Panic In The Streets:Elia Kazan’s Socio-Noir A Plague of Immigrants

Panic In The Streets – Directed by Elia Kazan who sees the world of film through a Socio-Noir lens.

Noir has it’s socio-political roots in post war Europe, and was strongly influenced by German Expressionism. In America the post-war atmosphere engendered a realism which manifested in the noir film as well as the crime/police drama with a documentary sensibility.

Kazan himself an immigrant is one of the great American directors well known for such seminal films as A Streetcar Named Desire, A Face in The Crowd, On The Waterfront and Boomerang


Starring Richard Widmark as Lt. Cmdr Clinton Reed M.D. naval officer and family man, Paul Douglas (Douglas gave his best performance in Fritz Lang’s Clash By Night, perhaps one of my all time favorite noir films) as Captain Tom Warren. Barbara Bel Geddes as Clint’s wife Nancy (also in a great episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents Lamb to The Slaughter) and the always great Jack Palance as the nefarious Blackie. Also co stars the wonderful Zero Mostel as Raymond Fitch, Blackie’s slovenly flunkie.

Elia Kazan’s sociological perspective reveals to us the human condition in a naturalistic style. His films elucidate the way in which the collective soul reacts to an existing situation. Kazan was part of the movement of the New Realism, which bared witness to the state of paralysis of a post World War II identity and shed light on the stunted psychological elements of that current time.

In Panic In the Streets Kazan’s opening shot, we are plunged into a world of immigrants and trains. The trains cut through the grimy metallic city nightscapes. Here, New Orleans is as mysterious as its inhabitants. New Orleans, the seaport shipping city, is filled with lowlifes and a sense of desolation. Imports/exports, and the working class immigrants who suffer and toil for their daily bread and muddle their way through life in the slums, and row houses, on the streets and in local bars. They are an anonymous, shabby yet tenacious community of otherness existing but not quite persevering. The aggregate disdain for authority and the mistrust of the surrounding influences that form the power structures that control and look upon them as a subservient class.

There is a commanding scene in a diner,Clint stops in for a coffee and the people sitting  at the counter look isolated and sullen. Dirty and sickly and down trodden. They all have cracked faces. There is a photographic quality as if capturing the weathered souls of the Okies in The Grapes of Wrath.

What I call Socio-Noir is present in particular for Panic In the Streets. The film works as much as social commentary as it does dark tale of crime drama, with protagonists, anti-heroes and femme fatales. Panic in The Streets is in keeping with the police documentary moral where the hero, that of Lt Clint Reed M.D. sets out on a righteous path as savior. He is incorruptible and courageous.

Along with the trains cutting through the grungy metallic night in the city and it’s din, the film creates the unwashed environment and the oily screechy noises of movement. struggling people trying to survive. Desperate criminal elements abound amidst the sounds of blaring ship horns coming in to dock. The city is an alive filth stained entity.

There is evidence of Kazan’s attitude crystallized when dialogue towards the end refers to community and what that truly means. Kazan shows us city scapes and panoramic views to evoke how people can be swallowed up by the enormity of urbanization. An urbanized society split by class and race.

The people in these city settings doing their unnamed tediums, rituals, sitting solemnly at bars, sitting outside the building on steps and street corners. These are people outside of society as the cinematography would frame them, Living together, collections of tired faces, ethnicities, class distinctions. The working class, the bureaucrats, the law enforcers and the riffraff feed off the weaker of the herd.

There is an extreme juxtaposition of the clean lily white suburbia that Richard Widmark’s character Lt Reed, lives in, to the filthy environmental mechanisms of the inner city dweller. Reed comes home to a freshly scrubbed house, a refined and virtuous wife in a pristine neighborhood, the idealism of post World War II America. With all the amenities that are afforded the white collar social class.

Even Paul Douglas’ hardened cop Capt Warren, at first feels stand offish about the naval officer Dr Reed invading his territory. There is an obvious hierarchy amongst who serves the community. Questions of rank of the military, and education background amongst the civil servants and professionals.

Captain Warren’s dynamic of feeling threatened by the authority of a possible Naval Academy Elite and the hard working class cop on the beat. The struggle of power between the two coming to terms with working with each other.

Panic In The Streets is less about the pneumonic plague and more about the way people are reacting to each other around the situation. It is the catalyst for them to expose their inner demons, and fears. Mistrusts and paranoia. The need for self preservation. Blackie’s character is a very paranoid personality, that symbolizes the mistrust of a society that would cheat him out of what he perceives to be rightfully his.

The story begins one night in the slums, when the ruthless criminal and paranoid Blackie aided by his miscreant cohorts kill Poldi’s illegal immigrant cousin who Blackie believes cheated at cards because he won too much money. Once again the angular rock jawed Jack Palance projects himself as imposing Minotaur who holds sway over his subordinated companions. Within this community there are hierarchical sub structures set up in order for the vicious opportunistic Blackie to maintain survival and control.


What wasn’t known at the time of Poldi’s cousin’s murder was that he was already dying of the plague by the time his body was dumped like garbage.

The next morning on the docks a child shows the cops where the dead body is. Lt Dr Clint Reed of the Public Health Service confirms that the dead man had pneumonic plague. In order to prevent an epidemic of catastrophic proportions, Clint and Capt. Warren, must hunt down the killers, and inoculate anyone who came in contact with them all in the span of 48 hours. This they must struggle with under secrecy, holding the news agency at bay as not to panic the public, chase off the carriers of the plague and thus create chaos in the streets. They are also met with resistance and suspicion by the very community, a melting pot of ethnicity they are trying to help.

We see dock workers and the ships populated by foreigners. We hear a comment made about the dead man being a foreigner after they  bring the body on a gurney through the back hospital entrance. Kazan uses a semi-documentary style, constructing a neo-urban naturalistic environment. Framing the story on a mis en scene proscenium stage. We see real people going about their daily lives, along the fault lines of the surrounding class and ethnic differences in the community.

The two medical examiners are more concerned about where and what to eat for lunch, while there’s a dead man lying on the table. For them it’s business as usual, they show no empathy.

The city has taken a life, and these two medical examiners are just doing a job, while the only thought is about food and getting their needs met as a priority. After discussing the sexy waitress that one has his sights on, one of the guys says that it might take longer, than he expected. Another man comes in and asks “is that the foreigner that they brought in?” Again, emphasis on otherizing this human being.

The examiner named Cleaver orders the less attentive man to get out. He realizes something doesn’t look right with the body. Then Clint Reed is called in to look at slides. Photographs are snapped. He’s asked who else has come in contact with the body? He wants everyone inoculated. The FBI doesn’t have any info on the man. But obviously he was carrying something infectious. He also wants to know if it was the bullet or the infection that killed the foreigner.

Kazan himself a Turkish immigrant used a lot of social commentary on the American Dream, the people who live outside the context of that framework and how foreigners were treated here in the U.S. when after World War II the fear of foreigners was rampant. In Panic in The Streets they carry the plague. They are dirty and suspicious. They represent a dangerous element.

Clint is now sitting around a table of suits. He is relating a tale about a woman in 1924 who was carrying a disease that killed 26 people, who died suddenly and horribly from an outbreak. The disease was found to be pneumonic plague, a pulmonary form of the black death, of the middle ages.

One of the men sitting at the table is asking “who is he” about Lt. Clint Reed. Reed asserts himself with authority in this room of skeptics. “One of the jobs of this department is to keep plagues out of this country. This kind of plague can be spread easily like the common cold. Through sneezing”

“The committee is asking why are you telling us this.” “Because this morning the police found a man who was infected with this disease.” “Our reports show the man died of 2 bullet wounds” “Regardless of what the police surgeon said, he would have died within 12 hours.”

Paul Douglas as Capt. Warren is at the table. He’s arguing that he did die from 2 bullet holes. The mayor and the other men around the table want them to check but Lt Clint Reed tells them that he had the body destroyed. Cremated as not to spread the infection. The men seem outraged. There is a power struggle going on about who is in control of this situation. Panic is very much a film about control.

Everyone has been isolated and inoculated but there’s still one man “The man who killed him” who ever dumped him might be walking around with incipient plague at this moment. Capt. Warren exudes his disdain and is being stubborn, he doesn’t feel that there’s going to be a problem. But Lt. Reed insists “We have 48 hours. If the killer is incubating the plague then time will be running out. before it spreads amongst the city. You’ll have the makings of an epidemic”.

He burned all the dead man’s possessions because they were contaminated too, so they don’t have an identity on this man. The commissioner is saying that the police department can’t be held responsible for it. Captain Warren is highly skeptical and the commissioner only concerned about his own accountability. They can’t find an unnamed man in 48 hours. The commissioner doesn’t believe Dr Reed and acts like he’s making a big deal out of it. He tells the mayor, if you want to believe him then give the story to the press. Then Dr Reed says “I may be an alarmist. but I’ve seen this disease work and it can spread all over the entire country and the result would be worse than anything you could ever imagine”. Reed implores them that the key to the whole thing lies here, now and what they decide to do with the next 48 hours will be crucial. They ask Lt Reed “What can we do?”

Reed says “find this man” and so the plot becomes focused on finding Blackie before he can spread certain catastrophic disease. They all leave saying that they will give Reed their full co operation, but Captain Warren remains behind with his hand on his chin while Lt Reed remains seated at the table.

Warren asks Reed “an Annapolis Man?” he answers NO, Why? Warren says ” no reason” but he’s got a quizzical  look on his face. His question of whether Reed went to the elite military school shows the rift between the two Warren says “now I’d start worrying what you’re going to do when we don’t turn up your boy” mentions again, he doesn’t want him to think he’s one of the sailors in his navy. Again we start to see some kind of class battle, distinction between the two men.

Outside in the hallway, a reporter starts snooping, but they brush him off. Shades of trouble to come about the right of the press to full disclosure and the responsibility these people have to the public’s safety. What is good for them. Again we see a paradigm of hierarchy at work.

At the police station Mostel’s character Fitch who is no stranger to the police is being questioned. He says “You can’t do this to me I’m a US citizen, I got rights.” Here again is the assertion of the foreigner being alien and the paranoia of the American people that their rights will be taken away by the people in positions of power, the U.S. Government and most especially the foreign element.

They shove the photo of the dead guy at Fitch. He says he hasn’t seen that guy. “Where were you last night”? “I was visiting my mother in law she was wrestling semi finalist”, Cop interrupts “Where were you fat boy? I think you’re a constitutional liar” Again, the patriotic ethnocentric zeitgeist  is evoked during the exchange.

Capt.Warren is back at the morgue with Lt Reed~ they think he might have been Armenian, Czech or mixed blood. Reed tells them to notify the immigration authorities immediately. They find traces of rust, fish and shrimp on him which shows that he might have come in on a boat. Warren still annoyed at Reed, says “unless he walked through a fish market, bought 5 pounds of shrimp and brushed against a freshly painted fire escape.” Warren is still so resistant to help Reed, and doesn’t want his company or input at all. Reed insists that Warren get inoculated like everyone else.

Reed gets to assert his manliness by making Warren take his shot, because he told the commissioner, and Warren just got through telling the other cop in the room why the boys had to take their shots when they were complaining and Warren barks “because the commissioner said so” Reed says ” roll it up” makes him roll up his sleeves. Again, the film asserts that control is an underlying issue at play. The dynamic between these two men going head to head is building and you can tell that Warren comes across like a strong willed Bull Mastif but we sense that he is a decent man with principals of his own. “Half the two bit criminals in town are in the precinct. Sneak thieves, wife beaters and pick pockets. It isn’t going to work though”. Reed gets mad. “Why are you doing it this way then if it isn’t going to work? Warren tells him that he’s rounding up all the usual suspects because it’s the only way he can make progress in finding the dead man’s identity. Warren then accuses Reed of making this case a big issue jut to make a name for himself.

Reed asks Warren to come have coffee across the street. Now in the diner. “Look Captain do you have a family, are you married?” “No, my wife died 8 years ago”. We start to get a closer look inside this man Warren.Kazan loves to build his characters, to unfold them like an artichoke heart, peeling away the layers, until we see the core. Reed is trying to appeal to Warren’s human side, the family man.

“The doctors said it was neuralgia but it was a brain tumor.”This reveals a bit more of the picture as to Warren’s mistrust of doctors. Reed replies “You don’t think much of me as a doctor do you”Warren shoots back “you keep asking questions you finally get answers. NO.” So we see Warren not only has a dislike for military snobs, but a mistrust of doctors as well. Reed’s just a plain working class slob, a cop who is trying to sort through the trash of human debris that he comes across. Warren again says “Civil Service, you get a pension, what do you make?” Reed says it runs about the same as a police

Captain. Warren frowns, he looks like he took a hit.”Look this man obviously came off a boat, he was obviously smuggled into the country. They probably don’t want to talk to the police, they’ve been coming the docks and the streets but no one is talking”.”Maybe they want to talk to their mothers” Warren says, then Reed “Offer them a reward, promise them immunity for information. Bring in another set of experts from Washington to help me out. Well you could use it.” “You’ll never see the day” says Warren glaring proudly. Reed gets frustrated. “I’m not gonna wait til the facts penetrate that thick skull of yours, there just isn’t that much time”

Now at a dingy laundromat Fitch runs, up to a woman, his wife, who says “Blackie makes you tag around like a dog on a leash. He’s a big goon.” “He pays me.” Fitch asks if his bags are packed. She says “why don’t you stand up to him sometime? Why don’t you tell him off.”He says “Angie will you shut up! Why don’t you go inside.” She says she doesn’t want to be alone with that big Ape Blackie,

Fitch calls out “he’s coming down the stairs.” He doesn’t want Angie hanging around. He doesn’t like a smart cracking dame. He yells at her to get away from the washing machines. Fitch keeps insisting to Blackie that they should leave the city, they’re picking everybody up. He wants to know why Poldi hasn’t shown.Fitch tells him”He’s got a date with a dame”. Concerned Blackie says “Where’d he get the doe? You know I got a hunch about him. They’re not gonna pick me up. You see those machines. That’s business. Legitimate even. they aint gonna pick up a legitimate business man.”

Blackie begins to rant. Argues, Fitch tells him that they’re picking up legitimates. “They’re picking everybody up. “Why, why are they picking everybody up Fitch why? You don’t know. You got a high school education you’re a smart fella. This guy Kolchak (the dead man) is just a floater. He gets off a boat, gets very unsocial, even pulls a knife that he’s gonna use on Poldi. So they turn the town upside down for one crumb. They got every cop in town huffin and puffin, trying to find out who he is. Why are they doing it?”

Fitch says he doesn’t know. “Well I’ll figure it out for you. I got a hunch he brung something in. I got a hunch he brung something in and they’re looking for it.” Blackie’s alienation is beginning to grow, he suspects he is being cheated out of something big, that rightfully should be his. This man is filled with Egomania. Classic anti-social behavior. He continues his rant.

“Only he aint got it, and you know why. Cause friend Poldi’s got it.” Fitch comes back at him “Poldi do you think he’d do something like that. He’s his cousin aint he. (the dead man) “I told you I had a hunch about that guy.” Blackie snorts back. Fitch sweating says “look Poldi is a nice guy he wouldn’t do something like that.”

Poldi is trying to put something over on me, I saved his life and that’s how he repays me. There’s paranoia growing in this man Blackie, big dark and brooding. He tells Fitch there’s one thing he don’t like, Fitch says “sure Blackie” “it’s somebody trying to put something over on me. I never liked it”

Now there is a long shot of Blackie sitting at the counter, framed by the landscape, the atmosphere of alienation. He is in black a quiet powder ceg and Fitch l in the backdrop going out the door looking so small and insignificant. The shot frames how the power is manifested by Palance’s character and Mostel is just a perifery character powerless and subordinate. Again we hear train whistles. Trains, symbolize the ever changing movement, the transients of urban city life. We now see Blackie all alone in the cluttered unattractive room.  Sitting alone. A man with thoughts on his mind, Paranoid, greedy and angry.

A Sea plane lands. We see the Nile Queen. The captain of the Nile Queen denies that the man could have been on his ship. “I’m not calling you a liar, I’m calling you a fool. Most of your crew will be dead.” The captain won’t listen. Warren and Clint look over the people on board. They look away. There’s almost 200 “rats” on the ship. He yells “see, you might be carrying plague.” Rats possibly a double entendre.

The captain yells for the men to get back to work. but the crew says they want to hear what Clint Reed has to say. “Never mind what he says.” But the crew resist and fights ensue. Chaos. “Break out the weapons. You’re inciting my men to mutiny. I’m the master here.” Again the prevailing hegemony in this film is exposed yet again. An Asian man says, one of the cooks is down with fever. “Right now I want to put everyone in quarantine.” They inoculate them. “They got on in Iran. They just dumped him over the side.”

Another Asian cabin boy brings the men food. “They ever talk about anything else. They want a shish kabob. He asks what it is. “Lamb on a stick, some of the Greek and Armenian restaurants serve it.” Warren hoped they had a lead to the eats place where the illegal immigrants who got smuggled on board would have gone to get food. Athena Cafe they’ve covered 11 joints and no luck.

At the Athena Cafe, the diner owner’s wife says to her husband in the back kitchen, about Kolchak that Poldi brought him. She says  he was contagious but tell Warren and Reed that we know nothin. “I got a headache”. Although the man wants to tell them who Kolchak was, he does not.

Warren and Reed get into the car. Blackie comes up along the street. A midget tells him they found Poldi. He gives the little man money and rubs his head like a child. Blackie goes inside, Fitch says “I found him.” Blackie says what’s that smell. Have you been trying that stuff on your head again Fitch? Blackie takes a piece of food, asks if it’s  been touched yet. Ironically Blackie’s paranoia extends to his being a germaphobe as well. The food had been touched by a foreigner.

Now it’s nighttime and the cops find a very sick person in the emergency, a high fever case.  The cops call out to Captain and Reed. Another woman sick fever case. The Athena owner’s wife. They run up the stairs of the tenement, it’s too late- she is dead. They have to quarantine the whole apartment. “Dr put down on death certificate tentative pneumonia. that’ll have to do for now. Clothes will have to be burned”. All of a sudden the Greek owner comes in and calls for Rita. asks for his wife. Reed looks disturbed. “Where is she.” “What you do. I can’t let you go in there”. “Your wife is dead” “She can’t be, you lie. She said she just don’t feel good.”

“Remember me Matharis. We showed you a picture. If you told us the truth the chance your wife alive.” “Poldi brought him. Kolchak. Gloria Hotel. Find Poldi” They run down the stairs. Tell the police to get a list of people in the food place. Nobody in or out and then they speed away to the

Gloria Hotel, the reporter Neff hears them and  goes after them. They ask to be taken to Poldi’s room.
Neff confronts them. Why wasn’t this story released to the press? “I figure you guys running around town, he probably had small pox or cholera” Reed reasons with him. Tells him it’s plague. “We can’t let you have the story.” “With the chance of an epidemic. You guys are crazy. You’ve wasted a day. I represent the public. No two bit civil servant.” Reed says “There’s a chance we can contain it.” Warren tells the cop to take Neff into custody, and luckily finds out the editor doesn’t have the story yet,Reed asks the police officers on the scene if Neff can make trouble, they said Warren would be lucky to get a job mopping floors.

By now, we have a sense of how foreigners are dirty, mistrustful and alien to us, even when the one cop jokes about liking shish kabob. The foods are unfamiliar. The foreigners don’t trust the Americans, cops ,doctors, and visa versa, This film shows the disconnect and separation of immigrants and the America they live in.

Reed goes home for a bit to get some rest, and is met by his wife. “Don’t come any closer. Another contagion case. Another uniform to be decontaminated.” “You didn’t catch it yourself hon, you look a little beat.” “Yeah I look so good normally.” He blows up at her. He spent the money for the cleaner’s bill on the reward money.” When ever your tired you think I’m scolding.” “I spent it on something for the dept. You can put in a voucher No one has figured how to get money back from the us gov. I have to go out again, Gruffs, Just get me some coffee.” He looks at a piece of furniture being refinished in his yard and taps it. Like this is part of his real life before this filthy mess.This belongs to his clean life.

He didn’t call his wife last night. “It’s a plague case.” “Here in New Orleans? At least they have you, you’ve been through it.””Now look hon, let’s not be little miss sunshine.” “We went thru it in California.” “Whats eating you?” “I’m tired and fed up” “Stick around, just afraid if I lye down I’ll fall asleep. If I fall asleep I’m dead. Just don’t let me fall asleep. Today I took a perfectly nice guy, a cop not particularly bright, but what do I do, I push him around, make a lot of smart cracks about him. And I tell him off all day long. He winds up proving he’s 4 times the man I am. I do the same thing to you. Why do I do that?”

“Capt, Warren meets Reed on the corner. Reed tells the mayor that Warren arrested the reporter Neff on his orders. Someone starts talking about how a woman died last night in their own community. Reed yells, “Community. what community, do you think you’re living in the middle ages.

If they alert the media the man carrying the plague will leave.” All these men in power are only concerned about their portion of the responsibility. “Anybody that leaves here can be in any city within 10 hours. I can leave here today and be in Africa tomorrow and what ever disease I had would go right with me” The mayor says “I know that”~“Well think about it when you’re talking about communities we’re all in the community , the same one.” Reed who is finally smiling asks Warren for a cigarette and says “Take the pack.” He finally sees Reed as a regular guy fighting the same bureaucracy he does. This comment about community, I suspect is Kazan injecting his point of view about the universal ideal of what community truly means into the film.

The chief couldn’t hold Neff, and admits that he agrees with Reed but he couldn’t stop him. They’ll have 4 hours before it hits the papers. and Neff can color the story any way he wants. One of the other cops says he will be in the morning but he has to be honest he’s taking his wife and kids up to the grandmothers they’ll be safer there. Reed says  as he turns away, “well here we go”” Don’t misunderstand he’ll be there, Oh sure he will, never the less here we go, kids are kids.” “Tell you the truth I’m scared to death I want to call Washington and get some help here.”

Next morning, church bells are ringing, and the old woman Poldi’s mother and the midget are walking. The midget brings Poldi’s mama, and introduces her to Blackie. He speaks in his unceous manner “Yes I heard he was sick but I couldn’t find him mama.” “No he’s dying. I’m gonna send for a doctor, neighbors already sent.” “No mama this is my doctor he’s the best. Fitch is helping Poldi drink water. Blackie walks in. I didn’t want to leave Poldi,. I was gonna get ya, but he’s so sick.

A nurse comes in. She yells at Blackie. This man has to go to hospital. Blackie says he aint going. High fever. rapid pulse. The nurse tries to convince Blackies doctor that he need to be in the hospital Fitch says I had an aunt once went in never came out. The doctor says “I know these people, they are very superstitious.” Again otherizing them as alien and strange in their ways.

They start to move Blackie down the stairs when Lt.Clint Reed confronts them saying he wants to talk to Poldi. Blackie violently flings Poldi and the mattress off the stairs as if it were mere garbage and runs away with Fitch as we hear the police sirens closing in.

Kazan proliferates his films with a proto-naturalistic style within the environments he shoots. Richard Widmark displays an inward discontent while Paul Douglas has a more restrained anger and hardboiled everyman quality. This heterogenous chemistry between the two actors  fuels the film and is as potent as their mission to hunt down the plague carrying killers from every coastline dump and cheap rooming house.

Jack Palance, whose strong saturnine looks often putting him in the role as villain is marvelous as the unmerciful Blackie under Kazan’s directing. The verite of the more grittier moments feel as if we are watching the actors up close on a stage. I’m reminded of Street Car and how much I felt like I was in the room with Blanche when Stanley taunts her ruthlessly.

The narrative is sharp and driving and the tautness of the plot at times sensational, is tense during the investigative process when Warren and Reed interview people from the film’s collection of characters some, brutish misogynists,gruff dock laborers, cliched grinning Chinese ship cooks, worn out street dames and superstitious immigrants who are still living outside of the conventions of the American experience.

At the end Reed returns to his home, back in the neat world that he inhabits with his untainted family, to live out the American dream once again.

The Killer Is Loose: Gutsy Crime Noir: Get Lila (1956)

Part of my women in peril series

The Killer is Loose (1956) directed by Budd Boetticher revolves around a bank robbery in downtown L.A. While the police have set up a wiretapping operation it is revealed that the meek bank teller Leon Poole is the inside man. Leon had faked going after the robbers and getting struck by one of them in the process. This impresses his old army Sargent who was in the bank at the time. We learn that the nickname Foggy was given to Leon by his superior officer and the entire company apparently to poke fun at Leon” Foggy” Poole for being a simple minded coward. Starring Joseph Cotten as Detective Sam Wagner, Rhonda Fleming as his wife Lila, and Wendell Corey as Leon “Foggy”Poole.

During the apprehension of Leon, detective Sam Wagner accidentally kills Poole’s young wife who wasn’t supposed to be home, and at Leon’s trial he swears to get back at Detective Wagner, while staring at Detective Wagner’s wife who is present in the courtroom.

This is the inception of the woman in peril theme once Leon sets his gaze on Sam’s wife Lila the object of his hatred fixed on her from here on in.

In a very chilling manner, Leon asks why Sam’s wife Lila should still be alive. Leon’s lack of affect shows us a more deranged man than someone who might be prone to violent outburst, and it is this subtlety of his underlying psychosis that is so frightening.

About three years later, Poole (until then a model prisoner) abruptly takes his chance to kill a guard and escape. It’s clear during the ensuing manhunt that Poole is obsessed in pursuit of a single end; but not quite the end everyone supposes.

After serving 3 years in prison, Leon gets assigned to an “honor” work farm, where because of his mild manner and seemingly model behavior is trusted to go on a ride with one of the prison guards to unload a truck. Leon seizes the opportunity to escape by brutally killing the driver, and then proceeds on his odyssey of revenge. Like a shark that never stops moving, Leon is driven only by his desire to exact the same outcome for Detective Wagner, to target Lila as retribution for the killing of his beloved wife. Leon becomes a killing machine. Going from one opportunistic murder to the next until he can reach Sam’s wife. So begins the full scale manhunt for the killer on the loose.

Budd Boetticher gives us a very bleak yet dramatic landscape of America’s man vs society, cop vs criminal, good vs evil. Like some of the wild west pictures that Boetticher is known for, except here it’s played out in an urban city setting. Leon is a man set on revenge with no other driving desire, and void of a consciousness that we can see.

Killer is uncompromisingly realistic and often brutal in it’s portrayal of the ordinary machinations of a psychotic murderer, especially for it’s time. I’m not a huge Rhonda Fleming fan, but I do love Joseph Cotten in anything even his later cult and horror period like Baron Blood, Airport ’77 and Soylent Green.

The really memorable star of this gutsy Mise en scene police vs criminal noir, is the killer himself Leon “Foggy” Poole played brilliantly by Wendell Corey who defined his sober character with simplicity, and an almost naivete childlike quality. This is what makes the film so compelling. That Leon doesn’t understand why he shouldn’t kill the people who are getting in the way of his fixing Detective Sam Wagner for having inadvertently killing Leon’s wife during a raid on his apartment.

Wendell Corey’s Leon never comes across as unhinged in an overt way, it’s the way he holds back his emotions that makes his killer enigmatic and makes your skin crawl.

There are moments of exasperation in The Killer Is Loose for me. The police often miss the mark when trying to effectively do their job, and I find Rhonda Fleming’s character as Sam’s wife Lila annoying most of the time.I  was more sympathetic for Mary, the wife of Sam’s partner’s Michael Pate (Curse Of the Undead)Detective Chris Gillespie’s played by great character actress Virginia Christine.

Still, The Killer Is Loose is a compelling watch, because of it’s existential informality in some of the more  brutal moments which are powerful. The tone of Killer overrode the failings of this film for me and so  I was able to separate myself from the few things that irked me like Lila’s stubborn harping and the police’s ineffectual fumblings.

There are some other great veteran actors in this film like the always jovial Alan Hale Jr and John Larch who plays Otto Flanders, Foggy’s superior officer in the army who gave him that nickname Foggy as an insult.

Phantom Lady: Forgotten Cerebral Noir

Phantom Lady (1944) directed by Robert Siodmak; is as nightmarish and psychologically aromatic as it is penetrating.

Phantom Lady is a sadly neglected film noir based on a story by Cornell Woollrich and scripted for the screen by Bernard C. Schoenfeld. Stars Ella Raines as Carol “Kansas” Richman, Franchot Tone as Jack Marlow and Alan Curtis as the leading man Scott Henderson. The film also co stars Thomas Gomez (Key Largo) as perceptive Detective Burgess, the intelligent and compassionate detective who eventually comes around to believe in Scott Henderson’s innocence.

Phantom Lady utilizes the innocent man theme beautifully. Siodmak’s directing creates an often nightmarish realm, the characters float in and out of. The intersectionality of crime melodrama and psychological thriller is framed nicely. Siodmak is a master storyteller who earned an Oscar nomination for The Killers in 1946.

Although on the surface you would assume Phantom Lady to be a man in peril film, it actually works as a woman in danger because Carol “Kansas” puts herself in harms way in order to help her boss, whom she’s in love with. Fay Helm’s mysterious woman has a tragic trajectory herself as a woman who is spiraling into oblivion by mental decline after losing her beloved fiance.

Scott Henderson, spends the night with this anonymous woman he meets in a bar, after having been shunned by his wife for the last time. The woman who is obviously agitated and disturbed by something causing her pain, agrees to take in a show that Scott has tickets for,but the conditions are that they do not exchange names as it’s just a way for both of them to keep themselves occupied at a moment when both are broken.

The “Phantom Lady” is wearing a sensationally quirky hat which the film revolves around in a sense, because Scott returns home to find his apartment crawling with police after his wife has been brutally strangled, with one of Scott’s expensive ties. This woman in a stand out hat is the only key to proving Scott’s alibi.

Scott proceeds to tell Detective Burgess, that he spent the night with this no name woman, after fighting with his wife and that there are several people who would have seen them together. The bar tender, the cabbie with a very memorable name, and the temperamental lead singer/dancer in the musical review could identify him accompanied by the phantom lady, because of her supposedly original yet quirky hat which the performer was wearing on stage. Aurora shoots daggers at the Phantom Lady for having worn the same design. You could see the fury on her face as she sings her musical number. Aurora played by Estela Monteiro has a melt down once she walks off stage and decrees that no one would have the nerve to wear one of her hats, and throws her own hat away.

Detective Burgess takes Scott around to each of these witnesses but no one recalls having seen him with a woman at all. They all very curiously deny seeing the lady, and it becomes obvious that something is very wrong with the testimony from all these people who were obviously covering something up. The outcome looks bleak for Scott.

Because it appears that Scott is guilty of the crime he is sentence to death and faces the electric chair in 18 days. With no witnesses to back him up.

Even his best friend sculptor Jack Marlow played by gravel toned sophisticated Franchot Tone who doesn’t come onto the scene until midway through the film, is away on business in Brazil, so there is no one but Kansas who is left to stand by Scott. Scott resigns himself to his fate and doesn’t even blame the jury for their decision.

Scott Henderson is a civil engineer in a loveless marriage, with a beautiful associate who works for him, which he affectionately calls Kansas. She never doubts his innocence for a moment and devoutly sets out on a mission to try and find this mysterious lady to prove she really does exist, before it’s too late. She also tracks down those whom she knows have lied about seeing this woman.

Kansas is chilling as she taunts Mac the bartender who denies having ever seen the woman with the funny hat in his bar with Scott the night and time his wife was murdered, she also goes undercover as a “hep kitten” to trap the lecherous drummer who flirted with the phantom lady, the night she sat beside Scott at the show.

Along the way, Detective Burgess, confronts Kansas in her apartment and tells her that although he did his job at the time, he also believes in Scott’s story because a child could make up a better alibi than the story he has stuck to so religiously. So now Kansas and Burgess set about to prove that someone has been tampering with these witnesses.

At this point, Jack comes back from Brazil to lend a helping hand in getting to the bottom of the case. The always present Jack begins to play an important role in helping solve the murder.

What lies ahead is a very gripping story with several taut and fiery moments. Elisha Cook Jr. is fantastic as the tweaked sleazy drummer who’s got an appetite for women in the audience. And Fay Helm is very palpable as the Phantom Lady who alludes the police after that one night at the Broadway show with Scott.

The characters are very engaging, and the witnesses are despicable as they are being evasive, which creates an atmosphere of obstruction that is stirring and at times, maddening.

Although at the time the film got critical acclaim, I’m surprised it wasn’t more popular in the Noir film psyche of reviewers and critics. Today it seems like a forgotten gem amidst some of the more over- treaded Noirs and the popularity they still maintain.

Woollrich was a prolific writer who’s work came close to being as popular as Raymond Chandler, and he was responsible for many of the screenplays of the 1940’s as well as the radio drama Suspense. Ella Raines is absolutely breathtaking to look at. And sadly Alan Curtis having died in the 50’s of complications from surgery was not only great at being sympathetic, he was strikingly handsome as well.

Phantom Lady is a cerebral excursion, which uncovers a lot of psychological layers for us, as it progresses.

Without giving away any key parts of the plot development, I’ll say that the film shows us a dark side of humanity.

Without going into the background of the characters, the narrative of Phantom Lady is drawn out in little scenic bursts of disclosure. While the film doesn’t describe to us why these characters are doing what they do with the use of  flashback another Noir staple technique, we see who these people are by their actions. The film explores human nature in a slightly gritty naturalistic style. A nightmarish journey of the wrongly accused, the tragedy of loss, greed and true madness. And ultimately the love that bears its fruits by unrelenting devotion and the pursuit of the truth at any cost.


The Dark Corner: Detective Noir: Lucille Ball, Clifton Webb, and “for 6 bits you’d hang your mother on a meathook”

The Dark Corner (1946) Director Henry Hathaway’s (Niagra, Kiss of Death )rhythmical detective Noir, with more than just one great line here or there to fill out the plot. Based on a story by Leo Rosten and adapted to the screen by Bernard C Schoenfeld and Jay Dratler

In most Noir films there are the elements of existential anguish– the angst that runs through the central characters’ narrative. Bradford Galt is a prime example of the detective with this sense of being at the mercy of his past burden, the one that haunts his present life. He got a fast shuffle out west. Now he just wants the chance to start up a legitimate business.

Mark Stevens (The Snake Pit, The Street With No Name) is Bradford Galt, the hemmed in protagonist of the film. A private dick who just can’t escape his past, and is targeted as the fall guy in a plot of revenge.

Lucille Ball is Kathleen Stewart his always faithful and trustworthy secretary who is with Galt for keeps. And then there’s the inimitable Clifton Webb as Hardy Cathcart the overrefined art dealer who’s sanctimonious utterances drives much of the film’s best lines. William Bendix is the quintessential muscle, Stauffer alias Fred Foss who’s been hired to tail Galt. Unnerve Galt into having a confrontation with ex partner Tony Jardine in hopes of framing him by creating a motive for Jardin’s murder. Jardine is a man who blackmails women with incriminating love letters, in addition to having set Bradford up for the manslaughter sentence.

Hardy Cathcart has a sexually grotesque obsession with his wife Mari played by Cathy Downs In fact, his icy preoccupation with owning fine things in particular his wife, who bares a striking resemblance to a rare painting, makes Webb’s character a collector indeed, by entrapping his wife in a marriage as the ultimate ill fated possession. Hardy: “The enjoyment of art is the only remaining ecstasy that is neither immoral nor illegal.”

In the realm of the Noir as detective yarn, Dark Corner goes smoothly through each scene, while less darker than some contributions to Noir, it is sustained by some memorable dialogue.

Dark Corner utilizes some of the characteristic visual motifs of the Noir film The frame within a frame, which creates the environment of imprisonment. Bradford Galt is an iconic figure who’s existential anxieties create the environment of no way out.

Bradford murmurs “There goes my last lead. I feel all dead inside. I’m backed up in a dark corner, and I don’t know who’s hitting me”. This reflects the uncertainty of the character’s situation. Mired in the existential despair of going down blind alleys and not being able to see who his enemies truly are.

Even the shot of Kathleen waiting in the cab, looking out the window, Ball’s face is framed by the glass and the darkened night. She is fixed within her love for Bradford. As she tells him, “she’s playing for keeps.”

There is a very memorable scene in The Dark Corner which has a very vivid moment of someone being flung out a window. I guess defenestration is a popular method of character disposal in Noir/Thrillers. Being hurled out a window is quite a drastic way to die, lets say rather than being shot in the heart once with a small pistol.

The Dark Corner has other inherently typical themes of Noir in addition to the detective yarn, it also shares the Wrong man. Galt has been framed for a crime he did not commit. For the first part of Dark Corner it is also not made very clear the who and/or why someone, possibly this Jardine character is persecuting Galt.

The visual technique chiaroscuro is used powerfully when obscuring  the embrace of Jardin and Cathart’s wife’s downstairs in the lower level of the art gallery, while Hardy Cathcart stands off stage. This ambiguous shadow play that Hardy witnesses reveals that he might have known for quite some time about his wife’s unfaithfulness.

More disturbing is the idea, that as his prized possession, wife Mari is an object d ‘art, a thing, that will remain with him even if she doesn’t love him, even if she’s been with other men. This is the main underpinning for the film. Without Cathcart’s obsession there would be no story.

Bradford Galt (Mark Stevens)is superb as the private investigator who after serving 2 years for vehicular  manslaughter, in which he was set up by his ex-partner a shyster lawyer  the suave Tony Jardine (Kurt Kreuger), Galt comes to New York from San Fransisco to start over. He’s got a kind of Alan Ladd, nice guy look about him.

He opens up his new detective’s agency. Bradford sits in his huge mostly empty office with one large desk and a map of the city on the wall, and a phone.

Lt Frank Reeves ( Reed Hadley) is the ever present detective on Galt’s back, watching over him to make sure that he isn’t going to slide into any criminal behavior again, and let’s Galt know that he’ll be watched from here on out. The detective promised his friends in California that Galt wouldn’t get into any mischief, saying “He’s an impulsive youth” he’d be smart to keep it clean.

One of the driving narratives of Dark Corner is Galt’s self persecution and Ball’s need to prop him up and keep him from feeling sorry for himself. The more he tells her to forget him, the tighter she holds on and sticks by him.

The banter between Stevens and Ball is believable and it’s quite sweet the way they develop their relationship. Even when she mentions him being a detective and uncovering a pair of nylons size nine for her and he keeps saying he’ll make a note of that. It’s their partnership that’s yet the other real focus of the story.

William Bendix, (Frank Foss) hired muscle and tail dressed in an ‘out of season’ linen white suit is tailing Galt and his secretary very conspicuously,while the boss and his lady friend are on their first unofficial date, wandering through the Tudor Penny Arcade, they confer that white suit’s been tagging along.Both Bradford and Kathleen notice him and conspire to get him up to Galt’s office. Kathleen is supposed to wait in a taxi and then follow Foss to where ever. After Galt finds out what his game is. Once Bradford Galt gets hold of Foss (Bendix) he hits back hard and finds out that Jardine the ex partner who had framed Galt back in San Fransisco is now after him once again.

This sets off a chain reaction for Brad to uncover why Jardine is so interested in him again. Brad Galt roughs up Bendix, humiliates him, takes his wallet so he can remember his name and where he lives and when Foss spills ink on his desk, he wipes his inky fingers all over the nice white linen suit.Brad also breaks Bendix’s thumb. Which becomes significant later on in the film.

During the film Galt is as sullen as a wounded animal having been set up a few years earlier by his ex partner and now is being targeted once again, but this is secondary to the plot. It’s the vehicle for which Galt can finally put the demons from the past to bed and start over as a stronger more complete man who’s found his strength and love in his “faithful noir lady” Kathleen(Lucille Ball), who dotes on him and is the strong shoulder to lean on, whenever things get frenzied or dangerous. Kathleen’s in it for keeps.

Kathleen just won’t quit her boss. She knows he’s in trouble and wants to help him in any way she can. She keeps pushing Galt to open up his steel safe “heart”, of his and let her help. After a wonderful kiss, He just tells her ” if you don’t want to lose that stardust look in her eyes to get going while the door’s still open””If you stick around here, you’ll get grafters, shysters two bit thugs, maybe worse, maybe me”

The one liners are great in this film. And there are very many of them. Webb is perfect as the art gallery snob/fop who is more concerned about his collectibles namely his wife than matters of pride, dignity or  moral principal. His wife being his possession and keeping her as such is the only thing that matters to Cathcart.

There is a wonderful element with the little blond girl who keeps playing her penny whistle which irks Bendix’s character and adds a light comical edge to the picture. Galt is being hounded by Bendix using the alias name Foss who doesn’t succeed in running him down with his car, detective Frank Reeves is trailing Galts’ every move to make sure he isn’t into any unsavory business.

Tony Jardine looms over Galt, the memory of having been framed for manslaughter by Jardine who loaded him up with booze, puts him in the car and leaves him to take the rap for killed someone. At times we see Galt as he sits in his big mostly empty office except for his desk. This shot makes him look small and swallowed up. Again, the use of framing the shot with the atmosphere of entrapment.

The Dark Corner is a really fun detective noir film that flows smoothly and pays off at the end as lyrically gritty as it starts out with the sensually playful musical score by composer Cyril J Mockridge.

Just some of the memorable lines:

Bradford Galt to Anthony Jardine: For six bits you’d hang your mother on a meat hook

Bradford Galt: I’m playing this by the book, and I won’t even trip over a comma!

Bradford Galt: I can be framed easier than “Whistler’s Mother”.

Mrs.Kingsly: Isn’t my Turner divine? Look at it! It grows on you.

Hardy Cathcart: You make it sound like a species of fungus.

Altman’s That Cold Day In The Park: 1960’s Repressed Psychosexual Spinster at 30+? and the Young Colt Playing Mute

“How far will a woman go to possess a 19 year old boy?”

That Cold Day In The Park (1969) Robert Altman-iconic American director (Mash, Nashville) best known for his very naturalistic approach to plot development in his films. He has a very stylized viewpoint, which creates an atmosphere of actors dialogues overlapping each other. He allows his actors to improvise their lines which was a very unorthodox method of film making. He’d often refer to a screenplay as a “blueprint” for the action, and cared more about character motivation than the relevant components of the plot. In Cold Day, he uses a more somber monotone dialogue, still informal and intimate, yet not as cluttered with the chatter he uses in his later works. Here the film works as a mood piece of modern Gothic horror that eventually devolves into Grande Guignol style. Another aspect of this more subtler psychological horror film is how it makes the protagonist particularly ambiguous as we are not sure where our sympathies lie. Considering the boy’s entrapment which he become complicit in since he has several opportunities to stay away once he realizes that Frances is not emotionally stable, yet he’s complacent in luring Frances into his game. While Frances is both predator and victim, the moral ambiguities lay open.

Altman often presents Frances in that iconographic mirror in order to represent her duality. The reflections of the repressed woman and the voyeur who seeks to fulfill her sexual desires. While, ‘the boy’ walks around the apartment naked he becomes and ‘object’ of desire for Francis’ fragile self control. She is a pathetic deranged time bomb who will eventually lose all hold on reality.

Again, I will not give away the climactic ending. It’s too powerful through the camera’s framing, the storytelling and of course Dennis and Burns extraordinary performances.

At first I set out to do this review with a mind towards coupling it with another psycho-sexual film experiment Secret Ceremony 1968 starring Liz Taylor and Mia Farrow, by the great director Joseph Losey, but once I started thinking and writing about Cold Day, I realized I had a lot to say, so I’ll save that other psychologically startling feature for another time, although it makes for a good companion piece.

Johnny Mandell’s music works well as the very minimalist piano score that creates the atmosphere of loneliness. It’s a beautifully evocative piece of film scoring. Laszlo Kovacs’s cinematography creates a stark and sterile landscape who’s monochromatic colors seem to implode around the characters.

Starring Sandy Dennis (Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf?’66, The Fox, The Out of Towners ’70) as Frances Austen and Michael Burns (loads of television appearances and he plays yet another  strange boy in Grand Guignol’s The Mad Room 1969) as “The Boy” That film directed by Bernard Girard. 

The film is premised on Dennis’ character being a psychotic sexually repressed woman who’s loneliness has driven her to a spiraling madness. She is portrayed as the figure of an archaic high born spinster devoid of emotional or physical connection to her own body nor any other individual, male or female. A sexless drone living outside the world in her own isolated imprisonment/apartment in Vancouver left to her by her wealthy deceased mother. Frances carries on the ritual of entertaining her mother’s older friends out of an empty obligation filled with no joy or passion for life.

Now, I often wonder about womens’ roles in film, ones who in years past played the spinster. The woman passed her prime and so sexually repressed and relentlessly dour that she’s ready for the glue factory and unable to have a meaningful relationship because she’s obsolete as far as the script goes. Then come to find out that she’s only in her mid thirties. It fascinates me how things have changed, and while women in film still aren’t getting the sexy roles at 50 or 60 even though they’re younger looking and more in the midst of  a ripe youthful mindfulness well passed 40 into their 50s. Over and over I watch films that portray woman who either perceive themselves as gone to seed or the plot sets them up as being viewed as ready for the old hags home. But I digress as I’m apt to do.

I’ve not read Richard Miles book, but I think that this story most likely had the characters’ motivations more fleshed out, it might have even made for a compelling stage piece.

Sandy Dennis, plays a wealthy spinster starved for human contact who while entertaining truly older folk in her apartment, situated in some nondescript Urban setting, spies a young man sitting on the park bench outside her apartment. At first Frances wearing a forbidding black dress had ignored the boy sitting on the bench. While Sandy Dennis was quite a young actress of 31, her tightly upturned hairstyle and mannerisms indicate that she is taking on the role her mother once had, presenting herself as an ‘older’ woman.

She seems to be more recluse than hostess. She is repulsed by the old doctor friend (Edward Greenhaigh) who keeps trying to get her alone. It revolts her that he wears support bands to hold up his socks and smells like an old man. And she doesn’t seem to want to engage in conversation with any of her guests. One wonders if these gatherings are just Pavlovian ritual of the idle rich, a circumstance she has been conditioned to since birth, or is she shielding herself from any real contemporary human contact by hanging around a collection of fossilized bores?

Altman doesn’t give us a lot of information, he usually makes the audience infer from the actors what their motivations are. My guess is that it’s a little of both.

[And I mean no disrespect for the elderly, I hold a very high reverence for people who have claimed the right to life experience, but here in this situation, these particular guests seem to be used as a conveyance of sour, cynical and hardened natural snobbery.]

But the film uses artifacts of growing older to symbolize Frances’ revulsion of time honored traditions and older people. Though she surrounds herself with remnants of a past way of life handed down by her mother, her growing antagonism and loneliness sparks her madness.

Frances lives in her own world and for no reason that we are privy to, has been terribly damaged by her loneliness and self imposed isolation handed down by the matriarch. One day, one cold and rainy day during a very strained social dinner party at her place, she notices Michael Burns (The Boy) sitting on the park bench outside her apartment window. He is conspicuously perched on the bench with no apparent purpose. Only later do we learn that he had been waiting for his sister Nina (Susanne Benton) who fails to show up that day. Most likely in bed with her rough around the edges, Vietnam vet, drug using, oversexed boyfriend, played by John Garfield Jr.

A lone passerby drops off a newspaper in the trash can by the bench and Burns uses it as a blanket to shield himself from getting wet. This action creates an aura of a poignant soul at the mercy of the elements– an influence that draws the boy closer to Frances’ gaze. A praying mantis who has stumbled onto her mate/prey sanctuary.

She studies him with fascination. Perhaps, she glimpses a kindred spirit in his solitariness. We see how she sets herself apart from her guests. We sense a certain hostility, an obvious antagonism toward her gathering, rather than empathy. Even her trusty servants, who dote on her like a mother hens evoke a level of disdain in Francis. Her housekeeper Mrs. Parnell played by (Rae Brown) sheds a disapproving air about Francis once she’s let the boy into the apartment. Everyone involved in the periphery of Francis’ life assumes her loneliness as unhealthy. Yet Francis continues to shield herself from any genuine human contact until she discovers the boy. The boy being the catalyst for her latent sexual desire.

She sends her guests away early and runs outside standing behind the chain link fence of the apartment complex, an almost prison like effect is constructed. She calls to the boy from her fortress. He comes to the fencing and Francis invites him in to her apartment to dry off. She then runs him a bath and begins to dote on him, feeding him, playing him records of various varieties of music. She hovers over him as if he were a stray puppy or as the New York Times reviewer(Howard Thompson) referred to him as a young colt, she has found.

In Peter Shelley’s Grande Dame Guignol Cinema he makes an interesting observation about the way Kovacs lenses Frances in shadow as if she is a ‘female monster’ when she asks ‘the boy’ to stay. Also suggesting that Altman presents Frances personae likened to ‘vampirism’ as she wears her hair down at night.

He feigns being mute. This is something his sister lets us know he does from time to time. Again we do not know why he would shut off from communicating, but he uses it as a way to watch Francis from a distance. He tells his sister the first time he sneaks out the bedroom window back to his real home that he’s never met anyone who talked as much as Francis, and that she is sexually weird. Perhaps we are supposed to decipher something  significance about a boy who chooses not to talk, and a woman who chooses only to talk. Francis’ chatter is so trivial at times, yet it uncovers no layers to her pathology.

Early on we sense that his being mute is a ruse, we also see glimpses of Francis knowing all too well, that he is only playing mute. But she is suddenly drawn to him and now their game has commenced which plays out very tediously, yet compelling all the same.

Michael Burns has an impish face. He’s a highly underrated actor of the 70’s. In Cold Day, his range is truly utilized in Neo-Gothic urban fashion. His role in The Mad Room (1969) released that same year, starring Shelley Winters and Stella Stevens, didn’t really give him the environment to expand his acting prowess. He’s got boyish good looks. Almost Cherubim. We see his naked bum a lot, prancing around the apartment with only a bath towel and his silent body language. Doing a little Chaplinesque pantomime to convey “himself”, his spirit, as he is acting mute for Francis. He exudes a hint of dangerous quality yet manifests a gentleness. Perhaps in his mind he at first romanticizes in dreamy fashion that he is an Oliver Twist who has stumbled onto something good. A street urchin who has been taken in by a seemingly kind yet odd woman. And so he’s playing along with the game, all the time realizing that Sandy Dennis’ character is not quite right. She talks incessantly about things that aren’t relevant. He humors her, in an odd sort of sympathetic way.

Of course there is another element of his motive for allowing himself to be taken in. His opportunism, as he is tolerating her advances and the exploitation of her quirkiness, and the foisting of gifts and comforts upon him. We later come to learn, that he is from a very dysfunctional home life. When he runs home to his sister Nina who’s smoking hash and carrying on with her boyfriend, he tells her how grateful he is to finally have his own room and bed.

Nina is a hyper sexual sister, who has more than incestuous overtones for her little brother. The Boy also has a strain of sexual dysfunction in him as well. There are no boundaries as his sister has sex with her boyfriend while her brother watches on the fire escape outside her window. Later on, she shows up uninvited to Francis’ apartment and takes a bath, she plunges him into the tub with her and then while lying on the bed naked tells him that he excites her and she excites him. If not for her breaking the tense and perverse moment with laughter, we might have seen the boy move onto the bed to have sexual relations with her. These are streetwise and blamelessly ruthless children. Apparently the mother is non involved and these siblings are out to fend for themselves. There is no familiar foundation from which they spring from, and so they seem to wander aimlessly, pleasuring themselves with what ever comes their way.

After the first night of Francis’ treacly verbal stroking of her new pet, she tucks him into bed like a child, and then she locks the door. He is able to sneak away through the window to retreat back to his origin. To meet up with his sister. To relate the strange situation he has stumbled into. But we get the first sign that this diversion, this subterfuge will not end well.

From that very first night there is a sort of tedium that drones on as Dennis’s character starts to care take him, which begins with the locking of the door to his room. Though striking the boy as bizarre, he seems untroubled by this maneuver, and so slips out at night through the window, planning to return later on, unnoticed by Francis.

Later on in the film, entering his room, she discovers he’s out again at night after having poured her heart out with more than the usual meaningless diatribes she spurts, she realizes that it’s really a lump of dolls he’s stuffed under the blanket made to look like him sleeping. She had been telling him that it’s okay if he wants to make love to her, and that she wants him to make love to her. Once she discovers that he’s not even in the bed, it ignites outrage,she screams, and now we see her wrath starting to leak out a bit, betrayed that he has left her alone.

So,no more slipping out for the boy. She nails down every window and locks all the doors and keeps him prisoner. When he returns after the revelation that he’s been slipping out,he now finds that he is a virtual prisoner, he tells her that he can leave any time he wants. he looks for knives in the kitchen and grabs a meat cleaver to try and wrench the nails from the window sills. The tension is building as he realizes that this is not a game anymore, that she is truly mentally deranged and he is now her captive.

She tells him that she understands that he’s young and needs sex and that she’ll bring him someone.

She then proceeds to go to a seedy bar trying to procure a prostitute as surrogate for her sexual repression.The first bar Francis goes to, she sits and watches a girl, beehived Mary Quant black eyeliner and attitude, almost a flash forward to singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse. Francis approaches her in the bathroom and asks if she’ll come home with her because she has a boy there who needs sex. The girl asks how much, then rebuffs Francis and calls her a pervert.Assuming that the sexual procurement was for herslef, a woman and not someone else. But overhearing the incident, Michael Murphy as The Rounder.

Taking on the task of recruiting a prostitute for Francis, the smarmy character that Murphy plays, brings Francis to what looks like an all night dive diner/lesbian hang out, where all the players in the room are further used to set off an ambiguous puzzle as to whether the prostitute is for her or not. Francis’ sexuality is truly ambiguous in this film.

A scene at the gynecologist, (a male doctor) must be part of the narrative that tells us how clinically she is disconnected from the sex act. How her body is something she is not attached to, but finding this boy, as a keepsake, a play thing, brings her madness to the level of psycho sexual and psychopathic breakdown.

Ultimately while we’ve been dancing back and forth between both characters who have been humoring each others’ motives and whims, the fracturing of reality has begun for Francis, and ultimately for the boy to see that he has entered into a very savage trap. The tension stems from more of a growing inertia that suddenly combusts.

Luana Anders, (early 60’s cult actress from Roger Corman’s wonderfully macabre adaptation of Poe’s Pit and The Pendulum and Curtis Harrington’s very obscure but nigthmarish and dreamy Night Tide also starring in Dementia 13 ) plays Sylvie the prostitute, in one of the more emotionally connected scenes that gives us some frame of reference of reality to the real world,a more engaging character who comes into the framing of the story. The whole thing culminates in a very disturbing moment, that abruptly grabs at your psychic jugular vein and leaves you speechless. A tragic poignancy, bleak and dismal, perhaps while more subtle than recent films of the genre, still a psychologically grotesque film for some people to watch.

It’s a compelling interaction of misguided souls triggering a psychotic combustion of parts. Leaving you more than a little uncomfortable. While I found the film an interesting experiment in the sub genre of psycho sexual disturbances and 70s Grande Dame Guignol, I’m not sure anyone else would be able to sustain viewing it long enough for the climactic end.

Sandy Dennis has done her share of films where she gets to stretch her range. Usually, coming across like a wounded bird. (The Fox, Who’s Afraid of Virgina Wolff?) she can be like a languid train wreck in our view who’s articulations while off putting, can draw you in as well.

Without giving away the swiftly shocking ending, I’d say that this film might annoy most film goers, yet I found it oddly satisfying. Perhaps in it’s initial theatrical release, audiences found it disturbing and unsavory, today it satisfies my taste for eclectic cinema and character acting with a slow burn pace and an undeniable gestalt laden, thought provoking climax that permeates the brain cells and lasts on the tongue like a big clove of garlic, the film disturbs the mind for hours. While That Cold Day In The Park obviously reviled film critics and movie goers during it’s theatrical release in 1969, I think it’s one of Altman’s most underrated pieces of work.


Movie Review New York Times Published June 9,1969 by Howard Thompson

That Cold Day in the Park (1969)

“The kindest thing to say of this misguided drama, about a wealthy, thirtyish spinster, who installs, then imprisons a coltish youth in her apartment, is that it caused a healthy flurry of filming activity in Vancouver, British Columbia, by an enterprising American production unit.”

“The climax is a gory business with a bread knife.”

The Cast
THAT COLD DAY IN THE PARK, screen play by Gillian Freeman, from the novel by Richard Miles; directed by Robert Altman; produced by Donald Factor and Leon Mirell;  Running time: 112 minutes.
Frances Austen . . . . . Sandy Dennis
The Boy . . . . . Michael Burns
His Sister . . . . . Susanne Benton
Nick . . . . . John Garfield Jr.
The Prostitute . . . . . Luana Anders

Nightmare Alley: Faustian Carnival Noir: The rise and fall: From Divinity to Geek

The Hanged Man XII or Dying God – this figure is Osiris or Christ and shows redemption through suffering. He is drowned in the waters of affliction.

Interview with Colleen Gray about the film

Nightmare Alley, (1947) Directed by Edmund Goulding is one of the more moody, nightmarish and sophisticated Noir films of it’s time. Goulding’s direction works like an expose of the seedier aspects of carnival life, threaded with romance, both surreal and unseemly. Based on William Lindsay Gresham’s book and scripted by Jules Furthman (To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep), the film is a grim and somber look inside the lives of carnival folk and the demons who ride their backs with drug and alcohol abuse, which breeds inhumanity and the nadir that people are capable of reaching. This beautiful nightmare is both picturesque and polluted, yet a story that is cathartic, much like the journey in Sullivan’s Travels.

I’ve been writing a series called Women in Peril, and in order to make the distinction clear here, while the central character Stanton Carlisle is the film’s charismatic Anti-Hero, the main character who thrusts the films narrative forward are the two strong female leads. Stanton is portrayed by Tyrone Power’s in perhaps one of the most enigmatic performances of his career; an amoral misanthrope who’s inherent skill is to prey on the vulnerability of peoples’ weakness.

The film’s two women have a crucial interdependence on Stanton. They are the satellite archetypes of women who while not in threat of bodily harm, their danger lies more in the betrayal of their trust. The exploitation of their kindness and their willingness to reflect some credence to Stanton’s character that is apparently lacking in his nature.

This is perhaps one of the most powerful films I’ve seen in a while. It quite reminds me a bit of Sullivan’s Travel’s in that it’s a story of a person who loses their way, down a dark corridor where humanity has no place to radiate it’s light, and yet at the end of the journey, there is humanity once again. It’s a story of devouring power and the leap into the pit of perdition in order to find redemption.

Mademoiselle Zeena, played by the earthy Joan Blondell is seduced by a charming carnival barker, con-man, born mentalist, into teaching him the secret of “The Blind Fold Code” a word code that helps mentalists work a crowd of people who submit questions for the “Mentalist” to answer. This was once a very lucrative stunt that Zeena and husband Pete (Ian Keith) used, which was worth it’s weight in gold.

Zeena is the catalyst, the unwitting Mephistopheles to Stanton’s Faust, the word code like the Faustian contract that Stanton signs his soul away for. His one way ticket to obtaining real dominance. His appetite for power fueled by a Protean greed.To be a bona fide Mentalist, in high society , to tap into the profitable Spook Trade. Yet more like an Evangelist, a prophet helping ease people’s crisis of faith, and grief, while turning a profit by his deeds.

Zeena, is also a Circe or Hecate like figure in her obedience to the art of Tarot, and that her visions bode very dark forces ahead for Stanton. She is a tragic figure because she has fallen under Stanton’s influence and yet also the noble and devoted care taker to her husband Pete who’s drinking overshadows their career and their marriage. She is a woman trapped by her superstitions and her reverence to the arcane mysteries of life.She’s also a woman driven by her devotions. She’s got a heart as big as an artichoke, a leaf for everyone.


The opening scene we behold The Miracle Woman Zeena, standing on the platform by her tent, like a Greek goddess, a soothsayer, weary with visions of things that have played out in her life. Circumstances the Tarot Cards have foretold, that she is driven by the past winds of fate to observe. Zeena unlike women in peril who might be hunted by an assailant in human form, is at the mercy of her willing subjugation to her plight, and the sacrifices she’s made in life as caretaker and witness.

Molly (played by Coleen Gray) is the sweet young girl in the carny act billed as the Electro Girl who sports a galvanic bra which can withstand electrical shocks so she doesn’t get fried in her seat. Letting the arc of electricity flow between her hands is a wonderful scene in the film. It gives Molly her almost fairy like quality. The mirror with which to reflect what ever decency might still be inherently shrouded in Stanton’s dark heart. She can only see his beauty and his passion for working the crowd and his gift for showmanship. She doesn’t understand his ruthless nature, or that he is exploiting her affections. Molly is in danger of being manipulated by Stanton who plunges into marrying Molly for the purpose of using her in his new act. Her face almost lit like an icon of a Roman painted angel, cannot see the wheels turning in Stanton’s eyes when he talks about them being together. Their need for each other existing on two separate plains divulged in the way the scenes frame the actors expressions simultaneously in one shot.

Stanton is fascinated by The Geek in the sideshow. This is the carnival’s biggest draw, but a subversive illegal attraction that even some performers won’t work if a show carries such an attraction. But Stanton is fixated on him. “How do you get a guy to be a Geek, is he born that way?” It’s an unsettling foreshadowing of events. “I can’t understand how can get so low” we can hear the live chickens squawking as they are being fed to The Geek. It’s a disturbing effect.

Stanton, thrives on the energy of the carnival “I like it, it gets me to see those yokels out there gives you a superior feeling, as if YOU were in the know and they were on the outside looking in.” We see Stanton’s as Egoist, his ruthless narcissism to take over, to be omnipotent.

Stanton first starts working on Zeena’s affections in order to procure the secret code. She doesn’t want to hurt Pete. But she is taken in by Stanton’s seductions. If the new act works, she could make enough money to get Pete “the cure”. “Oh Stan do you think I could make the big time again?” Her arm stretched out leaning on a pole, he kisses the soft insides where her arm bends. She is torn between enabling Pete and being seduced by the lustful advances of Stanton.

Stanton shows up later at Zeena’s hotel room where she has laid out the Tarot cards. He asks what she’s doing. “This is the Tarot, the oldest kind of cards in the world … whenever I have something to decide or don’t know which way to turn.” She tells him to cut the cards 3 times. “Look Stan that’s the Wheel of Fortune, Pete and I never had it this good!” Everything looks good for them in the reading, but there is no sign of Pete dead or alive. Zeena starts to panic. Stanton picks up a card that had fallen on the floor face down. Zeena is shaken, “It couldn’t be like that it’s too awful, it’s too crazy what have I done!”

She tells Stan to take his bags and get out, it’s all off. Stan asks what he’s done, she says “Nothing! but I can’t go against the cards.”

Nightmare Alley’s characters each have their own level of spiritual awareness, an intimate relationship with their own nature of worship. Zeena dabbles in the esoteric mystical aspects of religious superstitious of luck and curses, The Marshall who comes to shut the carnival down, has a very quiet reverence as a good christian man, Molly is the embodiment of moral purity, and Stanton sees himself wielding his own religion as a Nietzcsheqsue Uberman.

She shows Stanton Pete’s card. The Hanged Man, the recurring theme of the film. This again is the foreshadowing of what can happen when humanity is sacrificed for power. She tells Stan when a card falls face down on the floor, what ever is going to happen is going to happen fast and it’s never good. Stans says “that’s for the chumps, to fall for one of your own boob catchers” He’s so superior, so ruthless, he cannot even fathom that the warning might be credible. We do see shades of humanity in him at times, as Stanton asks ” I wonder why I’m like that, never thinking about anybody but myself.” Zeena asks if his folks dropped him on his head. “Yeah, they dropped me.” This gives us a little background, that we later learn he grew up in an orphanage where he became aware of the Gospel and it’s useful passages. They kiss, and Zeena is once again under his control.

A foggy night, crickets chanting, Zeena’s husband Pete, staggering in between the caravans of the carnival stumbles upon Stanton one night. Zeena has cut him off from his drinking. Pete has the dropsies. In the background we hear the Geek wailing, screaming ungodly screams. He’s got the heebie jeebies again.

Throughout the film’s darker scenes the usage of music by Cyril Mockeridge, with orchestral arrangements by Maurice Packh there are moments of a diabolical motif, again in keeping with the Faustian theme. Several waves of Glossolalia especially where the Geek runs amok on the carny grounds are simply gripping and mind altering.

Stanton gives Pete the bottle he’s stashed in the prop trunk and says here you need this more than me.Pete tells him “you’re a good kid Stan, you’re going places, nothing can keep you out of the big time, just like I used to have.” He reminisces about him and Zeena during their big time, when they had TOP BILLING. The Geek comes  stumbling near them singing an incoherent tune, “Poor guy” Stanton says. “If it weren’t for Zeena they’d be saying that about me, Poor Pete, Pete the Geek” He remembered that fellow when he’d first showed up at the carnival. He used to be plenty big time. “Mental Act?” “what difference does it make, old smoked meat now, just a bottle a day rum dumb and he thinks this job is heaven, as long as there’s a bottle a day and a dry place to sleep it off. There’s only one thing this stuff (bottle) will make you forget-how to forget.”

Pete jumps onto the platform, turns the grungy swinging overhead lamp on and begins his little soliloquy, his old spiel “Throughout the ages certain men have looked into the polished crystal (holds the bottle of liquor to his breast and gazes) and see, is it something about the quality of the crystal itself, or does the gazer merely use it to turn his own gaze inward” now holding his hands to his temples as if to gleaning visions” in a seriously, sage like tone, as if giving a sermon (again the comparative to religion).

“Who knows , but visions come, slowly shifting their form, visions come, WAIT! the shifting shapes, begin to clear.” He begins to describe fields of rollings hills to Stanton, a young barefooted boy and a dog. Stanton caught up in Pete’s oration begins to tell him, ” His name is Jim, go on” Pete breaks from his trance and begins to laugh sardonically, “see how easy it is to hook em!” he cackles. “Stock reading, fits everybody. Every boy has a dog”, as he laughs. But Pete’s demonstration deepens Stanton’s hunger to obtain the ability to entrance and overpower people by persuasion and elocution. To divine people’s souls by reading their body language. To Stanton this is a form of religion. To be a holy man of the mental act. An art form, a business and again, spiritual rescue to those who are in crisis of faith for a price.

That night, Stanton unknowingly slips Pete a bottle of wood alcohol that Zeena uses to burn the papers of written questions from the audience. Stanton accidentally reaches into the prop trunk and grabs the wrong bottle. The bottle that Pete had been drinking that night. He dies and leaves Zeena to renew the act with Stanton as her partner working the crowd. But the guilt that starts to build up in Stanton’s psyche haunts him, and eventually becomes his ruination. While climbing to the top in society being billed at a Chicago nightclub as a Mentalist who is attracting a lot of attention.

Zeena shows up at Stanton and Molly’s hotel for a surprise visit. Again she lays out the Tarot cards “You’re going to the top, like a skyrocket” The one card face down is The Hanged Man, Pete’s card. This rattles Stanton. Molly believes it and Zeena warns Stanton not to take the act in the direction he is thinking. He calls Zeena and Bruno carnival freaks and tells them to get out. But Zeena comes back having forgotten her Tarot deck. Again, Zeena finds The Hanged Man face down on the floor. We hear the music glossolalia again, the disturbing voices resurrected in the back drop. Later,Stan goes to get a massage and when the masseuse puts alcohol on Stans skin to close his pores, it brings forth a TOTAL RECALL of his guilt. The night he inadvertently switched the bottles of alcohol that killed Pete, which he benefited from because it created his opportunity to use “the code” and rise to the top.

At the nightclub in Chicago, in the audience one night a woman, Dr Lilith Ritter (Helen Walker) a cunning psychoanalyst, challenges Stanton. He goes to see her at his office and a new unholy relationship is forged. Not based on sexuality but the mutual bond of greed and opportunistic paranoia. She is the femme fatale of this noir film. She records all her patients sessions and Stanton wants to be able to use that information to his advantage, by having inside details of people’s lives that he can use in his Mentalist act. The name Lilith again is an interesting element. Lilith in Hebrew mythology is related to a class of female demon. When Stanton accuses her of secretly recording her patient’s sessions she espouses “Anything my patients reveal is as sacred as if given under the seal of the confessional.” Again references to religious structure. And the twisted bond they forge from this point on is based on “it takes one, to catch one.”

Ritter gives Stanton secret information about a wealthy patient of hers. Ezra Grindle (Taylor Holmes). Stan sees it as “An absolute blown in the glass clincher” Stan doesn’t see this skeptic as a challenge because his ego is so poised that he is certain he can con this old man into believing that he can manifest the spirit of his long dead love Dory. Using his command of the Gospel, Ezra a man who obviously struggles with religion, is told to “prepare himself more with prayer and good works” Like giving Stanton enough money for his own radio station and tabernacle.

Trying to use Molly as an accomplice to dupe the very wealthy man out of a fortune Molly threatens to leave Stan. He manipulates her love for him by telling her “What should I do, should I let the man’s soul be lost forever, or should I stake my own to save it!” It is this brilliant subterfuge that convinces Molly to stand by him for this ruse. She is so bound by her blindness, that she follows Stanton a bit further.

From here on in, Stanton begins his descent down the darkened pit, where he losses his identity but in the end finds redemption. To rise so high, is to fall to the lowest depths.

William Lindsay Gresham discusses his creative angst researching Nightmare Alley, as backdrop to his own movement toward faith. Here it’s cited his discovery of Tarot:

During my analysis I had a brief period of prosperity: I managed to write a novel, savage, violent, and neurotic, which made money. Yet with a temporary release from financial worries, my own inner nightmare grew worse. It was not true, then, that men live by bread alone? (Source)

And not forgotten: yet more women still in peril

In my series women in peril, I am approaching certain films that fit several other sub genres. I might use titles for this particular series but later on down the road, I will examine them further with commentaries which  fall under other genres / Classic horror, obscure cult films of the 70’s, Cinematic madness, Satan in Suburbia, the slasher flick and so on. These might be approached from a different P.O.V. or thematic relevance.

Although I’ve been showing images and listing titles of films that stroke that certain chord of femmes in distress, I will want to approach certain of these films in more depth under other categories later on. And just to mention a few more ladies whom I adore: Veronica Lake, Eleanor Parker, Gena Rowlands, Nina Foch, Merle Oberon, Gene Tierney, Ruth Gordon, Linda Darnell, Jane Greer, Jeanne Moreau, Charlotte Rampling, Karen Black and so many more.


Scenes from The Witches

Shadows In The Night (1944)

Carnival of Souls (1962)

The Damned Don’t Cry (1950)

The Night Porter (1974)

The Birds (1963)

Ms.45 (1981)

The Innocents (1961)

Dear Dead Delilah (1972)

Trilogy of Terror (1975)

The Witches (1966) alt title The Devil’s Own

Kind Lady (1951)

The Hearse (1980)

Barbarella (1968)

Marnie (1964)

Secret Ceremony (1968)

Ash Wednesday (1973)

Cat people (1942)

Possession (1947)

Bluebeard (1944)

Bedlam (1946)

Three Faces of Eve (1957)

Let’s scare Jessica to death (1971)

Straight on til morning (1972)

Svengali (1931)

My blood runs cold (1965)

Haunts (1977)

In the devil’s garden (1971)

Twisted Nerve (1968)

House of whipcord

Sudden Fear: Shadows wicked, shadows gladdened, an offertory of clocks: time’s running out.

SUDDEN FEAR Joan Crawford: Queen of the volatile eyebrows with a life all their own. Her vulcanized eyebrows frame her austere gaze.

In Sudden Fear, the tale of Myra Hudson, wealthy San Fransisco Heiress and playwright who’s new play Halfway To Heaven is about to become another smashing success. At first we see a very empowered woman who doesn’t like to be referred to as an heiress .She’s independent and obviously is well guarded in terms of her emotions. Here she is an iconic figure of the woman as upper or middle class protagonist, perhaps unconsciously inviting in something ominous into her safe environment. She’s unaware of being provocative yet allowing this intruder into her normal life.

This is a stylish noir melodrama, genre story telling at it’s best. The villain, is lying in wait for the innocent, vulnerable bystander to give way to the intrusion. A secret desire perhaps to shake up the ordinary world they usually inhabit.

Lester Blaine is played by Jack Palance*, the imposing and saturnine actor whose appearance generates that of Minotaur rather than leading man. (Palance’s appearance fated him to play the villain in more than one Noir film in it’s prime. His jawline conveys menace, his dark and brooding deep set eyes betray a sinister inner prayer for self satisfaction and malice.)

Lester has failed to land the lead in the play. Myra, watching from the theater seats while auditioning him, says “he sounds romantic enough, he just doesn’t look romantic enough”

Once Blaine finds out that he hasn’t landed the part in Myra’s play he bursts forth onto the stage and delivers a diatribe about a famous painting of Casanova that she should really visit. “He’s got big ears and a scar, and looks just like me.”

Is he genuinely hurt or is he contriving to get close to Myra? At this point we are unsure of his motivations, yet we do see a glimpse of something unsavory, sinister in his unctuous mannerism.

Now Myra is on a train from New York headed back to San Francisco, where she sees Blaine from her compartment window and calls out to him. Miraculously Blaine, is boarding the same train. After a few awkward moments, Myra trying to justify not picking him for the lead actor in the play, the ice is broken and Blaine begins to romance her. We sense that his charm, his parlor tricks of affectionate gestures are lures for the bait. His oily, silken tone, wiling her into his gaze and out of her safety zone. To us he has a sadist’s air, but Myra has already started to loosen her grip on her formality. She has given in. They ride through to Chicago, where he takes her to an acting school for wrestlers, we’re told. Back on the train, he asks her why she works. “The desire to achieve, to stand on my own two feet, instead of my father’s fortune, make a place in the world.” Here again, we are reminded that Myra was a very strong-minded and independent femme inoffensif.

Now that the Minotaur is lurking, and the romance has been kindled, Crawford’s face is softening with each frame as she accepts him into her soul’s stoic citadel. They share quotes from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and then their hands mesh, his fingers baring a ring, she asks if it’s a wedding ring, he says it’s his mother’s.

The trap is set. She is caught. She brings him home to her apartment in San Francisco where he meets her two friends, her lawyer Steve Kearney – played by the innocuous Bruce Bennett, the ever vigilant and devoted attorney/friend. She then takes him up to her study where “plays are born” She shows him her dictaphone where she records everything, scene descriptions and the bequests for her last will and testament. And they drink milk. A virtuous drink. The drink of lily white modesty. He begins a soliloquy from one of her plays. ” It’s flattering to be quoted. Another move closer, piercing her tough heart seed. He moves towards her and now they kiss.

We are taken along through scenes of sight seeing the great points of lookout for San Francisco; the Trolley, the Bridge, Muir Woods. The music tells us the mood is that of metropolitan musings. The bustle of car horns and trumpet hollers. The city is now fresh with new love for Myra and Lester Blaine.

The celebratory, outdoor frames end and suddenly relinquish themselves into a frantic moody setting at  Myra’s apartment. Guests downstairs at a party she’s thrown in honor of Lester. She’s frantically ringing his room. We see her black glassy shoes pacing in the room. She lights a cigarette. Her friends Steve and Ann come in to see if she’s coming back down to the party.

Now we see Blaine pacing. His shoes are the vantage point with which we understand the fervor of his first inscrutable stratagem set forth to weaken Myra’s self possession. She relentlessly rings his phone. He’s lying on top of his bed, smoking a cigarette allowing her to become more diminished with every dead silence.

She tells her friends to “Tell the guests anything”. She is now a desperate woman, something must have happened to him. She goes to his room. We see him at the top of the stairs with his bags packed. He looms like a great menacing presence. Stairs in Noir films are often a symbol, a mechanism to facilitate the atmosphere of the ascent towards danger, and insecurity. He tells her that he doesn’t belong in her world. She tells him she has nothing without him. His ruse has worked. They are married.

At her summer house, they awaken from their marriage bed, and greet the new day, by walking out onto the balcony near the stairs leading down towards the ocean. It’s very steep and rocky with no guard rail. Treacherous if you were to lose your balance. I wondered, will he try to push her down this rocky tor? What Myra calls the precipice. Blaine feigns concern for her safety and she quotes Nietzsche “live dangerously” a foreshadowing of the pact she has inadvertently signed with the devil.

At the reception of Mr and Mrs Lester Blaine, the dubious Irene Neves played by the sweltering Gloria Grahame comes walking in on the arm of Steve’s brother Jr. (Mike Connor) The sultry vulpine blond unwraps her white head scarf and everything changes from here.

We see Lester leering at Irene curiously. They have a past relationship?

After the reception Irene, once again climbing a set of stairs to her apartment, puts the key in the door, and is startled by Lester who comes at her from behind. She screams as he pushes her into the apartment with brutal compulsion. Sounding furious he asks ” What are you doing in San Francisco?” she replies so cooly “An old friend of mine married a San Francisco girl.” Throwing a newspaper at him she follows up with “Here I’ll show you it was in all the newspapers.” He slaps it out of her hands and says “Don’t be cute.”

Now we understand that we have a pair of anti-social opportunists who not only know each other but have never severed the relationship. Lester gets furious at the thought of Irene dating Jr. and wants to know what she’s done to impress him? He warns Irene, if she ever does, she’ll need a new face! Blaine’s violent potency has manifested in full force now for us to see.

Amidst several diversionary tactics, like asking Steve, Myra’s trusted friend and lawyer to help him find work because he would never live off his wife’s money. Lester and Irene meet in secret. He asks why she’s still dating Jr. “Cause the rents due, and I’d rather eat dinner than starve.” These two ruthless people begin to plot Myra’s demise. They must be careful. It must look like an accident.

Steve suggests to Myra that she makes a sensible change in terms of the will. She is about to inherit her fathers entire fortune soon. But Myra says she won’t hang onto any man she loves from the grave nor from this side of the grave either. For the first time she feels poor because all she has to give is her love to Lester. And for the first time she feels rich because she is getting so much back from him in return. She wants to share all her worldly goods with this reptilian deceiver she’s fallen in love with. She bequeaths her entire estate onto the Dictaphone, in her study. That night there is a party, people are playing poker, Lester and Irene slip away into Myra’s study and begin to conspire and embrace.

The next day, the secretary tells Myra that she left the dictaphone on. Myra disagrees but let’s the issue drop. Once in the study she listens to the bequest “For the happiness he’s given me…” then a sudden skip in the recording and now we hear Lester and Irene who had inadvertently recorded themselves scheming.

And now the veil of deception has been lifted. She has been so naive, so fragile for once. Her face horrified, devastated by the betrayal. She hears how he’s never loved her. How it makes his skin crawl to tell her he loves her. She weeps, she hears them read the will that Steve intended for Lester. “she doesn’t sign the Will until Monday, can’t get the old mans money ’til then, suppose something happens between now and Monday?” They have to make it look like an accident. They’ve got 3 days. The record starts to skip. And Gloria Grahame’s razor edged voice, drones on and on ” I know a way… I know a way”. Myra runs to the bathroom, and gets sick. She realizes that she’s got proof of their plot to murder her, but in her frenzy to hide the recording she accidentally breaks it.

This scene is one of the most powerfully driven slow burning revelations– the gestalte of this dark story. The droning voice of Irene, she’s defenseless, staring at her marriage bed, where lies were perpetrated upon her. The incessant violation, “it’ll have to look like an accident.” She clasps her ears. She begins to dream, the dreams sow the seed of nightmares. All the ways she could die. Being pushed from the tallest window. Being smothered by unseen hands pushing a pillow over her face. Suddenly she is woken up by Blaine who has broken through the door, acting concerned. She flinches, afraid of him. We see the shift in her now. Her gaze has shifted to abject fear of this man. Then her fear seems to turn to scorn. A little sign of her durability comes back to her complexion.

Instead of going to her friend Steve who would have readily believed her story, she contrives to undermine Lester and Irene by laying the ground work for her own strategy,to set them both up. The film begins to unwind into a dark forest of shadowy contours and murkiness. Scenes of Crawford’s machinations through the lens of her extraordinary eyes. The shadow of the clock’s pendulum oscillating on her face, over her heart, while she envisions her plan enacted. There are a variety of scenes with clocks. The use of the clock in this film is emblematic of Myra’s living on borrowed time. Of time running out for all the players. There’s also a very gripping and inventive scene with a little wind up toy dog that escalates the atmosphere of agitation and tautness. The shadows that frame the figures like contoured walls of darkness. Crawford’s eyes convey much of the rest of the narrative.

You’ll have to see the film yourself, I will not spoil the way the rest of this film plays out. It doesn’t unbend at the final frame, but rather awakens from the shadows, the noir landscape, the sound of high heels fleeing on cobble stone streets no more. Wet down in bleak and dreary puddles of rain. The sun comes up slowly mounting on the back of the morning sky, ascending renewal. The end of sudden fear.

Screenplay by Lenore Coffee and Robert Smith from the novel by Edna Sherry.
Directed by David Miller and director of photography was Charles Lang Jr. (Some Like It Hot, How The West Was Won, The Magnificent Seven, Charade and Wait Until Dark)
Film’s score by Elmer Bernstein

* Several years ago I had the great privilege of sitting at a neighboring table across from the great Jack Palance, at a very quaint Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side. Although I had been such a huge fans of his for years, I did not want to insinuate myself into his dinner conversation. He had been sketching with crayon on the tablecloth something for someone who appeared to be a director. They were obviously discussing the details of some project. I felt so special to be seated near him. In person, he seemed as gentle as a labrador retriever. Not the imposing gargoyle of a man that he came across in most of his films. I consider that meal, a very special moment in time.


More Women In Peril






Sisters (1973)

I Want To Live (1958)

The Honeymoon killers (1969)

Dead Ringer (1964)

The Dark Corner (1946)

The Reckless Moment (1949)

The Blue Dahlia (1946)

What Ever Happened To Aunt Alice(1969)

The File On Thelma Jordan (1950)

No Way Out (1950)

Don’t Bother To Knock (1952)

Nightmare Alley (1947)

A Woman Under The Influence (1974)

The Prowler (1951)

Lady In The Lake (1947)

Dolores Clairborne (1995)

A Street Car Named Desire (1951)

The Ladykillers (1955)

In A Lonely Place (1950)

Tattoo (1981)

Gloria (1989)

The Penalty (1920)

The Naked Kiss (1964)

Charade (1953)

Night Of the Hunter(1955)

Caged (1950)





Women In Peril: Feature Overview Part II

Here is the second installment, a few more films that I consider highly engrossing for this theme, Women In Peril, horror/noir/mystery and the thriller.Some films create environments where the women in danger are subjected to psychological distress as much as they are in mortal danger of their lives. I hope you find this additional list interesting and entertaining. Again, I will review some or most of what I’ve listed below. I’ll go more in depth as I usually do once I am examining a film as a singular entry which allows me more time to elaborate on the details, plot design,my impressions of the film and a little referential details  as I’m always like to do.

Note: I can’t do Last House On The Left, because I could never bring myself to see it. And I was interested in covering Tattoo, but I’ve heard it’s just a vile misogynist mess, so I’m not sure I’d even waste the time. And I haven’t been able to get my hands on a copy of The Todd Killings which I would LOVE to see.

The Killing Kind (1973) I won’t be reviewing this film. I mention it because it fits the genre, yet I won’t be able to watch it again as I have previously stated there is a horrible scene of animal cruelty to cats and I just can’t bring myself to watch it again. I am a huge admirer of Curtis Harrington, yet I believe the film would have been better if he hadn’t included that aspect to this film. John Savage plays illegitimate Terry Lambert a young man falsely accused of participating in a gang-rape. While in prison he develops a violent sexual penchant towards women. Once released he moves back home with his emasculating mother played by Ann Southern, which only fuels his rage further. He winds up going on a killing spree of revenge towards all the women he perceives as having wronged him. Also stars Ruth Roman

Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting (1969) A mentally disturbed man stalks a woman who had once aborted the child he had fathered.

Stars Paul Burke and Carol White. Directed by Mark Robson. Again, i vaguely remember a cat being killed in this film, so I might skip the review.

Conflict (1945)Humphrey Bogart plays Richard Mason who pretends to be an invalid so he can plot to kill his wife Kathryn He does, however, kill her on a lonely mountain road. Or did he really succeed? Soon after, He smells her perfume, finds her jewelry, sees an envelope addressed with her handwriting. Stars Alexis Smith and Sydney Greenstreet.

TheFantasist (1986) When an Irish woman moves from the suburbs to Dublin, she begins receiving phone calls from a stranger. Stars Moira Harris, Christopher Cazenove and Timothy Bottoms.

Screaming Mimi (1958) Starring Anita Ekberg and directed by Gerd Oswald, She plays a tormented Exotic dancer Virginia Wilson. Who witnesses a murder. Each victim had purchased a contorted sculpture of a woman called the Screaming Mimi, which was created by her step-brother Charlie who was also responsible for shooting her attacker.

So Sad About Gloria (1975)

A young woman just released from a mental hospital moves back in with her family. However, she is soon troubled by disturbing visions in which she commits a series of axe murders. Stars Lori Saunders and Dean Jagger.

The Climax (1944)

Starring Boris Karloff he plays Dr Hohner the theatre physician at the Vienne Royal Theatre who has already killed his mistress then becomes obsesses with a young diva (Susanna Foster)and goes to extreme lengths to make sure she will never sing for anyone else but him.

The7thVictim (1943)A woman in search of her missing sister uncovers a Satanic cult in New York’s Greenwich Village, and finds that they may have something to do with her sibling’s random disappearance. Starring Kim Hunter and Jean Brooks, this is yet another Val Lewton’s masterpiece, directed by Mark Robson who worked very closely with Lewton on his collection of shadow masterpieces for the poverty row scene set up to compete with Universal.I will be doing a feature on Val Lewton in the future, and will be revisiting this film as part of his collection.
Jane Eyre (1943) Faithful adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s gothic romance about Jane played by Joan Fontaine, who has had a brutal childhood in a stark and cruelly run orphanage, comes to an old manor house, to take care of Margaret O’Brien, the daughter of the mysterious and angry Edward Rochester, played by the brooding Orson Welles.
The Big Heat (1953) Starring Glenn Ford as a jaded cop and Gloria Grahame the ex-mob gal who’s face has been disfigured by her scorned lover. Ford enlists her help in trapping the mobster who was responsible for killing his wife. Grahame’s character is so integral to the plot, as she is thrown in harms way once again. Noir at it’s best.
Straight Jacket 1964) stars Joan Crawford and Diane Baker. Directed by the showman William Castle and written by Robert Bloch, this is a story about insanity and the mother/daughter relationship complexities that unfold, once Crawford is released from an institution
Revenge,Axes and Motherhood.
Walk On The Wild Side (1962)Capucine plays Halie Gerard a kept woman by Jo (Barbara Stanwyck)who runs a house of ill repute. Jane Fonda(Kitty) and Laurence Harvey (Dove) stumble onto the House where Barbara Stanwyck keeps a tight hold on her call girls. When Capucine wants to leave with Harvey she threatens her safety and puts her life in jeopardy. Directed by Edward Dmytryk and the sultry titles by Saul Bass, make this a sexy thriller. Also starring Anne Baxter and Joanna Moore
Bunny Lake Is Missing(1965) Otto Preminger directs this psychological masterpiece, where Carol Lynley comes to London with her little girl and her brother Kier Dullea. When Bunny her child goes missing after dropping off at school, no one believes her story, or that the little girl ever existed at all. Lynley’s ordeal is almost more punishing than if she herself were in danger, because the psychic pain she endures is more compelling in a lot of ways. Laurence Olivier plays the kindly detective on the case.

Midnight Lace (1960)
Doris Day stars as wife to David Niven. One day she hears a voice in the fog, and then she is continued to be assailed by an unseen figure. Is David Niven trying to gaslight her?
TheLodger(1944)Directed by John Brahm and scripted by Barre Lyndon, this adaptation of the jack the ripper themed treatment stars Merle Oberon and Laird Cregar as the mysterious boarder who lives upstair with his little black bag.

The Snake Pit (1948)
Directed by Anatole Litvak, this stars Olivia de Havilland as a woman who’s harrowing life of hallucinations and memory loss come spiraling out of control as she is then thrown into a mental institution, the snake pit.

When A Stranger Calls (1979) Carol Kane stars as the babysitter who picks up the phone only to hear the voice on the other end say ” Have you checked the children”

Laura(1944) directed by Otto Preminger this is a film noir masterpiece starring Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews and Vincent Price.A police detective Dana Andrews falls in love with the woman whose murder he’s investigating.

Human Desire (1954) Directed by Fritz Lang this stars Gloria Grahame as the emotionally abused wife of jealous brut Broderick Crawford who works with Glenn Ford as train engineers. Once Ford starts up an affair with Grahame things really get complicated for everyone. Blackmail, violence, murder and passion. Another noir masterpiece.
The Unsuspected (1947) Directed by Michael Curtiz, Claude Raines plays Victor Grandison “Grandy” who hosts a radio show called ” The Unsuspected” which is a murder mystery program. A girl has been murdered. Joan Caulfield and Audrey Totter star in this intense thriller.

Fingers At The Window (1942)Stars Lew Ayres and Laraine Day and Basil Rathbone. There is an Axe Murderer running amok in the streets of Chicago. Lew Ayres takes a special interest in Laraine Day when he discovers that she might be next.

Dragonwyck (1946) Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz starring Gene Tierney and Vincent Price as the Lord of the Land in old Upstate New York, who takes Tierney as his bride after his first wife succumbs to illness. Once Tierney is on the estate, she finds her gentleman husband, has strange mood swings and secrets as he insists that she bare him a son. Outstanding story with exceptional acting by Price and Tierney. Another of my favorite actresses.


The Woman In White (1948) Starring Alexis Smith, Eleanor Parker, Gig Young and Agnes Moorehead, Young is a painter who comes to give lessons to Eleanor Parker, when a strange and mysterious woman dressed in white keeps appearing. Is she a ghost. And what are the secrets that Sidney Greenstreet is keeping.