The Pied Piper of Tucson”), Skipper Todd (Robert F. Lyons) is a charismatic 23-year old who charms his way into the lives of high school kids in a small California town. Girls find him attractive and are only too willing to accompany him to a nearby desert area to be his “girl for the night.” Not all of them return, however. Featuring Richard Thomas as his loyal hanger-on and a colorful assortment of familiar actors in vivid character roles including Barbara Bel Geddes, Gloria Grahame, Edward Asner, Fay Spain, James Broderick and Michael Conrad.” Written by alfiehitchie

This film has a slow burning brutality that creates a disturbing atmosphere of social and cultural imprisonment by complacency and the pressure to conform, even with the non conformists.

Todd almost gets away with several murders, as the people around him idolize him as a hero, an not the ruthless manipulating psychopathic killer that he is. Frighteningly stunning at times. One death scene in particular is absolutely chilling in his handling of realism balanced with a psychedelic lens. This film is truly disturbing for it’s realism and for a 1971 release.

To Kill A Clown 1972

Starring Alan Alda and Blythe Danner. Danner and Heath Lamberts play a young hippie couple who couple rent a secluded cabin so that they can try and reconnect and save their marriage.

Alan Alda plays Maj. Evelyn Ritchie the man who owns the property and who is also a military raised- sociopath who has two vicious dogs that he uses as an extension of his madness and anger.

Provocateur Roger Vadim: Svengali of the New Wave Cinema of Sensuality: Pretty Maids All In A Row 1971 Part II ” I Wonder Why do they always seem to die with a smile on their face?”

Roger Vadim’s Pretty Maids All In A Row 1971

A Film about DUALITY….notice the split screen

A new era of free love ushers in an emancipated kind of woman. Betty Smith ready to try anything! The big red book or TANTRIC SEX…

Prelude to the grooming of Miss Smith: She’ll be ready to deflower Ponce

Tiger’s mock sexual overture toward the smitten Betty Smith…

Jealousy rears it’s ugly and dangerous head….A maid wonders…

The Garden of Earthly Delights

How fast would it take to carry a body up the stairs and through the hall in order to dump a pretty maid in the wash room, without being seen?

Deputy Grady carries Miss Craymire through the school to illustrate a point