Men are simpler than you imagine my sweet child. But what goes on in the twisted, tortuous minds of women would baffle anyone.–Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca
First off, while I cover a good deal of the film, I take it only as far as I can before giving anything away about the great Rebecca. My focus is on the mystery surrounding the first mistress of Manderley’s devoted servant Mrs. Danvers. So I will not be referencing any departures from du Maurier’s novel, nor Rebecca herself or Olivier and Fontaine’s marital outcome. I believe there are still fans of Hitchcock who have not seen the picture, and I want to leave them something to enjoy!
One of the most enduring classic thrillers, psychological thriller, suspenseful and intriguing in the realm of romantic Gothic mysteries. Considered a ‘woman’s picture.’ Brooding atmosphere, perfect pacing, acting composition from the score to the set design to the cinematography. Manderley is a ‘castle of the mind.’ It is too shadowy too remote too unreal because it IS in the mind. It exists now only in the heroine’s mind. “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again”As these words are visualized on the screen, we don’t see a real Manderley, but a Manderley of the mind, a nightmare, a ghost. So imperceptible and subtle, Manderley is one of the vital characters of the story. Joan Fontaine plays the timid woman in peril archetype. Olivier is moody and brooding. All actors are overshadowed by Anderson’s on fire performance.
As scholar Mary Ann Doane points out that Rebecca is “initiating the ‘paranoia’ strand of the woman’s picture, a sub-genre in which gullible women discover that the men they married possess strange and sinister intents. The cycle continued through the 1940s-Suspicion (1941) Gaslight (George Cukor 1944) and Secret Beyond the Door… (Fritz Lang, 1948).”
Rebecca was adapted from author Daphne du Maurier and brought to the Gothic paroxysm on screen not only by master Alfred Hitchcock but by the exquisitely low burning maniacal machinations of Dame Judith Anderson (Lady Scarface 1941, All Through the Night 1942, Kings Row 1942, Laura 1944, And Then There Were None 1945, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers 1946, The Red House 1947, The Furies 1950, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof 1958, Inn of the Damned 1975) as Miss Danvers — the epitome of the word villainess.
Mrs. Danvers– That austere cold stare, the measured calculating rhythm of each syllable spoken like serpent toothed silk cutting like finely sharpened knives to cut the jugular — a harridan — no, a harpy — no, a carefully slithering serpent of a woman in the vein of Angela Lansbury’s sinister housekeeper Nancy who helped the poor bedevil Ingrid Bergman feel gaslighted in Gaslight 1944 or the menacing Gale Sandaagard as Mrs. Hammond that same year in The Letter (1940), but Anderson has the benefit of du Maurier’s dialogue and Hitchcock’s direction at her command.
Interesting enough, in reading the tensions that had developed over the autonomy in making du Maurier’s story on screen between two head strong film makers, I imagined what the film might have been like in the hands of Val Lewton. Here is an excerpt from Leonard Leff’s book- “For Selznick who read a synopsis of the manuscript in late spring 1938, the story of the novel’s awkward and shy heroine seemed ideal. Selznick most impressive discoveries tended to be young women, including Ingrid Bergman, Vivien Leigh, and Joan Fontaine; furthermore, had had long been associated with the industry’s premier “women’s director” George Cukor. In certain respects a “woman’s producer,” attuned to the sensibilities and psychology of the American female (at least as purveyed by the era’s mass-circulation magazines), Selznick agreed with story editor Val Lewton that the second Mrs. de Winter “probably exemplifies the feeling that most young women have about themselves.”
From Hitchcock and Selznick: The Rich and Strange Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and David O. Selznick-by Leonard J. Leff- Among the hundred of manuscripts, galley proofs, ad publish novels that poured into the East Coast offices of Selznick International every month, Kay Brown read only a few that she could enthusiastically recommend. Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca became one of them. Rebecca is “the most fascinating story I have read in ages,” Born wired Hollywood, a certain best-seller. In the novel, a plain and innocent young women (the first-person narrator, whose name du Maurier never reveals) serves as paid companion to a crass American dowager visiting the Riviera. Gossip has it that the aristocratic Maxim de Winter has fled England to Monte Carlo in order to elude painful memories of his recently deceased, much-beloved wife, the fabulously beautiful Rebecca; yet almost inexplicably he proposes marriage to the unglamourous paid companion. Following a honeymoon in Venice, the newlyweds return to Manderley, de Winter’s mansion. Here, the young bride confronts not only the memory of Rebecca-which seems to permeate the estate and to preoccupy and torment its owner-but also her morose husband and the forbidding Mrs. Danvers, Rebecca’s devoted housekeeper.”
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock with a screenplay by Robert Sherwood and Joan Harrison (who produced Alfred Hitchcock’s anthology suspense crime television show.) Adapted by Philip MacDonald and Michael Hogan from the 1938 novel by Daphne du Maurier. Music composed by Franz Waxman (Suspicion 1941, Sunset Boulevard 1950, A Place in the Sun 1951.) whose score at times sounds like a classic B horror film by RKO with its eerie organ tremolos.
Cinematography by George Barnes. (That Uncertain Feeling 1941, Ladies in Retirement 1941, Jane Eyre 1943, Spellbound 1945, Mourning Becomes Electra 1947, Force of Evil 1948, The File on Thelma Jordon 1950, War of the Worlds 1953). Art Department/Interior Design -Howard Bristol, Joseph B. Platt and Eric Stacey. Art director Lyle Wheeler. Film editor James Newcom. Supervising film editor Hal C. Kern. Interiors designed by Joseph B Platt. Fashions by Irene.
The lighting for Rebecca creates a forbidden sense of place. The shadows distinguish where the secrets lurk, with the Gothic architecture and repressed desire.
“She” is in the innocence of white and Mrs. Danvers is always advancing in black…
Rebecca (1940) is auteur Hitchcock’s Gothic style thriller that often delves into the realm of classical horror, ‘old dark house’ or haunting ghost story triggered by the remnants of a beautiful dead woman’s hold on an ancestral manor house and the new marriage brought home to thrive in it’s shadow. As scholar Tania Modleski writes Rebecca is a ‘presence’ which is never actually present. The character of Rebecca is symbolic of a subversive female desire, and Maxim de Winter who represents the patriarchal rule who is terrorized and bound by her presence though she cannot be seen, her power remains intact within the walls of Manderley.
There was tension and discord between director Hitchcock who wanted control over the project and producer David O. Selznick. Though Hitchcock is one of the directors who manages to shake off any solid labels on his work, Rebecca is considered his first film noir. It was Hitchcock’s first American/Hollywood film, although it exudes that distinctly British style from his earlier mysteries. The melancholy tone of Robert E. Sherwood and Hitchcock regular Joan Harrison’s screenplay captures Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 disquieting Gothic novel perfectly.
Behind the scenes of Rebecca 1940 Alfred Hitchcock and Judith Anderson photo by Fred Parrish
Rebeccastars Laurence Olivier as Maxim de Winter, Joan Fontaine as Mrs. de Winter, George Sanders as Jack Favell, Judith Anderson as the sinister chatelaine Mrs. Danvers Nigel Bruce as Major Giles Lacy, C. Aubrey Smith as Colonel Julyan Reginald Deny as Frank Crawley, Gladys Cooper as Beatrice Lacy, Philip Winter as Robert, Edward Fielding as Frith, Florence Bates (The Moon and Sixpence 1942, Whistle Stop 1946, Portrait of Jennie 1948, A Letter to Three Wives 1949, Les Miserables 1952) as Mrs Van Hopper, Leo G. Carroll as Dr. Baker
The master Hitchcock and cinematographer George Barnes know how to create a moody, atmospheric landscape of suspense. In Rebecca, Joan Fontaine is given the role of an innocent and painfully shy young heroine who remains nameless throughout the film, as she is in du Maurier’s novel. I read that there were early drafts of the original script where the heroine’s name was Daphne as in the writer, but obviously the decision to keep her without a given name. She meets the brooding aristocratic widower Maxim de Winter played almost too effortlessly by Laurence Olivier who is the master of Manderley. They marry and Maxim brings his new bride back to his ancestral home. At first she is clumsy and awkward trying to find her way around as mistress of the house. The second Mrs. de Winter is bewildered and haunted by the unseen presence of the first Mrs. de Winter, the uncanny and beautiful Rebecca, who has died in a boating accident a year before. Mrs. de Winter is psychically tortured by the sinister Mrs. Danvers who was Rebecca’s faithful and adoring servant played by the always imposing Judith Anderson, who bombards Joan Fontaine with memories and tactile possessions of the dead woman, whom we never see. She is truly a phantom that haunts the film, the narrative and our heroine.
Considered for the leading role in Rebeccawas Loretta Young, Margaret Sullivan, Anne Baxter and Vivien Leigh who was restricted by her role in Gone With the Wind 1939. Director Alfred Hitchcock won the Oscar for Best Picture his first and only Best Picture Oscar. George Barnes also won the Academy Award for his Cinematography. Judith Anderson was nominated for Best Supporting Actress as the menacing Mrs. Danvers, the only time in her career she was ever nominated.
Let’s not forget the other outstanding performance by Judith Anderson, that as Ann Treadwell in director Otto Preminger’s noir masterpiece Laura (1944) a ruthless woman who recognizes her weakness is wanting to possess through her wealth, the younger womanizer Shelby Carpenter played by urbane Vincent Price. Anderson turns out a poignant performance of a woman you love to hate yet she makes you understand the dynamic behind her loneliness.
“The Raven haired sylph who walks in beauty like the night… Of cloudless climes and starry skies; And all that’s best of dark and bright; Meet in her aspect and her eyes…” — Lord Byron
It is so easy to look upon Barbara Parkins’ exquisite beauty and make that the initial distinction you recall about her as an actress before recounting the roles she’s contributed to, the iconic roles that have heightened the dream factory of our cultural consciousness that is — film and television. As Betty Anderson of Peyton Place and Anne Welles in Valley of the Dolls. But beyond the glamour and the pulp and the melodrama and the camp, there is an actress who not only possessed an otherworldly beauty but a depth of character and quality. Who touched our hearts but was one of the earliest women to kick ass too! As Betty Anderson, she broke ground in a role that discussed women who began to reflect on their bodies being used as negotiable product for men, even in good clean small moralistic New England towns. And through a lot of painful, solitary self discovery learned to rely on her own self-reliance and newly mined self respect. Barbara Parkins was leading the way three years before Jane Fonda was flyin’ free up in space in 1968’s Barbarella.
I have always been drawn to Barbara Parkins, her inherent sensuality, sophistication, her dreamy voice. There’s a deep well of desire and poetry simmering below that obvious beauty. She brings that sensuality with her to every versatile role as an actress. And that is why I’ve been in love with her since the very first time I saw her.
It’s that marvelous time again, when one of the most enjoyable Blogathons has come around, it’s the 7th Annual What A Character Blogathon. And the reason I adore it so much –it’s purpose is essential in paying tribute to the memorable character actors who have often added the sparkle to the cinematic sky of movie stars– they touch our lives so profoundly because of their unique contribution as the characters they bring to life!
I want to thank Aurora of Once Upon a Screen, Paula Guthat of Paula’s Cinema Club, and Kellee Pratt of Outspoken & Freckled. for giving me the opportunity to once again show my sincerest love for the actors & actresses who are so discernible within the art of film, television and theatre. It is their unforgettable performances that make it a much richer, a more compelling experience — as they are as much the stars who inhabit the dream of art because of their singular personalities.
I’ve been participating now for 7 years, and it’s always a great expedition to delve deeper into the career’s of the people who I’ve found the most enigmatic, extraordinary and uniquely engaging. This year I’ve been excited to pay special attention to two remarkable women, Eileen Heckartand Louise Latham.
For years I have always thought of these two women together, as one of those odd associations–yet unexplicable– that makes you put certain faces or impressions together in your head. Another example of two actors that often seem to merge in that vast noggin of mine — I’m always thinking of E.G.Marshall and Eli Wallach together. Heck, maybe, next year I’ll do the same double feature for them. As I adore them both!
It struck me that I should pair Eileen and Louise as a kind of sisterhood, for both of their uniquely extraordinary styles stand out and somehow stand together for me. And an interesting confluence happened as I went on my more intensive journey of discovering of these two fine actresses. I found out that Eileen Heckart and Louise Latham appeared together in a rare episode of The Doctors and The Nurses an hour long television medical drama that ran from 1962-1965. In a macabre tale reminiscent of a Robert Bloch story — the episode is called Night of the Witch, about a woman (Eileen Heckart) who is tortured by the loss of her 6 year old daughter, and seeks her own brand of retribution from the medical staff she believes is responsible. The hospital receptionist who is cold and unfeeling is portrayed by none other than Louise Latham. The fascination I’ve had to see this performance led me to hunt down a rare copy and now I own it and have put together a sample of it here for you. It’s a rather long clip of the episode in honor of them appearing together. It showcases both their talents. I hope you enjoy the excerpt And I am praying that the television series itself will someday find a full release as it is worthy of being re-visited for it’s groundbreaking content, incredible cast and performances.
As in past What A Character Blogathons, Burgess Meredith, Ruth Gordon, Agnes Moorehead, Martin Balsam, and Jeanette Nolan–each of these actors– had a way of elevating every single project they were involved in, making it just that much more fascinating, delightful, heart wrenching and unquestionably memorable because of their performance–no matter how small their presence, they changed the landscape and impacted the narrative.
It is my absolute honor this year to feature two of the most remarkable women whose legacy still lives on.
Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten)-to Teresa Wright (Charlie Newton)
“You think you know something, don’t you? You think you’re the clever little girl who knows something. There’s so much you don’t know… so much. What do you know really? You’re just an ordinary little girl living in an ordinary little town. You wake up every morning of your life and you know perfectly well that there’s nothing in the world to trouble you. You go though your ordinary little day and at night you sleep your untroubled, ordinary little sleep filled with peaceful, stupid dreams… and I brought you nightmares.”
Your EverLovin Joey saying there’s not a shadow of a doubt that I’ll be back with a more indepth look at Hitchcock’s masterpiece of psychological terror!
The remarkable Olivia de Havilland turns 100 years old today. And it tickles me deeply and sincerely that we share the same birthday July 1st, so while I should be celebrating my own turn of the wheel, I felt it important to join in with so many others who recognize de Havilland’s enormous contribution to cinema and whose lasting grace and beauty still shines so effervescently.
And so… I’d like to pay a little tribute to a few of my favorite performances of this grand lady!
Olivia de Havilland won the Academy Award for Best Actress in To Each His Own (1946)and The Heiress (1949) and nominated for her incredible performance in The Snake Pit (1948), Hold Back the Dawn (1941), and Supporting Actress as the gentle, stoic but powerful strong Melanie in Gone With the Wind (1939).
Olivia de Havilland never shied away from taking on challenging roles, whether she played the archetypal ‘bad’ woman or the ‘good’ woman this astonishing actress could convey either nature with the ease of a jaguar who stirs with inner pride and purpose.
She still possesses that certain inner quality that is a quiet, dignified beauty whose layers unravel in each performance. Consider her heart wrenching portrayal of the emotionally disturbed Virginia Stuart Cunningham thrown into poignant turmoil when she finds herself within the walls of a mental institution but doesn’t remember her husband (Mark Stevens) or how or why she is there. It’s an astounding performance in director Anatole Litvak’s The Snake Pit (1948)
The New York Film Critics awarded Olivia de Havilland Best Actress for The Snake Pit (1948). She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress in a leading role.
Olivia de Havilland threw herself into the role of Virginia by getting up close and personal with mental health treatments of the time. She observed patients and the various modalities that were used in these institutions like, doctor/patient therapy sessions, electric shock therapy and hydrotherapy and attended social events like dances within the institution.
Here’s just a mention of some of my favorite performances by this great Dame of cinema, who as Robert Osborne so aptly spoke of her “… the ever present twinkle in her eyes or the wisdom you sense behind those orbs.”
Reunited with Bette Davis she and Olivia play sisters Stanley and Roy Timberlake, in director John Huston’s In This Our Life 1942 where Bette steals Roy’s fiancée (George Brent).
In director Robert Siodmak’s psychological thriller The Dark Mirror (1946)Olivia de Havilland plays duel roles as dichotomous identical twins, one purely good the other inherently evil.
With Montgomery Clift in director William Wyler’s The Heiress 1949 Oilvia de Havilland plays the timid & naive Catherine Sloper who falls under the spell of opportunist Morris Townsend (Clift).
In director Stanley Kramer’s melodrama Olivia de Havilland plays doctor Kristina Hedvigson who gets involved with the egotistical Lucas Marsh (Robert Mitchum) in Not as a Stranger (1955)
George Hamilton, Olivia, Rossano Brazzi and Yvette Mimieux on the set of Light in the Piazza (1962) filmed in Florence Italy. de Havilland plays Meg Johnson whose daughter having suffered a head injury has left her developmentally challenged. Both mother and daughter are seduced by the romantic atmosphere of Florence.
Now we come to a very powerful performance that of Mrs. Cornelia Hilyard one of Olivia’s most challenging roles as she is besieged upon by psychotic home invaders, James Caan, Jennifer Billingsley, Rafael Campos, Jeff Corey and Ann Southern who hold the uptight American matriarch in her gilded house elevator when the electricity goes out and the animals get in, in Walter Grauman’s brutal vision of the American Dream inverted. Lady in a Cage (1964)
Olivia de Havilland replaced Joan Crawford when tensions built on the set of the follow up to What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? 1962, the Grande Dame Guignol psychological thriller. Olivia de Havilland brought her own wardrobe and was not a stranger to pulling out the darker side of her acting self, portraying in my opinion perhaps one of the most vile and virulent antagonists the cunningly evil Cousin Miriam in director Robert Aldrich’s Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte 1964
Happy Birthday Grand Dame Olivia de Havilland… You are what puts the shine in the word ‘star’ forever vibrant and beloved by your fans and this girl who is honored to share your birthday! Hope it’s a grand day! Your EverLovin’ Joey
The clever & cheeky Barry of Cinematic Catharsis has summoned this great and powerful idea for a Summer Blogathon! Whether it’s the weather, or giant mutant bugs, blood hungry sharks, large animals run amok, or the elements gone awry–Nature’s Fury can be seen in so many fascinating and awe inspiring feature films and those lovable B movie trends that showcase the natural world in chaos. I immediately thought of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds as it is a film that has stayed burned in my mind since I first saw it as a child. Certain scenes will never lose their power to terrify.
And in celebration of this event, I’ve actually written a song and made a film/music mash up to tribute Tippi Hedren in The Birds, with a montage from the film featuring my song Calling Palundra…
“The Birds expresses nature and what it can do, and the dangers of nature. Because there’s no doubt that if the birds did decide, you know, with the millions that they are, to go for everybody’s eyes, then we’d have H.G.Wells Kingdom of the Blind on our hands.”-Alfred Hitchcock
“Why are they doing this? They said when you got here, the whole thing started. Who are you? What are You? Where did you come from? I think you’re the cause of all this… I think you’re evil EVIL!”–Actress Doreen Lang playing the hysterical mother in the diner!
This tribute video features my special song written just for this blogathon…. Here’s Melanie Daniels & the birds– with my piano vocal accompaniment, ‘Calling Palundra’
The children’s song “Risseldy Rosseldy” heard at the school when the crows began to unite as a gang is the Americanization of an old Scottish folk song called “Wee Cooper O’Fife”
On it’s face The Birds can be taken literally as a cautionary tale about the natural world fighting back against the insensitivity & downright barbaric treatment of nature’s children and the environment at the hands of humankind. Is it a tale of simple unmitigated revenge against the town for the killing of a pigeon? Or is there something more nefarious & psycho-sexual at work? Once you peel back the top layer of the visual narrative there are multi metaphors at work.
From Dark Romance: SEXUALITY IN THE HORROR FILM by David J. Hogan- “Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) is probably the ultimate expression of this sort of nameless dread. It is a film that cheerfully defies description: it is horror, it is science fiction, it is black comedy, it is a scathing look at our mores and manners. It is a highly sexual film, but in a perversely negativistic way.”
Before the release of The Birds in 1963, Tippi Hedren made the cover of Look Magazine with the heading “Hitchcock’s new Grace Kelly”.
As with Hitchcock’s other, worldly beautiful blonde subject — the strong willed socialite Lisa Carol Fremont (Grace Kelly) in Rear Window (1954)The Birds features the stunning Tippi Hedren as the coy, confident and a bit manipulative Melanie Daniels a San Fransisco socialite who descends upon Bodega Bay with a similar uncompromising will. Stiff, stolid and cocky Lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) meets Melanie in a pet shop where the two share shallow, faintly romantic barbs and repartee. Mitch is shopping for a pair of love birds for his sister Cathy’s eleventh birthday and Mitch pretends in a condescending manner to mistake her for the clerk. Melanie goes along with the mistaken identity as a way to flirt until his slightly mean-spirited joke backfires when she accidentally let’s a canary loose and while it lands in an ashtray Mitch throws his hat on it and places it back in it’s cage smugly saying “Back in your gilded cage Melanie Daniels.”revealing that he not only knew who she was from the very beginning and has quite a snotty preconceived notion about this socialite whom he appears to judge as running with a ‘wild’ crowd and is amoral. He manages to make a bit of a fool out of Melanie. The contrast between the flirty glib and calculating Melanie Daniels and the less interesting, judgemental and arrogant Mitch Brenner kicks off a chemistry that really isn’t as vital to the story as what the two personalities represent.
Melanie runs after Mitch and catches sight of his license plate number, getting his information from her father’s contacts at the newspaper. She decides to follow him 60 miles up the coast with a pair of Lovebirds to see him at his mother’s home in Bodega Bay where he spends his weekends.
And one of the popular theories is that it’s her driving impulse to seduce Mitch that has sparked the inexplicable terror that takes siege upon the residents of the sleepy little seaside community.
Once at Bodega Bay, she asks a storekeeper where to find Mitch’s little sister and is given Annie Hayworth’s address, where Melanie proceeds to drive to.
Now it’s time for two thirds of the triad of grasping women to meet each other. The confident socialite stylish and stunning in pursuit of Mitch, and the brooding beautiful woman he left behind who’s sullenness is as palpable as the surrounding sea. Though Annie winds up being a very good person, loves her students, and though she’s in pain and sees Mitch moving into a dynamic relationship with a outre sophisticated blonde, she winds up being a true friend, to the point of ultimately sacrificing her own life.
Melanie rents a boat from Doodles Weaver credited as the boat rental guy.
She starts up the motor and begins to head across the bay just to bring Mitch a ‘practical joke’ present in kind, what else but… a pair of Lovebirds. She has written him a letter which she winds up tearing up, instead placing a card for his sister Cathy presenting the Lovebirds as the originally intended birthday gift for her.
Melanie moves across the bay toward the object of her desire adorned in Edith Head’s glamorous boating attire, a luxurious mink, that stunning green suit and high heels, (yes! it’s a very understated chic outfit for the occasion of man hunting) Tippi’s gorgeous green suit she is seen wearing throughout the film was referred to by multi Academy Award winning fashion designer Edith Head, as “Eau de Nil” or Nile water!
Folie à deux (/fɒˈli ə ˈduː/; French pronunciation: [fɔli a dø]; French for “a madness shared by two”), or shared psychosis, is a psychiatric syndrome in which symptoms of a delusional belief and hallucinations are transmitted from one individual to another.
a·mour fou (ämo͝or ˈfo͞o)
1. uncontrollable or obsessive passion.
“The puzzle and threat of random violence is one of the defining tropes of true-crime”-Jean Murley
In Cold Blood (1967) is director Richard Brooks (The First Time I Saw Paris 1954, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof 1958, Elmer Gantry 1960) masterpiece of modern nightmarish nihilistic ‘horror of personality’.
Columbia studios actually wanted Paul Newman and Steve McQueen to play the roles and wanted it shot in color. Newman went on to do Cool Hand Luke that year and McQueen starred in The Thomas Crown Affair and Bullitt in 1968. Thank god Brooks got his way and got to do his treatment in Black & White, on location and with lesser known actors, who both went on to earn Oscar nominations for their chilling performances of the murderous pair.
A post-war true crime thriller, what author Elliot Leyton terms Compulsive Killers: The Story of Modern Multiple Murder, the film is steeped in expressive realism about two thugs Robert Blake as Perry Smith a dark and damaged swarthy angel of death & Scott Wilson (In the Heat of the Night 1967, The Gypsy Moths 1969, The New Centurions 1972, The Great Gatsby 1974, The Right Stuff 1983) as Dick Hickock, who inspire in each other a sense of anti-establishment negativity.
These two drifters, having heard about a wealthy wheat farmer from a fellow inmate, think there is a safe in the house filled with $10,000. The two dark souls take siege upon the rural Holcolmb Kansas Clutter family in the middle of the night, hog tie them, look for the money, only to find this clean cut humble family has nothing to steal but $43, a bible and pasteurized milk in the icebox. The two proceed to shot gun murder and cut the throats of the entire household so there are… “No witnesses.” –Dick Hickock. There are two surviving daughters, Beverly and Eveanna that were spared this horror.
John Forsythe plays Alvin Dewey head of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation who goes on the hunt collecting clues and tracking down the killers involved in this sensational crime.
Dewey tracks down these two bad boys, who have fled to Mexico where Perry (Robert Blake) loses himself in fantasies and painful flashbacks of his childhood with a violent father, whoring mother, of buried treasure, and prospecting for gold. Dick (Scott Wilson) gets tired out languishing around listening to Perry’s dreams and convinces him to head back to the States, passing bad checks along the way and winding up in Las Vegas. The police finally catch up with the murderous anti-social duo, where the men are finally broken of their alibi, and they are sentenced to die by ‘the big swing’ hanging.
Some scenes after Mexico…
Holcomb, Kan., Nov. 15  (UPI) — A wealthy wheat farmer, his wife and their two young children were found shot to death today in their home. They had been killed by shotgun blasts at close range after being bound and gagged… There were no signs of a struggle, and nothing had been stolen. The telephone lines had been cut.
—The New York Times
The film is based on Truman Capote’s non fiction novel that started the True Crime trend. Capote was looking to write a non-fiction novel and had been inspired by the shot gun murders of the Clutter family when the sensational crime hit the news in 1959.
The two were arrested on January 2, 1960 in Las Vegas and then executed by hanging on April 14, 1965. For the five years the two remained on death row they exchanged letters with Capote twice a week. Capote actually lived near the prison in Garden City and became very close in particular with Perry Smith and Richard ‘Dick’ Hickock. According to Ralph F. Voss in his book Truman Capote and the Legacy of ‘In Cold Blood’ he writes that Smith had the idea that talking with Capote would spare him from the noose. But when he learns of the working title of the manuscript he winds up confronting Capote, who manages to manipulate him into confessing about the night of the Clutter murders.
Capote tells Smith that “The world will see him as a monster if he doesn’t open up and tell Capote what Capote wants to know.” Eventually Perry Smith does open up and relates that brutal night in a vivid confession to Capote that winds up being “memorable lines that appear in the book”. As Voss tells us, “It is during this confession that this film, like the book and like both Richard Brook’s and Jonathan Kaplan’s film’s before it portray the brutal murders of the Clutters. Capote marks the fourth time Herb, Kenyon, Nancy and Bonnie die in artistic representations of their tragedy–once in Capote’s pages, and three times on screen.”
The film doesn’t necessarily convey the emotional conflict that Capote felt for his subjects which is more obvious in his novel, he also created a connection with the killers that would be shared by the reader. According to writer Jean Murley from The Rise of True Crime: The 20th Century Murder and Popular Culture, “The simultaneous evocation of compassion for the murderer and horror at his deeds makes In Cold Blood a new form of murder narration… Capote’s narrative treatment of his subject would draw the reader into an uneasy and unprecedented relationship with killers, creating a sense of simultaneous identification and distance between reader and killer.” Murley asserts that there is a comfortable distance the reader experiences, “a vicarious thrill, a jolt of fear, and a comforting reassurance that the killer is contained.”
Just one more point about Capote’s novel that Jean Murley makes which I think is pretty revelatory about the killer (Perry) referred to as ‘sweet, suave and fascinatingly fatal’… ‘ who was at once a devious and dangerous loner and a sensitive wounded man’ within that is the notion that Murley distills the ‘ambiguity and intensity of the reader/killer relationship that allows the writer to interrogate notions of good and evil, self and other.” The film while starkly angled from the killers point of view for a good deal of the film, doesn’t quite evoke that same sympathetic enigma, though Robert Blake does an incredible job of portraying a wounded soul.
Conversely Dick Hickock is described and masterfully pulled off by Scott Wilson as “vulgar, ugly, brutal and shallow; he looks like a murderer (the real Hickock looks like a vicious punk) and he wants to rape Nancy Clutter before before killing her. Perry Smith is sensitive, handsome, artistic, a dreamer; sickened by Hickock’s lust(there is a scene in the film while the two are in Mexico where Hickock is drinking & carousing with a local working girl in the room with Perry) in the film Perry prevents the rape. And in keeping with the book, Perry almost loses his nerve to even go through with the robbery, getting sick in the gas station right up to the time they drive up to the Clutters property. There is some emphasis on Dick’s relationship to his cancer ridden father (Jeff Corey) which showcases the only genuine connection he has to humanity.
In particular Capote became very attached to Perry Smith, and struggled with demons about his execution, believed that both men’s natures were impacted by their early roots in poverty. Capote was tormented because he sold his soul to the devil, in order to write this ‘real’ book fueled by a tragic story that ultimately results not only in the murders of the Clutters but in the deaths of his subject of interest Perry Smith who went to the gallows. As Voss calls it, “the cost of literary non-fiction”. He also came to the conclusion that neither man was by himself a mass-murderer, but linked together they fed each-others egos and compensated for their inadequacies, as John McCarty says, “by constantly arousing and bolstering certain expectations of one another, they evolved into a potentially violent third party that was more than capable of murder.”
Eventually Capote would publish his true crime tome in The New Yorker in four installments between September and October of 1965, published as the book in 1966, and becoming a huge success adapted to film in 1967.
As Jean Murley points out in Rise of True Crime, The 20th-Century Murder and American Popular Culture “Capote brought together and perfected the nascent conventions of what would become true crime, and his basic formula has been copied ever since.”
The film is elevated to a level of intense and searing reality due to brilliant cinematographer Conrad L. Hall’s (Edge of Fury 1958, The Outer Limits television series 1963-64, Harper 1966, Cool Hand Luke 1967, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid 1969, The Day of the Locust 1975, Marathon Man 1976, American Beauty 1999) incredible eye for scoping out a palpable environment filled with dread, tension and instability in the normally ordinary settings. Either mastering the closed in spaces between figures who shape the narrative, he also captures the alienation in the scenes when the duo are driving through the dirty dusty openness of the Great Plains. The additional moody atmosphere is lent a heightened sense of anxiety by Quincy Jones’ cool score. The film cast includes; John Forsythe as Alwin Dewey, Paul Stewart as Reporter Jenson, Gerald S. O’ Loughlin as Harold Nye, Jeff Corey as Mr. Hickock, Charles McGraw as Mr. Smith, Sammy Thurman as Mrs. Smith, Will Geeras The Prosecutor.
The film opens with a starkly gloomy night scene, Quincy Jone’s slick score leading us into the scene, as a Greyhound bus heads toward the camera. Inside, Robert Blake dark and brooding is sitting with his guitar. Conrad L Hall lights Perry’s intense face with the strike of a match he uses to light his cigarette. In a powerful moment it accesses our full attentions. Perry blows the little flame out and all at once the scene is wiped out in one puff! The film begins to peak our senses of danger in much the way Robert Siodmak’s masterpiece of film noir The Killers (1964)opening had led us into the plot.
As Jürgen Müller eloquently says it in his overview of 1960s cinema –“In Cold Blood opes with a flash and stealthily proceeds to trap its prey in a fog of eerie cinematic expression, born of its black and white photography and Quincy Jones’ dark jazz score.”
In November of 1959 Kansas, two ex-cons and social outliers, the quiet , yet brooding Perry Smith (Robert Blake) and hyper-kinetic egotist Dick Hickock (Scott Wilson) conspire to go out on an adventure to travel 400 miles in a beat up old Chevy, in order to rob the Clutter family farmhouse. The film is part genre of the dark road trip film as the two maneuver, scheme and machinate on their dark road trip toward their fate. True crime flash back, neo-noir, police procedural, the shades of gray between good vs evil and a moral commentary on the death penalty, allowing the narrative to elicit sympathy and a vision from both murderers point of view, the ‘outlaws perspective’. It is still a very sobering view into the minds of the human offal of society.
Perry Smith’s most infamous statement about the crime, “I thought he was a very nice gentleman. Soft-spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat.”
Dick had been fed some gossip by an inmate friend, that Herbert Clutter (John McLiam) a wealthy farmer keeps a fortune, $10,000 stashed in his safe at the house. The two decide that it would be an easy job to grab the loot and head for Mexico, leaving their hard lives behind them. What becomes a spiraling coil of nerves, is fed from both Perry’s apprehension about the plot working and Dick’s cock sure attitude. In the twist of fate, it is Perry’s growing inner aggression that becomes the catalyst for the final annihilation of the family. Though Dick acts the part of punk, saying ‘No Witnesses he is not only priming Perry to be the one to have blood on his hands but by this time it is Perry who at first seems hesitant and adverse to violence, explodes in cold nuclear fission of seemingly senseless bloodshed.
The way In Cold Blood is constructed, it begins to release the tightly wound coil as the two draw nearer to the Clutter home, we are introduced to this clean cut American family in their daily life, in the light of the day, showing the family as an ordinary close and loving bunch right before they are about to be slaughtered. By the time the two men arrive, it is the dark and ominous shadow of night cloaking the ranch. Perry and Dick begin to wrangle the family bringing the men down to the basement tied up. But it is the day after the murders once the police arrive and told later on in flashback that we get hints of the savagery, that we could only imagine was about to happen the night before.
The Kansas police begin their search in vain, as Perry and Dick make it to Mexico to hide out. Dick who is interested in partying with the senóritas Perry living half in surreal flashbacks to his bleak beginnings as a child with several siblings and his mother a beautiful Native American woman who liked her alcohol and other young men and committed suicide. His brutal father who drew a shot gun on him and chased him out of the house. Perry had a grim, sad and claustrophobic life, and thus he fantasizes. Perry makes a reference to digging for gold just like Humphrey Bogart in The Treasure of the Sierra Madra 1947. The irony of him finding empty bottles in the dessert that only yield a few cents, which he shares with a young homeless boy and his grandfather is a particularly humanizing scene in the midst of the fatalistic outcome that is inevitable. Perry never meant to amount to anything but a lost dreamer with no home.
Not only is Perry a dreamer, but Dick is an egomaniac and also has delusions of grandeur. Once the two figure on having to come back to Nevada in order to get some cash, they are quickly picked up by the authorities and charged with the murders. Soon after, they realized they will be facing the death penalty.
Perry revisits that night at the Clutters, flashing moments of the night on the screen. We see them fumbling for the non existent safe. The mass murder that only yielded them a mere $43. We see Perry and Dick rummaging through the house looking for anything valuable. Hall’s camera finally settles on the family coldly bound, gagged and positioned in a certain way that sends chills up the spine. Ultimately it is here that it is revealed that its the reluctant and quietly brewing fury inside Perry that goes on a single rampage and executes each family member calmly and cold-bloodily.
Once again, Jürgen Müller-“The contradictions of the characters give the audience an inkling of what might have led to this senseless act of ultra violence.”
There is an element of homo-erotic attraction between Perry and Dick. It is unspoken yet it’s palpable to me, amidst the warm beer, faded treasure maps, dark brooding antagonism, prison scars, tattoos, sweating, greasy hair, aspirin popping, peacockery, wise-cracking resentment toward society and the morally driven nuclear family of the mid to late 50s.
From Movie Psychos and Madmen-Film Psychopaths from Jekyll and Hyde to Hannibal Lecter by John McCarty- McCarty’s chapter on Killer Couples points out how Capote’s film was the most “famous example of this type of lethal psychological interrelationship.” And though Smith had boasted to Hickock that he wasn’t a stranger to killing before that fateful night where his pent up aggression turned violent and he cold-bloodily killed four innocent people. Hickock was the one who “earmarked the Clutters for robbery, and it was he who engineered the heist by passing bad checks to buy the materials needed for the job. More important, it was Hickock, who was the dominant half of the pair.” Hickock appears the alpha male who uses the term ‘faggot’ too easy and Smith the submissive lover within the dynamic of their odd relationship. McCarty goes on to write, “Smith looked up to him and slaughtered the defenseless Clutters, toward whom Smith admitted later he never felt any anger, as a way of proving himself to his more glib, brash, and manipulative buddy.”
“You’re good. You’re really good! Smith tells Hickock who moves with ease as he proceeds to con a bunch of store owners passing bad checks. And on the flip side, Hickock is also impressed once Smith kills the helpless Clutters whose only provocation to violence is that they are ordinary. McCarty’s insight points out that like Leopold and Loeb, the same function worked for that killer pair, the less dominant wound up being the one who perpetrated the murder, while the more controlling “partner lent immoral support.”
Here is a recently released article in the Smithsonian about Capote’s long time friend and writer Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird).
The Big Yellow Bird he is referring to is a symbol, a warrior angel that comes to him in his dreams It is his savior, a protector he had during his dark days. He describes the bird as being “taller than Jesus, yellow like a sunflower.”
The irony of the film plays itself out in little subtle commentaries like the insurance salesman who wishes Herb Clutter the night before he is murdered “A very long and healthy life” or the moment in Las Vegas, Dick at the wheel of the car wanting to gamble because he’s feeling lucky, at that split second the police car pulls up next to them and the scene cuts away to the Perry and Dick being brought in to the station.
I’ll be covering two notorious true life crimes involving folie a deux. First Truman Capote’s adapted story- Richard Brooks directs IN COLD BLOOD (1967) about the murder of the Clutters a Kansas family who were blitz attacked by psychopathic punks, two self-loathing homosexuals Perry & Dick portrayed phenomenally by Robert Blake and the remarkable character actor- Scott Wilson. Their embodiment of pure emotional sickness is burned into the screen like acid.
Then a more off the beaten path yet ruthlessly cruel and just as true and ghastly a tale about a couple- Shirley Stoler and Tony Lo Bianco as Ray Fernandez and Martha Beck who derive pleasure from luring wealthy, lonely older women to their deaths for money in director Leonard Kastle’s THE HONEYMOON KILLERS(1969)
In the spirit of this upcoming event, featuring all sorts of criminals & evil types, I thought I’d briefly pull out Evelyn as a kind of amuse-bouche to the huge Blogathon coming up in May! I felt like tossing out a crumb to entice those of you who will be titillated by the fantastic submissions by bloggers paying tribute to the villains, villainesses and anti-heroes we love to hate/love… fear and cheer!
Play Misty For Me is scripted by Jo Heims (The Girl in Lover’s Lane 1960, The Devil’s Hand 1961, uncredited Dirty Harry 1971, You’ll Like My Mother 1972) Heims has a gift for extracting the perfect essence of mental instability on screen and constructing an atmosphere of unease in otherwise beautiful settings.
Ahhh…. The Enduring Derangement of Evelyn Draper:
Set in the cool quaint and laid back atmosphere of 70s coastal California living, Clint Eastwood who makes his directorial debut, plays the smooth talking late-nite Carmel Disc jockey, David ‘Dave’ Garver who winds up becoming the object of desire for a psychopathic stalker, the love-sick Evelyn Draper, brought to ‘too real’ life by extraordinary actress Jessica Walter.
Each night, she calls into the radio station to lure David, her sultry voice like dark amber honey dripping on the other end of the phone, mysterious with that hint of perilous in flavor and tone. Evelyn epitomizes the deranged & obsessive fan who becomes so fixated on David that she keeps calling, asking David to play the classic torch song “Misty” sung, composed and performed by Erroll Garner.
This iconic performance must be the catalyst for Glenn Close’s role as the demented stalker Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction (1987). Play Misty For Me set the tone, and sent the moralizing message, that it’s dangerous and amoral to folly with a random, casual one night stand, and that having only ‘respectable relationships’ and monogamous or marital sex will keep you safe from being butchered into a puddle of blood splatter evidence…
All snarkiness aside, Eastwood has offered a beautifully painted– groovy, easy world, filled with jazz and seascapes that underscore this moral tale about the backlash of the sexual revolution and it’s warnings to beware. And to be fair to this symbol of female rage, Evelyn is no more than a ‘sexual object’ to David. As much as Evelyn has fantasized a great romance with this very charismatic guy, that ‘love’ does not exist. David has used her to fulfill his own desires and need, yet he is not seen as predatory, and she is. The difference is, he uses his penis and she must wield the nearest symbol, something else that penetrates, a knife or a good old fashioned pair of large, sharp scissors.
David picks Evelyn up in a bar, has a one night roll in the sheets after she tells him that she’s his ‘Misty’ girl. David warns her that he’s involved with someone (artsy painter, Donna Mills), but she assures him that she just wants one night with him, no strings attached. Unfortunately those strings are like steel cables and they are tethered to David with a fierce homicidal grip. When he gets home the next night, Evelyn returns to his place with steaks and all the fixings for a romantic dinner. David definitely now senses somethings a bit ‘off’ with Evelyn, but what the hell, he sleeps with her again. Her inner machinations and jealous rage rears it’s ugly head when David’s neighbor responds to her rude and rowdy behavior while firmly (get lost already) escorting her to the car. She blasts the horn and opens up a mouth like a trucker after a six-pack of Schlitz, “Yeah, Get lost Asshole!” David squints, that classic Eastwood glance when he’s containing his ‘miffed’, and his look is forever delivered on screen.
Of course, the one woman David is truly in love with Tobie (Donna Mills) shows up soon after and they begin where they left off. Tobie had left for a while because of his womanizing. Evelyn starts shadowing David, following him to a bar where she gets belligerent, demanding he spend more time with her, after which she steals his car keys. She shows up at his house, fully naked under a smashing coat… but crazy, and of course David calls the police. No… David sleeps with her one more time. Naked trumps crazy with a smooth talking womanizing squinting louse! He promises her that he’ll call her. Sure Dave sure…
But David does not call her. He also misses a special dinner she has planned. She calls into KRML to chastise him about missing their date. He drives to her place to break off the three– one night stands with her. Evelyn reveals her primal rage once more, but calls David later on filled with regrets, but this time he is done with her. No really… No more naked trumps crazy.
Evelyn stalks David while he is busy rekindling his romance with Tobie. Evelyn shows up at his place once again, this time going into his bathroom and slicing her wrists. This suicide attempt prompts David’s sense of guilt, so he spends the night and following day sitting with her, breaking a date he has with Tobie. The shot of David panicked and befuddled state while he hand holds Evelyn now resting in bed after her suicide attempt looks like this…
David ‘Dave’ Garver: Where does it say that I gotta drop what I’m doing and answer the phone every time it rings?
Evelyn: Do you know your nostrils flare out into little wings when you’re mad? It’s kinda cute.
David ‘Dave’ Garver: I’m just trying to tell you something. I’m trying to tell you there’s a telephone. I pick it up and I dial it.
The film is a groovy and intense nail biter as Evelyn spiraling dangerously out of rational’s orbit, stalking, sneaking around and ultimately going in and out of homicidal fits.
She sabotages a business lunch with a potential radio station executive Madge (Irene Hervey), insulting her with foul mouthed accusations, trashes David’s house, takes a butcher knife and slashes to ribbons David’s maid Birdie (Clarice Taylor- Tell Me You Love Me, Junie Moon (1970), Such Good Friends (1971) and Five on the Black Hand Side (1973)).
The police come and take Evelyn away in the happy wagon, and David briefly gets a reprieve from the madness until he finds out that she has been released, when he gets that familiar yet chilling request over the phone to “Play Misty” Evelyn assures him that she has gotten straightened out and is leaving for a new job in Hawaii. Leaving him with a creepy clue as she quotes a passage from Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘Annabel Lee.’
Once again, Evelyn appears in David’s house, where she attacks him with a very large carving knife. Sgt. McCallum (John Larch) appears on the scene, tells David to change the locks, and wants to try and track Evelyn down, by luring her out with that memorable song Misty, by tracing the phone call.
Cleverly Evelyn manipulates Tobie into becoming her new roommate named of course, Annabel, thus abducting David’s sane and wholesome as pasteurized milk girlfriend Tobie, and ultimately tries to annihilate David’s cool world and himself her lover, who has spurned her affections. Evelyn as the ‘monstrous feminine’ power finally erupts into a climatic vengeful frenzy, as a vicious butcher who has a one track libido for a guy who it takes half the film to finally see how sick she really is. It only took three one night stands to get through to this smirking lothario. Don’t get me wrong, I would have swooned for Eastwood myself back in the day of bell bottoms, guys with enormous side burns, jazz festivals and free love!
The film also features one of the most memorable beautiful love songs sung by iconic songstress Roberta Flack (one of my all time idols as a songwriter), who delivers a quiver inducing The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, which underscores a love making scene in the woods between the naked Eastwood and Donna Mills. Groovy just watch out for poison oak and briars.
Mills who plays David’s pretty girlfriend Tobie gets in the way Evelyn’s imagined love affair, and winds up–tied up at knife point while the immortal words are spoken out of that psychotically cold and emotionless voice saying… “God you’re dumb.”
Evelyn Draper is perhaps one of the most mystifying and intoxicating evil culprits of skin crawling obsessive love, setting the pace for future female monsters, personifying the ‘monstrous feminine’ a knife ( yoohoo–CASTRATING!!) wielding threat to both male and female alike.
The incredible transformation that Jessica Walters performs for us is nothing short of brilliant as this sophisticated lady creates an otherwise appealing attractive single seductress into a predatory huntress with no sense of right or wrong. Just an obsessive blood lust to dominate and possess David, the savvy cool as the center seed of a cucumber DJ who spins records and turns on the ladies with his velveteen voice. Her menacing, neurotic and unstable behavior builds perfectly creating unease as we watch her devolve into a disturbing feminine force (she uses many feminine social mechanisms to try and entrap David). Evelyn Draper is one powerful, memorable villainess, thanks to Jessica Walters’ incredibly believable manifestation of female rage, rage against a system of morals that aren’t the same for men!
Steve McQueen turned down the lead role, claiming that the female lead was stronger than the male.-IMDb tidbit