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

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

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

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

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

DRAGONWYCK  (1946)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ghostly Dragonwyck

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

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

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

Vincent Price in House of Usher, 1960.

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

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

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

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

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Nietzsche quote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Miranda meets the despondent Katrine… a hapless child

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

As Johanna shoves another bon bon into her mouth…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virgins, Venuses, Miniskirts, Sorcerers, Pretty Poison, Peeping Toms & WomanEaters

The Brood 1979
A scene from David Cronenbergs The Brood 1979

It’s a psycho-sexual smorgasbord of cinematic thrills & filmic frissons! As women are in peril and perilous are some women!

RACHEL, RACHEL 1968 directed by Paul Newman

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Rachel Cameron: I’m exactly in the middle of my life. This is my last… ascending summer. Everything else from now on is just rolling downhill into my grave.”

Joanne Woodward is the dowdy looking emotional time bomb Rachel a 35 year old school teacher who lives with her mother and needs to either break free or break down. Kate Harrington is fabulous as her mother, James Olson who was often cast as the male figure of desire in 60s & early 70s psycho-sexual thrillers plays her lover Nick. The marvelous Estelle Parsons is her well intentioned by misguided friend Calla who has a budding lesbian attraction for her and Donald Moffat plays her dad.

I almost included this film with my compendium of cult films, though it is more melodrama than a crossing of noir, or psycho-sexual horror. The film works on the underlying premise that establishment culture has become like a sort of imprisonment to Rachel, reinforcing a repressive landscape and marginalizing the character of Rachel thus creating her own counter-culture reflecting the eroding of the American Dream and crumbling Idealism. (source American Cinema of the 1960s Themes and Variations Edited by Barry Keith Grant)

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Rachel is the archetype of the repressed New England girl form a small town. Where everyone knows your business and it becomes impossible to breathe. One reviewer on IMDb called it “deep-level collective cultural phantoms” I particularly like that phrase. A suffocating lifestyle or stasis of life more aptly, Rachel is trapped by caring for her overbearing mother. and pulled to one side by the desire she has for Nick. Haunted by memories and collected damage over the years, she carries her emotional baggage til it is too heavy to bear.

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Kate Harrington in Rachel, Rachel

A few very memorable scenes come to mind. Of course when Calla has the awkward revelation that she is in love with Rachel. But there is the bizarre church scene, and several flashbacks that allude to her childhood trauma.

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Will Rachel decide to free herself from the shackles of stifling conformity and become a liberated individual

The film also co-stars the great Geraldine Fitzgerald as Rev. Wood.

Who was she? Sometimes she was a child skipping rope. Sometimes she was a woman with a passionate hunger. And one day the woman and the child came together..

who cares about a 35 year old virgin?

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Joanne Woodward and James Olson in Rachel Rachel 1968

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VENUS IN FURS 1969 directed by Jesús Franco

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In Istanbul a jazz trumpeter Jimmy Logan (James Darren) finds the corpse of a beautiful woman named Wanda Reed (Maria RohmHouse of 1,000 Dolls 1967. The Blood of Fu Manchu 1968, Eugenie… Her Story into Perversion 1970, Count Dracula 1970) washed up on the beach.

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Jimmy remembers her from the night before, when he saw her at a party and then later as she was assaulted by the party’s host and two of his friends.

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He winds up in  Rio where he hooks up with Rita, played by Barbara McNair a singer who invites him to live with her and help him shake the nightmare off and stop thinking of Wanda.

Jimmy Logan:She was beautiful, even though she was dead.”

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Suddenly a woman appears who looks exactly like Wanda. Jimmy becomes obsessed and pursues her trying to get to the bottom of this mysterious woman.

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The woman returns from the dead to take revenge on the group of wealthy sadists responsible for her death. The film also stars Margaret Lee, Dennis Price and Klaus Kinski

Frenzied, dream like colorful excursion into the psycho-sexual mind of Jess Franco.

Venus in Furs 1969

The coat that covered paradise, uncovered hell!

A Masterpiece of supernatural sex!

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THE MINI SKIRT MOB 1968 directed by Maury Dexter

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Driven by jealousy, Diane McBain plays Shayne the jilted leader of a female motorcycle gang who’s socio-pathic and ruthless nature instigates a sadistic reign of terror against her ex-lover Rodeo Cowboy Jeff Logan and his new bride Connie (Sherry Jackson)

Stars Jeremy Slate, Diane McBain, Sherry Jackson, Patty McCormack and Harry Dean Stanton.

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Diane McBain plays Shayne the head of The Mini Skirt Mob Patty McCormack plays her little sis… and the ruthless Shayne only has eyes for Jeff Logan (Ross Hagen)

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Diane McBain Mini Skirt Mob boss
They’re hog straddling female animals on the prowl.

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Patty McCormack not beating a little boy to death with her tap shoe

THE SORCERERS 1967 directed and screenplay by Michael Reeves (Castle of the Living Dead 1964, Witchfinder General 1968)

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Set in the atmosphere of the mod 60s of LondonBoris Karloff is a subtly imposing looking more time worn elderly Professor Marcus Monserrat scientist and hypnotist extraordinaire who has discovered the secret of mind control, and the ability to become empathic with the object of their desire.

Monserrat and his wife Estelle (Catherine Lacey-stage actress who was a regular performer with the Old Vic Company from 1951-went on to play eccentric spinsters-) can literally share sensations, thoughts and feelings of the subjects they wish to control.

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Ian Ogilvy is the shady swinger Mike Roscoe who falls into their trap and allows them the excitement of experiencing what he does, virtually enjoying the self-indulgence of being young again. But as usual power corrupts and greedy Estelle begins to crave devouring Roscoe and the pleasure it gives her. Roscoe begins to lose control of himself, mind and body as the battle of wills ensues with the power hungry old bird trying to experience ‘kicks’ vicariously through the unlucky chap. Co-stars Elizabeth Ercy and Susan George.

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 Boris Karloff He Turns Them On…He Turns Them Off…to live…love…die or KILL!

PRETTY POISON 1968 directed by Noel Black

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When a mentally disturbed young man Dennis Pitt (Anthony Perkins) tells a pretty girl that he’s a secret agent, she believes him, and murder and mayhem ensue. Anthony Perkins character of Dennis Pitt is every bit more an emotional enigma as the young man with the pathological imagination who is an outlier of society. Released from an institution he gets a regular job at a lumber yard. But he meets the All American Cheerleader squeaky clean blonde apple pie Sue Ann Stepaneck (Tuesday Weld) who just might be even more disturbed than Dennis. He informs her that he’s working undercover for the CIA and enlists her in helping him on his case. Dennis cannot help live in his fantasy world, and Sue Ann is as aggressive as a giant creek carp, if you ever seen one of those canoeing you’ll know what I mean.

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As she manipulates his vulnerabilities into committing acts of dangerous vandalism and eventually murder, she is in control of this Folie à deux

Co-stars Beverly Garland as Sue Ann’s Mama.

She’s such a sweet girl. He’s such a nice boy. They’ll scare the hell out of you.
Did you ever see two kids like Dennis and Sue Ann? We think not…
…Wait till you see what they did to his aunt – the night watchman – to her mother.
What brought a nice kid like Sue Ann to a shocking moment like this?

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PEEPING TOM 1960– directed by Michael Powell

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Powell had been known for his very barbed visual style.

The background story behind Mark Lewis’ madness/murder compulsion.

Mark Lewis-focus puller on Arthur Baden’s new film The Walls Are Closing In-he also moonlights as a photographer of racy pictures on the West End. He is smitten with 21 year old Helen Stephens (Anna Massey) and they are carrying on a very civil and sweet courtship. Almost child-like which is probably what kept Helen safe from Mark’s darker side.

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What Helen doesn’t know is that Mark, has a blade hidden in the armature of his tripod, and stabs the object of his desire, filming their deaths, as a surrogate to his past abuse. When he was a young boy his father, a biologist researching the effects of fear on children, ‘the physiology of fear’ used to film Mark continuously like a mouse in a maze, through out his childhood, subjecting him to various fear inducing incidents as his experimentation.

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Voyeurism and psycho-sexual compulsion drive this very startling horror/suspense film starring Karl Böhm, as Mark Lewis who works as a camera-man at a British film studio. His fetish is to kill women with his camera tripod while filming their death. It’s not hard to envision that the tripod is a surrogate for his phallus, and the act of stabbing them with it is his act of penetration. A mirror is fixed to the tripod so that the women can see the expression of their own faces right before death, to witness their own fear.

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Unfortunately in the way Psycho with its subversive themes propelled Hitchcock’s status to  auteur, the controversial Peeping Tom ended Michael Powell’s career with all the reviled reviews.

Nothing, nothing nothing… has left me with such a feeling of nausea and depression as I got this week while sitting through a new British film called Peeping Tom… Mr Michael Powell (Who once made such outstanding films as Black Narcissus and A Matter of Life and Death) produced and directed Peeping Tom and I think he ought to be ashamed of himself. The acting is good. The photography is fine. But what is the result? Sadism, sex and the exploitation of human degradation- Daily Express

Mark has had a very traumatic upbringing by his father who used his own son in experiments of the effects of fear and self loathing. Well, they produced a son who is a sexual sadist who makes his female victims watch their own deaths-specifically the expression of terror on their faces right before death. Co-stars Moira Shearer, Anna Massey and Brenda Bruce as Dora. Absolutely chilling for 1960. Bohm’s Mark Lewis almost elicits sympathy due to his childhood psycho-trauma. Much like Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates and his fateful childhood.

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The gist of why this film shook up the British film industry in a time when they were trying to tone it down was the idea of this gruesome ‘snuff’ film maker getting off on sublimating his own sexual impotence by finding victims to penetrate with his camera or gaze. The way Otto Heller sets up our participation as voyeurs makes it doubly uncomfortable to watch the killings. For example. Mark takes a red bloused prostitute up to her room. His camera it’s several lens eyes like an insect about to prey is concealed, the whirring is cloaked inside his duffel bag. See they even had kill bags back then. As she leads him upstairs he throws an empty box of Kodak film in the garbage. Not cigarettes, or a box of condoms, but still the very sexual instrument in his mode of arousal + fixtion+ object  / spectacle +gaze =murder. Also turning their own destroyed images back on themselves is quite disturbing–It’s a kinky and interesting little detail. Otto Heller also added a wonderful detail to the film as Mark’s private ‘viewing room’ was bathed in a sanguinary red tone.

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Director of Photography was Otto Heller, Art Director- Arthur Lawson, Editor Noreen Ackland.

Anna Massey plays Helen Stephens, Maxine Audley is Helen’s mother Mrs Stephens who while blind senses that there is something off about Mark, Moira Shearer is Vivian, Nigel Davenport is Sergeant Miller.

Can you see yourself in this picture? Can you imagine yourself facing the terror of a diabolical killer? Can you guess how you’d look? You’ll live that kind of excitement, suspense, horror, when you watch “Peeping Tom”.

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Karl Böhm and Anna Massey in the skin crawling thriller Peeping Tom 1960 directed by Michael Powell

THE WOMAN EATER 1958 directed by Charles Saunders

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Oh those silly Colonialist white dudes get to have all the fun — feeding young native girls to those flesh eating plants!

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A mad scientist Doctor Moran (George Coulouris) captures women and feeds them to his carnivorous tree with tentacle like branches that only has a taste for the ladies preferably young ones, this in turn gives him a serum that helps bring the dead back to life.

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Because the tree gets fed it’s nourishment, it provides the evil doctor with a liquid that restores life to the dead. So naturally the first woman you would want resuscitated would be a good housekeeper right! No… She goes all Rochester’s crazy wife Bertha on the place, you know the violently insane first wife of Edward Rochester; moved to Thornfield and locked in the attic and eventually commits suicide after setting fire to Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre., that sort of way! and ruins everything….

It’s really just a silly B movie from the 50s that finds unique ways to destroy beautiful women by way of mad science or mad obsession.

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The film also stars Robert MacKenzie, Norman Claridge, Marpessa Dawn as a ‘native’ girl. Jimmy Vaughn as Tanga, Sarah Leighton as Susan Curtis and Vera Day as Sally.

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Vera Day in The Woman Eater 1958

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“No Beautiful Woman is Safe!
See the nerve-shattering Dance of Death!
See the Woman Eater ensnare the beauties of two continents!
See the hideous arms devour them in a death-embrace?”

Your Everlovin’ MonsterGirl saying hope you stay on the good side of the camera and watch out for those strange large plants at Home Depot!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda 1953

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT DOES PSYCHOTRONIC MEAN?

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

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

FILM NOIR HAD AN INEVITABLE TRAJECTORY…

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

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

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

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

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

4 Outstanding Actresses: It’s 1964 and there’s cognitive commotion!

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Anne Bancroft as a lady who lunches and listens to gossip in The Pumpkin Eater – being held hostage by the intensely neurotic Yootha Joyce a lonely housewife sitting next to her while trapped under the hair dryer of life…
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Woman at hair dressers-“It’s like I told you, my life is an empty place!” Jo-“Well what do you want me to do about it?”

“The question isn’t who’s going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.” – Ayn Rand

Cognition–ˌkägˈniSHən|
(noun)
the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.
• a result of this; a perception, sensation, notion, or intuition.

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These 4 particular films seem to be part of a trend of films that deal with either women’s brewing emotional turmoil or in the case of Jean Seberg’s Lilith- a creeping organic madness, perhaps from childhood trauma that is not delved into. 

Let’s consider women either in distress or the oft used “hysterical’ trademark that summons every neurotic ill associated with women. With these 4 films it’s the same root problem: Why should society determine what counts as an emotional problem? This is especially true for women, as if she was the engendering source of a specific kind of female mayhem, the creator of the tumult itself… Capable of giving birth, does she also give birth to a certain kind of madness directed inwardly or aimed outward at society and it’s unyielding ethical questions?

It’s not that I think Barbara Barrie is troubled because she falls in love with a black man. It’s that the world is troubled by her decision. Because of her choice -a society inherently cruel punishes her by taking away the one thing she had personal power over, to remove her child from her life. Although, she has a wonderful relationship with Frank both are being judged and condemned.

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The judge who awards custody of her little girl to the biological father even though he is not the better parent. Not too long ago, women could be hospitalized just for being menopausal, based on what their husbands say.

Women were at the mercy of white male society’s judgment. So if a white woman loves and marries a black man in the volatile climate of the civil rights 60s it would absolutely cause turmoil and quite the commotion.

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All these women experience cognitive commotion, but are not necessarily crazy. One Potato Two Potato is about the societal impositions forced upon an inter-racial couple and the strain of a child custody battle forcing her to qualify herself as a good mother. The sentiments of the time, the courts and society in general are dis-empowering Julie through her motherhood.
This inflicts an agonizing torture on Barbara Barrie’s character Julie. Barrie’s performance as well as Bernie Hamilton as a man whose own masculinity is tested, tears me up inside…
A white woman, Julie Cullen falls in love with Frank Richards, a black man, against the will of everyone around them, including his parents who think he should stick with his own kind. Eventually Franks mother and father come around and embrace Julie, and her daughter who considers Martha and William her grandparents.
Julie has a son with Frank…and suddenly is being faced with a white judge deciding on who will gain custody of her little girl from a previous marriage to a man Joe Cullen who abandoned them years ago. Not til he finds out that she is being raised by a black man does he rise to take action and gain custody of his daughter.
This is a courageous story to relate in 1964. Barrie’s anguish is one that is not self inflicted, there is no mental disorder, or neurotic dilemma yet it would challenge anyone who dares to be truthful and follow their heart in a world where many people must hide who they are. A beautiful love story that becomes tainted by the stain of ingrained hatred and ignorance. And causes ruination to a happy family.
Barbara Barrie’s performance as Julie Cullen Richards is nothing short of intuitively astounding.
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Just for funzies I wanted to paint some contrast into the mix, therefore pointing to films that truly deal with women and mental illness. More than cognitive commotion, they’re unstable, non compos mentis, deranged, knife wielding, murderous femmes, traumatized, delusional dames… or all out CRAZY NUTS!!!!!!!!!
And…
I’ll probably write about all these films mentioned–the women on the verge of a nervous breakdown or already on the shoulder of the weary road of life with all four tires flat at some point. I’ll Consider Charles Vidor’s Ladies in Retirement 1941 where Ida Lupino has to take care of her two dotty sisters Elsa Lanchester and Edith Barrett as the Creed sisters… They’re wonderfully Cukoo!!! I did a little piece on this gem a while back…
Robert Siodmak’s The Dark Mirror 1946 with Olivia de Havilland playing twins Terry & Ruth Collins, Gene Tierney gorgeous yet cunningly homicidal in Leave her To Heaven 1945, Laraine Day is totally unhinged in The Locket 1946, Joan Crawford as Louise Howell has a nightmare filled flashback in Curtis Burnhardt’s Possessed 1947.
“she is shown as alienated and stricken with psychological torture”– {source Marlisa Santos The Dark Mirror; Psychiatry and Film Noir 
Then again in Anatole Litvak’s story actually set in a mental institution with Olivia de Havilland stuck in The Snake Pit 1948, Vivien Leigh is the consummate delusional Blanche Dubois in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire 1951Marilyn Monroe gives a riveting performance as the deranged babysitter–(oh god kid just be quiet for Nell) in Roy Ward Baker’s Don’t Bother to Knock 1952, Joanne Woodward is in emotional conflict with three different personalities all herself…in The Three Faces of Eve 1957.
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Eleanor Parker gives a stunning portrayal of multiple personality disorder in Hugo Haas’ Lizzie 1957, I’ve written about Liz Taylor almost getting her frontal lobe sucked out at the request of her domineering Aunt -(Katherine Hepburn) just to hide her son’s sordid secret life in Suddenly, Last Summer 1959, Jean Simmons tries to find happiness in a loveless marriage that isn’t her fault in the engrossing Home Before Dark 1958, Ingmar Bergman’s Striking minimalist piece about mental turmoil in his beautifully photographed Through a Glass Darkly 1961, William Castle’s groundbreaking gender bending Homicidal 1961.
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Woodward in The Three Faces of Eve 1957
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Joan Marshall is Homicidal 1961 in William Castle’s answer to Psycho
Carroll Baker is a traumatized rape survivor in Something Wild 1961 and what I found to be a misogynist romp wasting several wonderful actresses who were offered these humiliating roles in The Chapman Report. In particular Clare Bloom who deserved better with her talent -as a nymphomaniac struggling with her sexual desires until she ultimately commits suicide in The Chapman Report 1962 and good old William Castle’s once again with his Strait-Jacket 1964 starring one of the ultimate Grande Dames Joan Crawford this time wielding an axe in addition to her nightmarish flashbacks.

Now… none of the 4 women I am covering here are homicidal or dangerous, all these women are experiencing a psychic struggle with issues that speak from their place in the world as women… who are defining somehow in their own way, what their identity means to them… Well, perhaps Lilith is a bit more volatile in terms of how she wields her sexuality and influences men & women both! But she is a divine innocent albeit-nymphomaniac living in a dreamy world of her own –not a homicidal vamp who devours men and spits them out… She is an innocent without malice. The men do the damage to themselves…

“And her eye has become accustomed to obvious ‘truths’ that actually hide what she is seeking. It is the very shadow of her gaze that must be explored”--Luce Irigaray

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Max von Sydow,, Harriet Andersson and Gunnar Bjormstrand in -(1961)-Through the Glass Darkly directed by Ingmar Bergman
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Gene Tierney as the murderously deranged Ellen Berent Harland in Leave Her to Heaven 1945

Seance on a wet afternoon 1964 previous post HERE

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Kim Stanley gives an unnerving performance as a delusional and dangerous woman who plots to kidnap a child so she can claim her psychic powers then located her…

And of course the two titans of Grande Dame Guignol fêtes courtesy of Robert Aldrich…

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? 1962 & Hush… Hush Sweet Charlotte 1964

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Roman Polanski’s very post-modern almost Brechtian/Picassoesque ode to insanity starring Catherine Deneuve in his Repulsion 1965 –
There’s always Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964) showcasing an unstable female in distress brought on by childhood trauma. Considering Hitch’s lavish colors, and overt psychological embellishments that have created a pulpy romanticized landscape, that at times obfuscates the mental turbulence rather than letting it surface on it’s own. I chose to set this film aside and instead include the more off the beaten path of psychological leaning-‘women’s pictures.’ 1964 seemed to be one hell of a  year for Women in Distress by virtue of the female psychological crisis, once again to reiterate -not the ‘hysteria’ kind, mind you.”
Marnie (1964)
Tippie Hedren and Louise Latham in Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964)
“From the socially conservative 1950s to the permissive 1970s, this project explores the ways in which insanity in women has been linked to their femininity and the expression or repression of their sexuality. An analysis of films from Hollywood’s post-classical period (The Three Faces of Eve (1957), Lizzie (1957), Lilith (1964), Repulsion (1965),Images (1972) and 3 Women (1977)) demonstrates the societal tendency to label a woman’s behavior as mad when it does not fit within the patriarchal mold of how a woman should behave. In addition to discussing the social changes and diagnostic trends in the mental health
profession that define “appropriate” female behavior, each chapter also traces how the decline of the studio system and rise of the individual filmmaker impacted the films’ ideologies with regard to mental illness and femininity.”

— from FRAMING FEMININITY AS INSANITY: RE PRESENTATIONS OF MENTAL ILLNESS IN WOMEN IN POST-CLASSICAL HOLLYWOOD by Kelly Kretschmar

WOMEN ON THE VERGE… OF A BREAKTHROUGH!

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Curt Jurgens carries Samantha Eggar after she has fallen off her horse. There is more going on that Patricia Neal’s blind eye can see

Psyche 59 (1964)

Patricia Neal and Sammantha Eggar in Psyche 59
Patricia Neal and Samantha Eggar in Psyche 59 (1964)

The Pumpkin Eater 1964

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Ann Bancroft and Peter Finch are a married couple in crisis. Having perpetually popped out a myriad of children she is yet again pregnant. Will this keep him home this time…? The Pumpkin Eater (1964)

One Potato Two Potato 1964

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Barbara Barrie falls in love and marries Bernie Hamilton. Once her ex-husband realizes that his child is being brought up by a black man, times get even tougher for the couple

Lilith 1964

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THE WOMEN!!!

Barbara Barrie

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Patricia Neal

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Anne Bancroft

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Jean Seberg

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LET’S BEGIN WITH…!

Alison Crawford (Patricia Neal)“Love has to stop somewhere along the line otherwise it’s almost like… like committing suicide “

PSYCHE 59 (1964) Alexander Singer (A Cold Wind in August 1961 with Lola Albright and Scott Marlowe) directs the remarkable Patricia Neal as Alison Crawford, a woman struck down with a form of psychosomatic or hysterical blindness. Alison is aware that the affliction is all in her mind since the doctors can’t find anything organically wrong with her sight. Her ‘hysterical blindness’ and memory loss of the events leading up to her accident follows a fall down the stairs while she is pregnant. When she awakens she is unable to see.

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Alison “My Brain won’t accept the images that my eyes make.”

What is happening for Alison is that she is subconsciously blocking out the truth about her husband and her younger, coquettish sister Robin.

She is now living a very quaint life with her husband played by the austere Curd Jürgens (I love him as the devilishly urbane concert pianist Duncan Mowbray Ely in The Mephisto Waltz 1971).

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Aside from her intense husband Eric, Alison’s very sexually charged sister Robin (Samantha Eggar) has now come to live with the couple after a divorce. Robin hovers very close to Eric like a carrion bird waiting to pick the bones of Alison’s troubled marriage. While Alison doesn’t have any cognitive memory of what led up to her fall, it’s obvious to us that she can sense the strong attraction between her husband and younger sister. At one time, her younger sister Robin and Eric and been involved before Alison caught and married him. Robin hasn’t stopped lusting after him. Slowly Alison’s memory comes back as the flashes and images of what she experienced right before she lost her sight literally comes into view.

Singer builds the tension in the air slowly, methodically until it all comes to a head set against the skillfully contained cinematography by Walter Lassally (The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner 1962, Zorba the Greek 1964, To Kill a Clown 1972).

IMDb tidbit-Patricia Neal was offered the lead in The Pumpkin Eater, but it was not 100% confirmed she would get the role. She then opted, to her later regret, to make Psyche 59 (1964) instead, since it was an official offer.

Neal gives a restrained yet powerful performance of a woman who is trapped in self imposed darkness by her fear of the truth…

There is very subtle theme of self-brutality that exists for each of the characters, Alison’s self imposed sightlessness, Eric’s indignant stoicism is palpable as he walks through the story like a trapped stray dog, He is agitated by Robin’s presence, because he can not resist her.

Robin, her younger sister who must have been quite young at the time of her relationship with Eric begs the question of appropriate behavior on his part. Robin is constantly asserting a seductive influence on Eric right in front of the disadvantaged Alison.

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She is both a hyper-sexual narcissist and a bit self-destructive at the same time, either way she gets off on playing the seductress torturing Eric, right in front of her sister, dark sunglasses and delicate pout. Although Alison suffers from blindness, she maintains a certain dignity that although as all three characters seem like she is, one of the trapped animals in a psycho-melodramatic forest, we get a sense that she will one day regain her freedom and spread her wings and fly away from it all truth in hand.

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Alison “We must be near the marshes” Robin “We just passed it … Coming to the old windmill soon…its still turning.. nothing’s changed” Alison “There’s a factory there now, Don’t protect me Robby. Don’t make up windmills.”

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Based on the novel by Françoise des Ligneris, with a screenplay by Julian Zimet (who wrote Horror Express 1972 and one of the best atmospheric little horror obscurities The Death Wheelers 1973 formally called Psychomania about a group of British motor cycle thugs and their pretty birds who dabble in the occult. Beryl Reid and George Sanders being one of their relatives, they learn the secret of immortality. But you have to die first to obtain it.)

Psyche 59 is an interesting psychological mood piece, almost post modernly impressionistic with it’s stark and polished black and white photo work. And Patricia Neal who had just won an Oscar for her role as Alma Brown in Hud 1963 and gave a command performance in 1957 as Marcia Jeffries in A Face in the Crowd is just exceptional as Alison who is trying to navigate the dark world surrounding her.

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The film is strange and at times subtly cruel yet Neal’s character relies on our visual journey which becomes quite painful at times yet beautiful as she begins to emerge. In the film Patricia Neal’s relationship with Curd Jürgens has an eerie parallel to real life marriage to writer/spy Roald Dahl, but I don’t want to get into the sensationalized tidbits of public people’s wreckage.

The Film also stars Ian Bannen as Robin’s poor befuddled boyfriend , Elspeth March and Beatrix Lehmann plays Alison’s staunch and science fiction reading grandmother-wish I had one of those!

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Continue reading “4 Outstanding Actresses: It’s 1964 and there’s cognitive commotion!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A snippet of the exchange between Hilyard and Randall…

Mrs.Hilyard-“You’re from an asylum?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The titles are reminiscent of Saul Bass

Ann Southern as Sade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Malcolm is a coded gay character of the film

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

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Twenty First Century Desolation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The use of white is so vanilla–like Mrs Hilyard

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Repent is tattooed on Brady’s hand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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They lock Sade in the closet never to be heard from again–not before they rough her up a bit, pushing her into a mirrored dressing table, where she cuts herself. George Brady’s fate is much worse.

At this point Randall sets his sights on Mrs.Hilyard who is trapped as the lady in said cage.

Mrs. Hilyard becomes less consequential at the moment the vicious trio arrive, as she is a symbol of the weakened society–the raw meat for the predatory wild animals, the more vulnerable of the modern jungle which will get picked off first. As Shelley so aptly notes, it’s very ‘Darwinian’ and the survival of the fittest. Mrs. Hilyard as much as refers to the city as a jungle.

Mrs. Hilyard-“I am a human being. A feeling, thinking, human being.”

Randall-mocking her- “Okay. I am *all* animal. Sure beats the hell outta being an inmate…”

Mrs. Hilyard ” … inmate?… Asylum?

Randall begins tormenting her, by playing head games. He shows her a note from her son Malcolm telling her that he’s about to commit suicide because of her overbearing motherly love. “Release me from your generosity. Release me from your beauty. Release me from your love.”

The entire film’s universe is filled with deviant and transgressive characters. Sade is a self-hating woman who demeans herself because of her weight. Her ability to escape the chaos hampered by her greed to take part in the looting of Mrs, Hilyard’s house. To add to the queasy touches, Sade wears a jeweled head band givimg her an odd-ball air of eccentricity. She would again play a similar type of character as Thelma Lambert in Curtis Harrington’s The Killing Kind 1973-another mother who loves her son too well, he becomes a lady killer…

The pawnbroker Mr. Paul only has one-eye. perhaps this is symbolic of a skewed vision of the world that surrounds him. He is also an opportunistic figure. Brady and Sade are afflicted with alcoholism. 

As Peter Shelley says in Grande Dame Guignol Cinema the film is “A disturbing indictment of the amorality of 1964 American society, as well as a nightmare for those suffering from claustrophobia and vertigo, this film introduces Olivia de Havilland to the Grande Dame Guignol subgenre.”

Walter Grauman creates an atmosphere of deafening nihilism that is so harsh and brutal it is almost hard to watch it at times. An indictment of modernity, opportunism and the industrial age, the use of sound with the car horns blaring in clusters of traffic, the sounds from the streets that invade Mrs. Hilyard’s closed in world is exhausting. The film delivers a sense that all of life is a furious, insensitive rhythm of hostility and discord. There is no empathy toward the individual and people are merely anonymous faces making the strident and shrill noise and disturbing the quietude of civilized life.

What makes this a suspense/noir hybrid is the environment of entrapment and flawed characters, with Lee Garmes camera angles and Leon Barsha’s razor sharp editing that keeps the pacing at an uncomfortable beat. Even the graphics that follow the credits representative of bars of a cage symbolized the narrative’s imprisonment. Cinematic bars were deftly used in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? as Aldrich wanted us to feel at ever turn the same sense of captivity that Blanche as well as Jane’s state of mind, and the landscape of the old Gothic mansion which felt like it was desolate and decaying.

And much like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane’s use of the outer world excursions Jane would take that would constantly throw light into the closed in universe of the Hudson’s mansion, Grauman and Garmes utilize shots of the ever turning world outside Mrs. Hilyard’s captivity to emphasize this contrast visually reinforcing the horror that is taking place within the confines of the house that is shut off. We feel that every frame has a sense of intrusion.

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The film has so much cruelty in it… it’s an exercise in Nihilism

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Outside the house, the world goes on spinning, the paper boy delivers the news on an ordinary street

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Essie finds the letter. “Darling Mom… “Hey how bout that it sounds real a …. gay” Mrs Hilyard asks Essie-“What is that that you’re holding? Where did you get it?” Essie-“What am I holding, a letter that was on the desk upstairs, do you want to hear it?” Randall tells Essie-“Ah, let her die curious.”

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Randall asks her-“Is your little boy married?”
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“I bet you had him at it til he was about twelve didn’t ya?… kept him sucking” She slaps him hard across the face. He grabs her violently, pushing his arm across her throat.

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He begins to taunt her with the letter. “Darling Mom,” She tries to grab it away from him. He slams her hard against the wall of the cage. with his forearm pressed against her neck. His hairy sweaty chest exposed, like he’s a pirate, his white shirt tied at the waist. Randall continues reading the letter from Malcolm -“I’ll be thirty next Wednesday, and I won’t have many more chances in life.”

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Mrs Hilyard confused says-“What, what”Randall continues to read “Every time I try to leave you, you add a room or dress up the house, or charm me…”
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He looks straight at her. She looks horrified. “No…” Randall says-” I thought you only had him at it til he was twelve. But you still got him at it… How do you charm him baby” He pulls her back by her hair… “I had a holier than thou old crow of a grandmother. She tried to keep me at it too. I’d a killed her if she hadn’t died… Like she was trying to kill me. Like you kill this um what’s his name… uhm Malcolm.” Mrs Hilyard begs, “No, no this is his too you know he decorated it himself. Complete freedom to come and go he wanted to stay here. Why would he write me a letter? We’re as close as…” She pauses and looks into Randall’s eyes. He smiles quietly at her as she begins to have an awareness. Randall asks her again, “He’s not married is he? Does he even have a girl?” “He has many women friends” “Oh yeah yeah yeah, all his friends are from public shower rooms I bet” She struggles but he continues to hold her up by her hair. It’s barbaric. He continues to torment her with her son’s letter. “Uhm, give me my half of what’s in the living room safe. What safe!!!!!!!” He repeats that line again…”Release me from your generosity, release me from your beauty, release me from your love.” Now she has truly begun to confuse reality and fantasy after she hears him say the word love. She says “Oh love” and touches his face as if it is Malcolm’s. “Oh love, love you could have your half any time you wanted. My half too for that matter.” Essie interrupts. “Read her the P.S. it’s got what they call some real buck shot in it… real loaded. Read it to her” Randall finishes the letter-“P.S. Think it over. I’ll call in a little while. Please make it yes or quite simply I’ll kill myself.”

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The interplay between Caan and de Havilland is utterly realistic. A volatile and primal confrontation between young and old, civil society and the disillusioned masses, paternal and maternal law. fear and compassion.
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She passes out and slides down the wall of the cage. Essie calls up to Randall-“You didn’t kill her?” He tells him-“No…Fainted, lying on the floor like a pile of old clothes.”

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Elaine and Essie go to look for the safe. Randall is left alone in the cage with Mrs.Hilyard who has fainted. For a brief moment it almost appears as if Randall feels sorry for her. He touches her face and neck. He looks the most thoughtful he’s been. He whispers to himself. “Old crow baby.” A hint at Randall’s mother issues which does not excuse his violent abuse of women.

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The film was refused a cinema certificate in the UK by the BBFC and remained unavailable until 2000.

Reviews courtesy of Paul Shelley’s Grande Dame Guignol Cinema- The picture was released on July 8, 1964

“Lady in a Cage adds Olivia de Havilland to the list of cinemactresses who would apparently rather be freaks than be forgotten … a grande chance to go ape. Attagirl, Ollie“- Time, June 19, 1964

“…{S}ordid, if suspenseful, exercise in aimless brutality… A discerning viewer is left curious and repelled… Olivia de Havilland as the trapped ‘Lady’ does project a sense of fear and self-appraisal … a surface, somewhat obvious portrayal.” -A. H. Weller, The New York Times, July 11, 1964

“…{A} noxious, repulsive, grueling experience… Davis’s sensationalistically vulgar screenplay is haphazardly constructed, full of holes, sometimes pretentious and in bad taste. {de Havilland} gives one of those ranting, raving wild-eyed performances often thought of as Academy Award oriented. {She} does about as well as possible under the dire circumstances.” Variety May 25, 1964

 Right now I’m all *MonsterGirl* Hope you’ve enjoyed this post for The Great Villain Blogathon!

No Way To Treat a Lady 1968 & Man On a Swing 1974: All the World’s a Stage: Of Motherhood, Madness, Lipstick, trances and ESP

No Way To Treat A Lady 1968

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Directed by Jack Smight (Harper 1966, The Illustrated Man 1969, Airport 1975 (1974) plus various work on television dramas and anthology series) John Gay wrote the screenplay based on William Goldman’s novel (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid 1969, screenplay for The Stepford Wives, Marathon Man ’76, Magic ’78, The Princess Bride. Smight shows us sensationalist traces of The Boston Strangler killings to underpin his black satire.

Lee Remick George Segal & Eileen Heckart on the set of No Way To Treat A Lady (1968)
Lee Remick, George Segal & Eileen Heckart on the set of No Way To Treat A Lady (1968)

No Way To Treat a Lady 1968  Stars Rod Steiger, George Segal, Eileen Heckart, Lee Remick, Murray Hamilton, David Doyle, Val Bisoglio, Michael Dunn, Val Avery and the ladies… Martine Bartlett, Barbara Baxley, Irene Daily, Doris Roberts Ruth White and Kim August as Sadie the transvestite, a female impersonator who was a featured performer at a Manhattan cabaret.

The film has it’s gruesome, grotesque and transgressive set pieces of women splayed with lipstick kisses on their foreheads. Director Jack Smight’s and writer William Goldman’s vision is outrageously dark, sardonic, satirical penetrating and contemptuous of motherhood and humanity in general.

From “Ed Gein and the figure of the transgendered serial killer” by K.E. Sullivan “NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY a story about a serial killer who was psychologically abused by his mother and kills women to get revenge upon her. The killer is most likely based on William Hierans (The Lipstick Killer),yet the narrative foregrounds cross-dressing as part of the murderer’s technique, despite the fact that Hierans did not cross-dress.”

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The dynamic Rod Steiger enlivens the screen as lady killer Christopher Gill, living in the shadow of his famous theatrical mother. He impersonates different characters in order to gain access to his victim’s homes, where he then strangles them, leaving his mark a red lipstick kiss on their foreheads. Gill begins a game of cat and mouse with police detective Morris Brummel (George Segal) who lives at home with his domineering mother.

There is an aspect of the film that is rooted in the ongoing thrills of watching Rod Steiger don his disguises as a sex-killer. But what evolves through the witty narrative is the moral confrontation between antagonist and protagonist surrounding their conflicting values and class backgrounds. The one psychological thread that runs through their lives is the parallel and sexual neurosis both have because of their dominating mother figures.

The opening scene… Christopher Gill impersonating Father McDowall (Steiger) is walking down the street viewed with a long shot, he’s whistling a ‘sardonic’ tune… in the vein of “the ants go marching” along side The East River. Present is the activity of cars passing by on the East Side Highway.

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As he comes closer into the camera’s view we can see he’s wearing a priests frock.

We hear the city noises, the sounds of cars honking, young children plow into him as they run by, a young girl in a short lime green dress greets him as he continues to walk along the sidewalk.

As Gill passes Kate Palmer (Lee Remick) descending the stairs of the apartment house, he says “Top of the morning to you young lady!”

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Kate is wearing in a smart yellow dress (Theoni V Aldredge ) she says “Hello father” As he continues to whistle his tune, she stops and looks up the stairs after him, the camera does a close up on her lovely face. He stops at apt 2B knocks and calls out for Mrs. Mulloy. It’s father McDowall, asking if she can spare a moment of her time. Sounding a bit suspicious she asks if he’s new to the neighborhood, but he smiles and says that it’ll be a pleasure to serve to such as the like as herself. “I Just need a minute of your life” he says and that’s pretty telling… since that’s true. Mrs. Mulloy sounds like she’s making a hard decision to open the door, but we hear the latch click….

Martine Bartlett (Sybil’s mother yikes!) opens the door as Alma Mulloy, the very simple Irish Catholic widow.

Alma Mulloy let’s him in, after all he’s a priest. He remarks on what a lovely place she has. She prides herself on her vocabulary. He delights in a word she uses. “habitable” She’s been taking a self improvement course… She offers him a cup of tea. He asks for something a might bit stronger. She offers him some port. Splendid…

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We don’t know what to expect in terms of how graphic the murder sequence will become. It is already quite disturbing how it begins to evolve, as the violence is simple and quite literal, it is the subtle psychological mechanisms that are turning within the narrative that make it all the more uneasy to watch.

This is his first kill. He sits back in the rocking chair contemplative. Perhaps a moment of Guilt? perhaps. Gill puts the lifeless body of Mrs. Mulloy in the bathroom – Stanley Myers’ (The Night of the Following Day ’68, The Devil’s Widow ’70 with Ava Gardner, X,Y and Z ’72, House of Whipcord ’74, The Deerhunter ’78, The Watcher in the Woods ’80) soundtrack creates a layer of vocalise which is a flutter of sopranos, like Anglican chants, nuns doing canticles or vespers. The frailty and holiness of their voices underlying the freakishly morbid ritual of Gill laying out the body and adding the fetishistic red lips on their forehead is provocative. This image has stayed with me for years.

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It’s a haunting backdrop to a very disturbing opening sequence… once the piano and voices are through.. Gill turns from the door frame and blows the dead woman a kiss… utterly macabre…

Switch scene to Detective Morris Brummel’s (Segal) mother yelling at him that his eggs are cooking. She starts picking at him… The banter begins, the cliched jewish mother/ son relationship unfolds. Morris asks for toast, she pushes the Latkas- he says it’s a bit heavy for breakfast.

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“So take a good look at yourself, a skeleton without a closet… hows the eggs?” she complains about people starving then adds. So why do I feed you? Tell me…ha Tell me, how much money are you gonna make today?… Should I tell you how much your brother Franklin’s gonna make today, maybe a thousand maybe two thousand in one day.”

Morris tells her, “He deserves it mother he’s a very fine doctor.”

“Oh no not fine… THE BEST!! B.E.S.T. do you know what that means to be the best lung surgeon in all Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx!… and he’s not even 40 yet” Her Semitic hand gestures are a vital part of the conversation.

“Well he’s older give me time..” She answers him, “Ha you… time, a hundred years I give and you still can’t tie your shoe laces.”

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I could continue with the hilarious dialogue that satirically pins down beautifully the essence of the mother/son relationship between New York Jews. Heckart does a splendid job of capturing the needling ‘pick pick pick’ nature, in the guise of love, protectiveness and worry, pride and disappointment all rolled into a swift set of words and not so subtle hand gestures…

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Lieutenant Dawson (David Doyle) calls Morris and asks how his mother is and tells him that he’s on the Mulloy homicide. Morris starts to leave… putting his gun on his belt.

“Look at you with that thing… a Jewish cop. When everybody knows if you’re not Irish, you’re a nobody if you’re a cop.”

His mother starts flailing her hands at him while he’s trying to tie his tie. She needles him about not getting a diploma from city university not to mention giving her grandchildren, his brother Franklin has three grand children already… pick pick pick.

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“What do I got from you… but heartbreak.” She slaps her heart. Morris says so long mashe chases after him, “Oh that’s right, leave, me leave me… don’t come back…”

He tells her she’s over doing it a bit. She calms down , her voice softens, She calls his name wistfully, Morris… He looks down at his shoes, He needs to tie them… She calls him darling… they’re having Kreplach for dinner, he should stop by for the Flanken… He kisses her on the cheek. And the dynamic comes full circle. Love through food and needling…

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Scene cuts to Christopher Gill’s opulent Gothic adorned apartment house interior. He’s humming that sardonic tune again, wearing a black silk bathrobe. He fixes a candle stick that isn’t quite straight on the side table. He is a control freak and a fastidious man. Sits down to a lovely breakfast set out for him by Miss Fitts (Irene Dailey) She gives him the morning paper. He ruffles through the newspaper looking for signs of the murder, and is angered that it isn’t on the front page. All there is, is a small paragraph under WIDOW SLAIN amidst the other news about floods and fireworks.

He calls the newspaper to ask why the story was buried, they tell him that they didn’t have time to get all the facts, when they ask who’s calling he hangs up.

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“Miss Palmer did he say anything to you?”

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“Oh yeah as a matter of fact he said something kinda funny… He said Top of the morning.” Morris looks puzzled, “That’s funny?” Kate clears up the confusion, “It was afternoon.”

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Morris arrives at the Mulloy crime scene. Asks the super who saw the priest. He tells Morris, 3E Katherine Palmer.
He asks for a description of the priest. Kate is still groggy from sleeping. She flirts with Morris. “That’s kind of a sweet nose you got there, it’s not handsome exactly I didn’t say handsome… just kinda sweet, especially for a cop.”

“Oh yeah as a matter of fact he said something kinda funny… He said Top of the morning.” Morris looks puzzled, “That’s funny” Kate clears up the confusion, “It was afternoon.”

Morris leaves but Kate tells him to come back some other time. A voice over of Mrs Brummel begins…

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“Lunatics, lunatics (she’s now framed sitting in a chair on the phone talking to Morris) you got now… Stranglers!!! Morris I tell you, I’m ashamed. You know… you know. I am sickened at heart when my own son goes looking at dead women’s naked bodies. I tell you Morris… it’s no way to treat a lady!”

Now Gill arrives at Mrs. Himmel’s (Ruth White) apartment dressed as a plumber. He looks through the old photo albums of Germany, and eat strudel. Now he’s using a German accent. After he’s killed poor Mrs Himmel and left his lipstick mark… he calls Morris while holding the newspaper with a photo of Detective Brummel.

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Morris answers, “Yeah this is Detective Morris Brummel speaking?”

“Yeah well this is Hans Schultz, at least I was Hans Schultz all day today, but a week ago last I was Father Kevin McDowall.”
Morris says, “Look I don’t have time to fool around Mister” Gill tells him, “Yeah well don’t hang up on me, just don’t hang up Mr Brummel huh.”
“What do you want… What do you want?”
“Well I want to tell you that I am in the apartment of Frau Himmel and she’s quite dead.”
“What?”
Gill laughs “Now you’re interested, maybe now I should hang up on you” Morris motions to Detective Monaghan (Val Bisoglio) to start a trace…

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“No no don’t hang up just wait a second, hold on, please please don’t hang up.”

“Hehehe, now you say please, say please, then I don’t hang up.”

Morris pleads, “I just said it, please please don’t hang up.”

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“You know what I think, I think you put a trace on the call so that’s not gonna work because there is no trace tone on this set and by the time that they check with the switchboard man at the central office and he checks the frames on the cross bar equipment and then they check “ Morris mouths to Monaghan with his hand over the receiver that Gill knows all about tracing. “But by that time Auf Wiedersehen I’m gone see, so I think it’s best I tell you, that I tell you that I am at 520 East 89th street… (Morris scrambles to get a pen to write down the address)
I like what you said in the newspapers about the murder being so well planned and so well executed and I consider that high praise coming from an expert such as yourself. I thank you for that. You hear me?”

“Yeah yeah I hear ya.”

“Now the other thing I’d like to tell you is is that you should come over here and take a look because you’ll find out that I am well up to my previous standards and I would like you to put that in the newspaper. In fact I insist on it.”

“I’ll try” Morris acts casually, as a way to piss Gill off, but it’s also part of Morris’ jaded, down trodden personality.

“Don’t try, you do it and know that I’m smarter than you are.”

“You’re smarter than I am?”

“And there’s just one more thing. You see I don’t like I should call you Detective Morris Brummel because that’s too formal so from now on I call you Morris.”

Morris starts to answer “Fine, listen…” then Gill hangs up. Maintaining himself as the one in control….

The way the scene is framed it looks like Gill is lying on the bed making romantic overtures to Morris. Gill has found a relationship that titillates him.

Meanwhile a relationship is developing between Kate and Morris. Kate comes down to the police station to give a description to a sketch artist of the priest. Morris escorts Kate onto the bus and back home. Unbeknownst to the couple, Gill is wearing his hairdresser disguise and watching the pair… Gill is now fixated on Morris.

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The next victim up is Barbara Baxley as the cat lady Belle Poppie. Gill plays a flaming fag hairdresser Dorian Smith with bleached blond hair and perfect lisp and hat boxes filled with bad wigs.

Belle holding one of her felines asks, “Would you like to meet my cats?” she shows him around the immaculate BTW apartment introducing him to the various cats… This scene is perhaps the most hilarious in the film as the whimsical Belle introduces every feline in the apartment. Gill follows her around, repeating the names of the cats in a manner that just made me laugh out loud,  it’s a hysterical scene and Barbara Baxley is spot on in this bit role.

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