Chapter 4 – Queers and Dykes in the Dark: Classic, Noir & Horror Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters:

CODED CLASSIC HORROR THEORY “The Uncanny & The Other”

“Scenes of excessive brutality and gruesomeness must be cut to an absolute minimum…”

“As a cultural index, the pre-Code horror film gave a freer rein to psychic turmoil and social disorientation because it possessed a unique freedom from censorship… the Hays Office admits that under the Code it is powerless to take a stand on the subject of ‘gruesomeness.‘(Thomas Doherty)

Horror films in particular have made for a fascinating case study in the evolving perceptions of queer presence; queer-horror filmmakers and actors were often forced to lean into the trope of the “predatory queer” or the “monstrous queer” to claim some sense of power through visibility and blatant expressions of sexuality.- Essential Queer Horror Films by Jordan Crucciola-2018

Though Hollywood execs refused to show explicit queerness, they were willing to pay for scripts that dealt with characters that were social outcasts and sexually nonnormative. The horror genre is perhaps the most iconic coded queer playground, which seems to have an affinity with homosexuality because of it’s apparatus of ‘otherizing’ and the inherent representation of difference. The horror genre crosses over boundaries that include transgressions between heterosexuality and queerness. The villain, fiend or monster plays around with a variety of elements that while usually separate, might merge male and female gender traits.

The horror film in particular, found it’s place asserting a queer presence on screen. The narratives often embraced tropes of the ‘predatory queer’ or the ‘monstrous queer’ in order to declare themselves visible while cinematic queers were elbowed out of the way. Filmmakers had to maneuver their vision in imaginative ways to subvert the structure laid out for them by the Code.

As Harry M. Benshoff explains in his book Monsters in the Closet: Homosexuality in the Horror Film, “Immediately before and during the years of World War II, Universal Studio’s horror films began to employ a more humanistic depiction of their monsters,” and the films of Val Lewton, like Cat People, reflected “a growing awareness of homosexuality, homosexual communities, and the dynamics of homosexual oppression as it was played out in society and the military.” So even though Hollywood execs refused to show explicit queerness, during the first true horror boom in American cinema, they were willing to pay for stories about social outcasts and sexually nonnormative figures. Horror fans thus found themselves awash in some of the genre’s most iconic queer-coded characters of all time.

On a Greek Island, Boris Karloff plays Gen. Nikolas Pherides in Val Lewton/Mark Robsin’s Isle of the Dead 1945. Driven insane by the belief that Thea (Ellen Drew) who suffers from catalepsy is the embodiment of an evil vampiric force, is a demon called a vorvolaka. Lewton drew on collective fears, and all his work had an undercurrent of queer panic and a decipherable sign of homophobia.

The Vorvolaka has beset the island with plague. Thea- “Laws can be wrong, and laws can be cruel, and the people who live only by the law are both wrong and cruel.”

The Pre-Code era was exploding with American horror films, that reflected the angst, social unrest and emotional distress that audiences were feeling. Personified in films that used graphic metaphors to act as catharsis, the images were often filled with rage, as Thomas Doherty calls it ‘the quality of gruesomeness, cruelty and vengefulness’. Think of the angry mobs with their flaming torches who hunt down the Frankenstein’s monster, eventually crucifying him like a sacrificial embodiment of their fury. James Whale’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein 1931 was a smash hit for Universal. Other studios were trying to ride the wave of the awakening genre of the horror picture. Paramount released director Rouben Mamoulian’s adaption of the novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson, published in 1886. The film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1931 stars Fredric March and Miriam Hopkins. During the period of Pre-Code, many horror films proposed grisly subject matter that would shock and mesmerize the audience. For example, actor/director Irving Pichel’s The Most Dangerous Game (1932) starring Joel McCrea, Leslie Banks and Fay Wray.

In 1932 Michael Curtiz directed Doctor X starring Lionel Atwill who would become one of the leading mad scientists of the genre.

Michael Curtiz’s macabre horror/fantasy experiment of homosocial ‘men doing science’, crossing over into profane territories and embracing dreadful taboos!

All scenes below from Dr. X (1932)

Fay Wray as Atwill’s daughter who is the only woman surrounded by a group of scientific non conformists.

The adaptation of Bram Stoker’s story of the Eastern European incubus was interpreted by Tod Browning in Dracula 1931, immortalized by Hungarian stage actor Bela Lugosi with his iconic cape and mesmerizing stare. While his nightly visitations were blood driven and cinematically sexual in nature, there is a very homoerotic element to his influence over Renfield (Dwight Frye) and his gaze of gorgeous David Manners as John Harker.

Bela Lugosi looking down upon David Manners in a scene from the film ‘Dracula’, 1931. (Photo by Universal/Getty Images)

Robert Florey directed the macabre Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe. And a film which has no connection to Poe’s story but in name, is one of the most transgressive, disturbing horror films rampant with vile taboos, such as necrophelia, incest, sadism, satanism and flaying a man alive, is the unorthodox The Black Cat (1934). The film stars Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, one of four pictures they would do together. A pair of enemies who have a score to settle, ghosts of a past war, and stolen love all taking place with the backdrop of a stylish Bauhaus set design and high constrast lighting.

Paramount released Murders in the Zoo (1933) with Lionel Atwill a sadistic owner of a zoo, who uses wild animals to ravage and kill off any of his wife’s (Kathleen Burke) suitors. Kathleen Burke is well known as the panther girl in Erle C. Kenton’s horrifically disturbing Island of Lost Souls 1932, an adaptation of master fantasy writer H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau. Incidentally, Welles, Laughton and wife Elsa Lanchester had been good friends earlier on, before the filming of Lost Souls. The film stars Charles Laughton as the unorthodox, depraved scientist who meddles with genetics and nature. He creates gruesome human/animals, torturing them with vivisection in his ‘house of pain.’ The film also stars Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams and Bela Lugosi as The Sayer of the Law.

And in 1933 King Kong shows a giant ape grasping the half naked object of his affection with unmentionable connotations of bestiality between the ape and Fay Wray. With scenes of Wray writhing in his gigantic paws, he lusts after her, until his desire kills him. It’s almost like fastasy noir, the object of your desire, will ultimately kill you!

The 1930s and 1940s — Fear the Queer Monsters

Re-assessing the Hitchcock Touch; by Wieland Schwanebeck -As Rhona Berenstein asserts, the horror genre “provides a primary arena for sexualities and practices that fall outside the purview of patriarchal culture, and the subgeneric tropes of the unseen, the host and the haunted house.”

By the same token, Kendra Bean concludes that Mrs. Danvers is portrayed as “a wraith; a sexual predator who is out to make Mrs. de Winter her next victim.”

Queer characters in horror films during the early period, reveals similarities between Mrs. Danvers and the staging of earlier sapphic characters, such as Gloria Holdens’s well-known portrayal of Countess Marya Zaleska in Dracula’s Daughter 1936. Yet, similiar to the self discipline of Mrs. Danvers, Dracula’s Daughter remains a figure of primacy and pity as Ellis Hanson argues Dracula’s Daughter presents “the possibilities of a queer Gothic” early on in Hollywood history, “rich in all the paradox and sexual indeterminacy the word queer and the word Gothic imply.

There was a revival of the horror craze during the period of WWII. The Hollywood studios, both major and ‘Poverty Row” like Monogram and Republic realized that horror movies were a lucrative business. The studios began to revisit the genre looking for, not only fresh formulas, but they resurrected, the classic monsters, dropping them into new plots. They also envisioned uniting the gangster film with horror films, and this homogenizing, led to a ‘queering’ of the two styles, that demonstrated phallocentric ( guns, scientific penetration) and homoerotic themes and images into a sub-genre.

Public awareness of homosexuality reached a new height during these years, primarily due to the new set of social conditions wrought by war. Slowly , the love that dare not speak its name was being spoken, albeit in ways almost always obscurantist, punitive and homophobic. The linkage of homosexuality with violence and disease remained strong. Monsters in the Closet -Harry Benshoff

Rhona Berenstein in her insightful book Attack of the Leading Ladies, points out that films featuring the mad scientist trope operates with the homosocial principle which speaks of the homo eroticism of males working together in consort subverting science together, as a group of men who hide behind their objectification -the female object of their gaze, are in fact, figures of objectification themselves. They are simultaneously homosocial, homoerotic and homophobic in aspect; … potentially possessing an extra-normative commitment between the two men.

Mad doctor movies are homosocial in nature. The mad doctor movie is a subgenre that below the surface glorifies intimate male camararderie-and male homosexuality, and by the close of the picture, society, the prevailing culture must in turn annihilate, that which is repressed. But it is not exclusively a vehicle to express the homosexuality through homosocial interactions. There is a component not only of male bonding, a world without women, the thrust is a synthesis of misogyny and patriarchal tyranny and oppression of women. Homosocial relationships between men in these science horrors show the man’s desire for connection to other men, even one created by his own hand.

According to (Twitchell) in his Dreadful Pleasures, and Attack of the Leading Ladies (Rona Berenstein) Colin Clive as Dr. Frankenstein in all three Universal pictures, was at least performing bisexuality. Whale’s 1933 Frankenstein might give way to the homosocial realm of the mad scientist trope, of ‘homoerotic indulgence’ as these men exclude women from the pursuit of their fulfillment. Twitchell views the scientist’s fluid sexuality in order to examine the concept of a man controlling women’s primacy of giving birth. This might explain Dr. Frankenstein’s venture into unnatural reproduction. A process he wants to divert to himself without women’s exclusive right to motherhood. In the scene where he is as close to giving birth to a full grown man, he seems to display a sexual arousal, when his creation comes to life. Henry Frankenstein provokes nature and defies his heterosexuality. As Whale was an openly gay director in Hollywood, it can be pondered whether he knew exactly what he was suggesting. Thesiger’s sexually ambiguous, or okay, not so ambiguous Dr. Pretorius, the mad scientist who pressures Henry Frankenstein to revitalize his experiments and create a mate for the monster. Pretorius is the scientist who insists Henry continue his creative efforts in Bride of Frankenstein. Vitto Russo called Thesiger, “man who played the effete sissy… with much verve and wit.”

George Zucco like Lionel Atwill often portrayed the unorthodox scientist who flirted with taboos. He plays mad scientist Dr. Alfred Morris in The Mad Ghoul (1943) As a university chemistry professor, he exploits medical student Ted Allison (David Bruce) with his experimental gas that transforms Ted into a malleable, yielding macabre ghoul, whom Morris directs to kill and remove the victims hearts using the serum to temporarily bring Ted back from his trance like death state. David Bruce’s character is represented as a ‘queer’ sort of young man. Not quite masculine and unable to get his girlfriend Evelyn Ankers to fall in love with him. As the Mad Ghoul he becomes a monstrous queer.

In 1932, director Tod Browning’s Dracula based on Bram Stoker’s story of a fiendish vampire who in a sexually implicit way, violates his victims by penetrating them with his fangs. The story pushed the boundaries of story telling, and there was an inherent subtext of ‘queer’ ravishment when he sucks the blood of Dwight Frye to make him his loyal servant.

In Jonathan Harker’s Journal, the protagonist recounts his impressions of his interaction with the vampire, Dracula “As the Count leaned over me and his hands touched me I could not repress a shudder. It may have been that his breath was rank, but a horrible feeling of nausea came over me, which do what I would, I could not conceal.” For (Noël Carroll) the entry in his diary conveys revulsion by the Count’s closeness and offensive presence, that causes him to become sickened.

But it also could be read that Harker’s ‘shudder’ is not about his revulsion, rather, an uncontrolled sexual response to the vampire’s looming over him which could be interpreted not just as hunger for his ‘blood’ but an expression of repressed sexual desire and the fear it causes.

Horror movies have always pushed the boundaries of normalcy, by virtue of the fact that these films are inhabited by ‘monsters’, something ‘queerly’ different. And it is natural to observe two diverging responses to the impact of the horror genre and often, it’s persecution of what is ‘different’ and the source of what causes our anxiety.

Dracula may appear as the image of a man, but the count is far from human. While monsters in classical horror films are based on systems of maleness, they are split from being actual men. Although there are physical interactions and suggestive contact with the heroine, there isn’t the foundation of heterosexuality, but something quite deviant, with in their aggressively erotic encounters and/or assaults. The understanding of sexuality and the most narrow identifications that are assigned to varying orientation in a large sense is not translatable for the deeper layers of the monster and their relationship to their victims. In Hollywood, horror films can be seen as heterosexuality being invaded by an abhorrent outside force, inherent in the underlying message could be racism, classism, sexism and gay panic. Though it can be interpreted as a landscape of heterosexuality that is in full power of it’s universal presence, horror films are perfect platforms that can illustrate the collapse of heterosexuality, and the subversion of sexuality.

The horror genre is a breeding ground for portrayals of the shattering of heterosexual power. This can be seen in Lambert Hillyer’s Dracula’s Daughter (1936) starring Gloria Holden as the sapphic vampire who lives in a New Village type artist’s den, it signals her outsider status from dometicity and normalcy.

In White Zombie (1932) Bela Lugosi plays the eerily menacing Legendre. He turns men into lifeless workers who run the sugar mill. Legendre also begins to turn the plantation owner, Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer) into one of his zombies. What his motivation for his control over people is ambiguous, though there seems to be a sexual reasoning for both the beautiful Madeline (Madge Bellamy) and Beaumont. The scene where Beaumont is nearly paralyzed, Legendre’s control over his male victim parallels the sexual entrapment of the movie’s heroine.

MAD LOVE (1935) I have conquered science! Why can’t I conquer love?

Karl Freund’s Grand Guignol Mad Love (1935) shifts from gazing at the female to gazing at the male. Here the focus is on a Peter Lorre in his American screen debut as Dr. Gogol, who has an obsession with Frances Drake as Yvonne Orlac an actress who works at Grand Guignol Theatre. To Gogol she is the typified defenseless heroine whom he tries to lure away from her husband Stephen (Colin Clive) using his knowledge of scientific alchemy.

Though Gogol tries to become Yvonne’s master, his Galatea, there are critics who read the struggle between the two men, not just as rivalry for Yvonne’s love, but Gogol’s desire for Stephen as well. Gogol is responsible for grafting new hands onto Stephen’s mangled body after a train crash. Mad Love could fit the criteria for the subgenre of the science/horror films where the male gaze is diverted from the female object toward other men, in this case what connected the two was the preservation of Stephen’s hands. Why then is it not possible that the focus could shift from Gogol’s attraction to Yvonne to the homosocial dynamics between Gogol as doctor and his subject Stephen.

Mad Love possesses some of the horror genre’s most tenacious performances of gender play. (Carol Clover) asks us to take a closer look at Freund’s film, it is less about the “suffering experienced by women, but at a deeper, more sustained level, it is dedicated to the unspeakable terrors endured by men.”

In similar fashion to Waldo Lydecker (Laura) and Hardy Cathcart’s (The Dark Corner) pathology of objectifying Laura and Mari, Gogol worships Yvonne – his Galatea, with a measure of scopophilia that lies within his gaze upon the perfection of female beauty. To control and possess it. The pleasure is aroused by the mere indulgence of looking at her.

Gogol pays 75 francs to purchase the wax statue of Galatea. The seller remarks “There’s queer people on the streets of Monmartre tonight.”

Gogol’s maid Francoise talking to the statue,“What ever made him bring you here. There’s never been any woman in this house except maybe me… “I prefer live ones to dead ones.”

A Time Magazine review of Mad Love in 1933 notes this queer appeal directly, even comparing Lorre’s acting skills to those of another homosexual coded actor: I find the comment about their faces rude and insulting to both Lorre and Laughton, both of whom I am a tremendous fan.

Mad Love’s insane doctor is feminized throughout the film… In fact, the same reporter who noted Gogol’s sadism argues for his feminine demeanor: “Lorre, perfectly cast, uses the technique popularized by Charles Laughton of suggesting the most unspeakable obsessions by the roll of a protuberant eyeball, an almost feminine mildness of tone, an occasional quiver of thick lips set flat in his cretinous ellipsoidal face. This reviewer came closer than any other to articulate the subtext of mad doctor movies. He seems on the verge of noting that Lorre, Like Laughton is an effeminate madman obsessed by unspeakable homosocial desire. Attack of the Leading Ladies: Gender Sexuality and Spectatorship in Classic Horror Cinema by Rhona Berenstein

Frances Drake’s heroine masquerades as a wife who deludes herself into believing that her husband is more masculine than he really is. Gogol has a curious empathy with Stephen, whom he touches frequently and prolonged. Although Gogol pursues the heroine Yvonne, at the theater, forcing a kiss on her, his focus is primarily manipulating Stephen’s body, rejoining his hands and massaging them to stimulate life back into them. When he realizes that Stephens hands cannot be grafted back successfully to his wrists, he turns to another man, the hands of a knife thrower who was executed as a notorious murderer. Once Stephen recovers from the surgery, he can no longer continue as a concert pianist, but does develop the desire to throw sharp knives.

On the surface the plot of Mad Love appears to be a heterosexual obsession, the most unspoken context is the connection between Gogol and Stephen. As is true of Frankenstein’s labor of love in Whale’s first film, Gogol sews men’s body parts together and the result is a monster of sorts. (Berenstein)

In the film’s climax, Yvonne hides in Gogol’s bedroom, and pretends to be the wax statue of Galatea. When Gogol touches the statue, she lets out a scream. In a euphoric daze (as in the origianl story) he believes that he has the power to bring the statue of Galatea to life. Yvonne begs him to let her go as he tries to strangle her.

Stephen then rushes to his wife and holds her in his arms. With his eyes fixed on the offscreen space in which Gogol’s body lies, he croons: “My darling.” The homosocial desire is destroyed when Stephen murders Gogol who intones “each man kills the thing he loves”— echoing on the soundtrack.

In the film’s closing moments, the secret desire is finally spoken out loud…Has Stephen killed the man he loves. Given that the phrase that Gogol mutters was written originally by Oscar Wilde, whose homosexuality scandalized the British social and legal system in 1895, reading the homosocial desire into Mad Love’s within the very last moments we are left to decipher the suspended cues. We are left with Stephen’s gazing at Gogol’s face and his knifed body as he lay dying, he speaks the words, ‘My darling” what the camera frames the two men sharing that moment in the closing scene.

The mad doctor narrative is particularly predisposed to homosocial impulses. “intense male homosocial desire as at once the most compulsory and the most prohibited of social bonds” – Epistemology of the Closet (Sedgwick)

Sedgwick investigated early fantasy/horror novels, Shelley’s Frankenstein 1818, Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1886 and Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau 1895. In the beginning of the 1930s, these stories centered around mad doctors who delved into unorthodox, profane explorations, were all adapted to the screen. All of these nefarious or scientific, inquisitive men, cultivated secret experiments, challenging the laws of nature. What Sedgwick found was that the Gothic literary representations of men performing homosocial collaborations, were ‘not socially sanction and shunned.’

It was considered a necessary narrative element as well as a monstrous possibility that threatened to subvert the status quo. The combination of these two attitudes is expressed in homosocial narratives- male bonding is both horrifying and guaranteed, entailing the simultaneous introjection and expulsion of femininity. (Sedgwick)

“My darling”….

James Whale was a gay auteur who often imbued his work intentionally or with the ‘intentional fallacy’ of a ‘queer’ sense of dark humor. This comical, campy absurdity, was always on the edge of his vision of horror and subtle profanity. In his picture The Invisible Man (1933) adapted from H.G. Wells story and starring Claude Rains, it was classified as a horror film by the Code.

Dr. Jack Griffin (Rains) the antihero, is a frenzied scientist, addicted to his formula as he seeks the ability to make himself invisible. His sanity begins to ‘vanish’ as his hunger for power, delusions of grandeur, and bursts of megalomania grow out of control. He plans on assassinating government officials, and he becomes more belligerent the longer he turns invisible. The idea that he displays radical ideas and runs around in the nude didn’t seem to arouse the censors, In 1933, a letter from James Wingate to Hays states, “highly fantastic and exotic [sic] vein, and presents no particular censorship difficulties.”

What’s interesting about the presentation of the story, is that the coded gay leitmotifs were paraded out, right under the Code’s noses, and didn’t stir any indignation for it’s ‘queer’ humor.

Gloria Stuart and Claude Rains in James Whale’s The Invisible Man 1933

The Invisible Man perpetrates campy assaults on all the ‘normal’ people in his way. With intervals of sardonic cackles and golden wit, and at the same time, a menacing reflection of light and shadow. Claude Rains is a concealed jester who makes folly of his victims.

“An invisible man can rule the world. Nobody will see him come, nobody will see him go. He can hear every secret. He can rob, and wreck, and kill.” –Dr. Jack Griffin (The Invisible Man)

Claude Rains plays Dr. Jack Griffin an outsider (a favorite of Jame’s Whale’s characters) who discovers the secret of invisibility which changes him from a mild yet arrogant scientist into a maniacal killer. The film bares much of Whale’s campy sense of humor, with Griffin’s comic shenanigans abound, until things turn dark and he becomes uncontrollably violent. “We’ll begin with a reign of terror, a few murders here and there, Murders of great men, Murders of little men, just to show we make no distinction. I might even wreck a train or two… just these fingers around a signalman’s throat, that’s all.”

According to Gary Morris (Bright Lights Film Journal) ‘The film demands crypto-faggot reading in poignant scenes such as the one where he reassures his ex-girlfriend, who begs him to hide from the authorities: “the whole worlds my hiding place. I can stand out there amongst them in the day or night and laugh at them.”

Though Griffin’s (Claude Rains) character is unseen at times, there are potent moments, when he is animated as he skips to the tune, “Here we go gathering nuts in May” flitting around like a fairy. It is suggested that The Invisible Man is a metaphor for the way homosexuals are seen/not seen by society – as “effeminate, dangerous when naked, seeking a male partner in “crime”, tending to idolize his fiance rather than love her, and becoming ‘visible’ only when shot by the police…monitored by doctors, and heard regretting his sin against God (i.e., made into a statistic by the three primary forces oppressing queers: the law, the medical establishment, and religious orthodoxy” (Sedgwick)

The Invisble Man [undressing] “They’ve asked for it, the country bumpkins. This will give them a bit of a shock, something to write home about. A nice bedtime story for the kids, too, if they want it”

Continue reading “Chapter 4 – Queers and Dykes in the Dark: Classic, Noir & Horror Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters:”

The Great Villain Blogathon 2019 Dame Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers “Do you think the dead come back and watch the living?”

Thanks to Ruth of Silver Screenings. Kristine from Speakeasy and Karen of Shadows and Satin!

REBECCA (1940)

Men are simpler than you imagine my sweet child. But what goes on in the twisted, tortuous minds of women would baffle anyone. –Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca

First off, while I cover a good deal of the film, I take it only as far as I can before giving anything away about the great Rebecca. My focus is on the mystery surrounding the first mistress of Manderley’s devoted servant Mrs. Danvers. So I will not be referencing any departures from du Maurier’s novel, nor Rebecca herself or Olivier and Fontaine’s marital outcome. I believe there are still fans of Hitchcock who have not seen the picture, and I want to leave them something to enjoy!

One of the most enduring classic thrillers, psychological thriller, suspenseful and intriguing in the realm of romantic Gothic mysteries. Considered a ‘woman’s picture.’ Brooding atmosphere, perfect pacing, acting composition from the score to the set design to the cinematography. Manderley is a ‘castle of the mind.’ It is too shadowy too remote too unreal because it IS in the mind. It exists now only in the heroine’s mind. “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” As these words are visualized on the screen, we don’t see a real Manderley, but a Manderley of the mind, a nightmare, a ghost. So imperceptible and subtle, Manderley is one of the vital characters of the story. Joan Fontaine plays the timid woman in peril archetype. Olivier is moody and brooding. All actors are overshadowed by Anderson’s on fire performance.

As scholar Mary Ann Doane points out that Rebecca is “initiating the ‘paranoia’ strand of the woman’s picture, a sub-genre in which gullible women discover that the men they married possess strange and sinister intents. The cycle continued through the 1940s-Suspicion (1941) Gaslight (George Cukor 1944) and Secret Beyond the Door… (Fritz Lang, 1948).”

Rebecca was adapted from author Daphne du Maurier and brought to the Gothic paroxysm on screen not only by master Alfred Hitchcock but by the exquisitely low burning maniacal machinations of Dame Judith Anderson (Lady Scarface 1941, All Through the Night 1942, Kings Row 1942, Laura 1944, And Then There Were None 1945, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers 1946, The Red House 1947, The Furies 1950, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof 1958, Inn of the Damned 1975) as Miss Danvers — the epitome of the word villainess.

Mrs. Danvers– That austere cold stare, the measured calculating rhythm of each syllable spoken like serpent toothed silk cutting like finely sharpened knives to cut the jugular — a harridan — no, a harpy — no, a carefully slithering serpent of a woman in the vein of Angela Lansbury’s sinister housekeeper Nancy who helped the poor bedevil Ingrid Bergman feel gaslighted in Gaslight 1944 or the menacing Gale Sandaagard as Mrs. Hammond that same year in The Letter (1940), but Anderson has the benefit of du Maurier’s dialogue and Hitchcock’s direction at her command.

Interesting enough, in reading the tensions that had developed over the autonomy in making du Maurier’s story on screen between two head strong film makers, I imagined what the film might have been like in the hands of Val Lewton. Here is an excerpt from Leonard Leff’s book- “For Selznick who read a synopsis of the manuscript in late spring 1938, the story of the novel’s awkward and shy heroine seemed ideal. Selznick most impressive discoveries tended to be young women, including Ingrid Bergman, Vivien Leigh, and Joan Fontaine; furthermore, had had long been associated with the industry’s premier “women’s director” George Cukor. In certain respects a “woman’s producer,” attuned to the sensibilities and psychology of the American female (at least as purveyed by the era’s mass-circulation magazines), Selznick agreed with story editor Val Lewton that the second Mrs. de Winter “probably exemplifies the feeling that most young women have about themselves.”

From Hitchcock and Selznick: The Rich and Strange Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and David O. Selznick-by Leonard J. Leff- Among the hundred of manuscripts, galley proofs, ad publish novels that poured into the East Coast offices of Selznick International every month, Kay Brown read only a few that she could enthusiastically recommend. Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca became one of them. Rebecca is “the most fascinating story I have read in ages,” Born wired Hollywood, a certain best-seller. In the novel, a plain and innocent young women (the first-person narrator, whose name du Maurier never reveals) serves as paid companion to a crass American dowager visiting the Riviera. Gossip has it that the aristocratic Maxim de Winter has fled England to Monte Carlo in order to elude painful memories of his recently deceased, much-beloved wife, the fabulously beautiful Rebecca; yet almost inexplicably he proposes marriage to the unglamourous paid companion. Following a honeymoon in Venice, the newlyweds return to Manderley, de Winter’s mansion. Here, the young bride confronts not only the memory of Rebecca-which seems to permeate the estate and to preoccupy and torment its owner-but also her morose husband and the forbidding Mrs. Danvers, Rebecca’s devoted housekeeper.”

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock with a screenplay by Robert Sherwood and Joan Harrison (who produced Alfred Hitchcock’s anthology suspense crime television show.) Adapted by Philip MacDonald and Michael Hogan from the 1938 novel by Daphne du Maurier. Music composed by Franz Waxman (Suspicion 1941, Sunset Boulevard 1950, A Place in the Sun 1951.) whose score at times sounds like a classic B horror film by RKO with its eerie organ tremolos.

Cinematography by George Barnes. (That Uncertain Feeling 1941, Ladies in Retirement 1941, Jane Eyre 1943, Spellbound 1945, Mourning Becomes Electra 1947, Force of Evil 1948, The File on Thelma Jordon 1950, War of the Worlds 1953). Art Department/Interior Design -Howard Bristol, Joseph B. Platt and Eric Stacey. Art director Lyle Wheeler. Film editor James Newcom. Supervising film editor Hal C. Kern. Interiors designed by Joseph B Platt. Fashions by Irene.

The lighting for Rebecca creates a forbidden sense of place. The shadows distinguish where the secrets lurk, with the Gothic architecture and repressed desire.

“She” is in the innocence of white and Mrs. Danvers is always advancing in black…

Rebecca (1940) is auteur Hitchcock’s Gothic style thriller that often delves into the realm of classical horror, ‘old dark house’  or haunting ghost story triggered by the remnants of a beautiful dead woman’s hold on an ancestral manor house and the new marriage brought home to thrive in it’s shadow. As scholar Tania Modleski writes Rebecca is a ‘presence’ which is never actually present. The character of Rebecca is symbolic of a subversive female desire, and Maxim de Winter who represents the patriarchal rule who is terrorized and bound by her presence though she cannot be seen, her power remains intact within the walls of Manderley.

There was tension and discord between director Hitchcock who wanted control over the project and producer David O. Selznick. Though Hitchcock is one of the directors who manages to shake off any solid labels on his work, Rebecca is considered his first film noir. It was Hitchcock’s first American/Hollywood film, although it exudes that distinctly British style from his earlier mysteries. The melancholy tone of Robert E. Sherwood and Hitchcock regular Joan Harrison’s screenplay captures Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 disquieting Gothic novel perfectly.

Behind the scenes of Rebecca 1940 Alfred Hitchcock and Judith Anderson photo by Fred Parrish

Rebecca stars Laurence Olivier as Maxim de Winter, Joan Fontaine as Mrs. de Winter, George Sanders as Jack Favell, Judith Anderson as the sinister chatelaine Mrs. Danvers Nigel Bruce as Major Giles Lacy, C. Aubrey Smith as Colonel Julyan Reginald Deny as Frank Crawley, Gladys Cooper as Beatrice Lacy, Philip Winter as Robert, Edward Fielding as Frith, Florence Bates (The Moon and Sixpence 1942, Whistle Stop 1946, Portrait of Jennie 1948, A Letter to Three Wives 1949, Les Miserables 1952) as Mrs Van Hopper, Leo G. Carroll as Dr. Baker

The master Hitchcock and cinematographer George Barnes know how to create a moody, atmospheric landscape of suspense. In Rebecca, Joan Fontaine is given the role of an innocent and painfully shy young heroine who remains nameless throughout the film, as she is in du Maurier’s novel. I read that there were early drafts of the original script where the heroine’s name was Daphne as in the writer, but obviously the decision to keep her without a given name. She meets the brooding aristocratic widower Maxim de Winter played almost too effortlessly by Laurence Olivier who is the master of Manderley. They marry and Maxim brings his new bride back to his ancestral home. At first she is clumsy and awkward trying to find her way around as mistress of the house. The second Mrs. de Winter is bewildered and haunted by the unseen presence of the first Mrs. de Winter, the uncanny and beautiful Rebecca, who has died in a boating accident a year before. Mrs. de Winter is psychically tortured by the sinister Mrs. Danvers who was Rebecca’s faithful and adoring servant played by the always imposing Judith Anderson, who bombards Joan Fontaine with memories and tactile possessions of the dead woman, whom we never see. She is truly a phantom that haunts the film, the narrative and our heroine.

Considered for the leading role in Rebecca was Loretta Young, Margaret Sullivan, Anne Baxter and Vivien Leigh who was restricted by her role in Gone With the Wind 1939. Director Alfred Hitchcock won the Oscar for Best Picture his first and only Best Picture Oscar. George Barnes also won the Academy Award for his Cinematography. Judith Anderson was nominated for Best Supporting Actress as the menacing Mrs. Danvers, the only time in her career she was ever nominated.

Let’s not forget the other outstanding performance by Judith Anderson, that as Ann Treadwell in director Otto Preminger’s noir masterpiece Laura (1944) a ruthless woman who recognizes her weakness is wanting to possess through her wealth, the younger womanizer Shelby Carpenter played by urbane Vincent Price. Anderson turns out a poignant performance of a woman you love to hate yet she makes you understand the dynamic behind her loneliness.

Continue reading “The Great Villain Blogathon 2019 Dame Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers “Do you think the dead come back and watch the living?””

Beautiful Poison: Jean Simmons in Angel Face (1953) & Gene Tierney in Leave Her To Heaven (1945)

It’s that dastardly wonderful time of year when  Speakeasy* Shadows and Satin & Silver Screenings host The Great Villain Blogathon 2017! featuring an endless array of diabolically cunning, insensate evil, down right nefarious and at times psychotic adversaries that Cinema has to offer!

Now in the past several years I’ve taken a long look at Gloria Holden & Gloria Swanson: When the Spider Woman Looks: Wicked Love, Close ups & Old Jewels -Sunset Blvd (1950) and Dracula’s Daughter (1936).

Dark Patroons & Hat Box Killers: for 2015’s The Great Villain Blogathon! I focused on the extraordinarily passionate Vincent Price in Dragonwyck 1946 and the ruthlessly sublime Robert Montgomery in Night Must Fall 1937—in a twisted nail biter by director Walter Graumen who puts the lovely Olivia de Havilland in peril at the hands of a sociopathic animal James CaanLady in a Cage (1964) for the spectacular Blogathonian lady’s hosting the 2014’s —The Great Villain Blogathon and once again last year for 2016’s event, I featured True Crime Folie à deux: with my take on Truman Capote’s true crime drama In Cold Blood (1967) & the offbeat psycho thriller The Honeymoon Killers (1969).

I was tempted to do a double feature tribute to the two masterful, despicably loathsome characters brought to life by Robert Mitchum. First his superb manifestation of the crazed preacher Harry Powell in Charles Laughton’s expressionist masterpiece The Night of the Hunter (1955). And then as the animalistic psychotic Max Cady in director J. Lee Thompson’s Cape Fear (1962).

I might not wait until The Great Villain Blogathon 2018, and just do a special feature “Robert Mitchum’s Alpha Madmen” because he & these two films are just too good not to write about before next go around! And I’m simply mad about Robert Mitchum, not to worry, not mad in the same way as Angel Face’s Diane Tremayne!

The Great Villain Blogathon is perhaps one of my favorite blogathons because the possibilities are devilishly deliciously endless. My mind began to wander around all the delightfully deadly possibility of dastardly dames…

Beautiful Anti-Heroines with a psychological underpinning as in THE DARK MIRROR 1946 starring Olivia de Havilland playing twin sisters one bad, one good, de Havilland also embodies that certain dangerous allure in MY COUSIN RACHEL 1952.

THE STRANGE WOMAN 1946 features a very cunning and mesmerizing Hedy Lamarr, and then there’s always Anne Baxter who portrays a deeply disturbed woman in GUEST IN THE HOUSE 1944. All would be excellent choices for this bad ass… blogathon! BUT…!

This year, I find myself drawn to two intoxicatingly beautiful antagonists who’s veneer of elegance & delicate exquisiteness is tenuously covering their obsessive shattered psyches. Jean Simmons and Gene Tierney both manage to create an icy austerity and a menacing malignancy within the immediate allure of their physical beauty and wiles. 

Also significant in both these films, the characters of Diane Tremayne and Ellen Berent flip the male gaze and conquer it for themselves, being the ones ‘to look’.

In both these films the two deadly women are father-fixated! Both are pathologically jealous. And both women will not go “easy” Diane won’t put the car in gear “Easy!” and Ellen will not leave Dick alone and go away “easy.” These two killer psycho-noir ladies are a great pairing of deadly damsels!

DEFINITION : beauty |ˈbyo͞odē|

noun (pl. beauties)

1 a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight: I was struck by her beauty | an area of outstanding natural beauty.

DEFINITION : CRIMINALLY INSANE

criminally |ˈkrimən(ə)lē|

adverb

1 in a manner that is contrary to or forbidden by criminal law:

psychosis |sīˈkōsəs|

noun (pl. psychoses |-ˌsēz| )

a severe mental disorder in which thought and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality.

DEFINITION: OBSESSION

obsession |əbˈseSHən|

noun

the state of being obsessed with someone or something: she cared for him with a devotion bordering on obsession.

  • an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind:

DEFINITION: FREUDIAN

Freudian |ˈfroidēən| Psychology

adjective

relating to or influenced by Sigmund Freud and his methods of psychoanalysis, especially with reference to the importance of sexuality in human behavior.

DEFINITION:PATHOLOGICALLY JEALOUS

pathological |ˌpaTHəˈläjək(ə)l| (also pathologic)

adjective/noun

the science of the causes and effects of diseases, especially the branch of medicine that deals with the laboratory examination of samples of body tissue for diagnostic or forensic purposes.—• mental, social, or linguistic abnormality or malfunction—compulsive; obsessive

jealous |ˈjeləs|

adjective

*feeling or showing envy of someone or their achievements and advantages:

*feeling or showing suspicion of someone’s unfaithfulness in a relationship:•

*fiercely protective or vigilant of one’s rights or possessions:

• (of God) demanding faithfulness and exclusive worship.

From Mary Ann Doane’s book “The femme fatale is the figure of a certain discursive unease, a potential epistemological trauma. For her most striking characteristic, perhaps, is the fact that she never really is what she seems to be. She harbors a threat which is not entirely legible, predictable or manageable. In thus transforming the threat of the woman into a secret, something which must be aggressively revealed, unmasked, discovered … Her appearance marks the confluence of modernity, urbanization, Freudian psychoanalysis…The femme fatale is a clear indication of the extent of the fears and anxieties prompted by shifts in the understanding of sexual difference in the late nineteenth century… “

Doane goes on to say that it’s no wonder cinema was a great place for the femme fatale of 1940s noir with the femme fatale representing a sign of deviant strength. That could be said of both of highlighted q!

ANGEL FACE (1952)


She loved one man … enough to KILL to get him!

Directed by Otto Preminger written by Frank Nugent, Oscar Milland, Chester Erskine and an uncredited Ben Hecht.

Jean Simmons stars as the antagonist Diane Tremayne Jessup, Robert Mitchum plays Frank Jessup, Mona Freeman as nice girl Mary Wilton, Herbert Marshall as Diane’s beloved father, Mr. Charles Tremayne, Barbara O’Neil as stepmother Mrs. Catherine Tremayne, Leon Ames as attorney Fred Barrett, and Kenneth Tobey as nice guy Bill Compton, who is also Franks ambulance jockey partner. Cinematography by Harry Straddling (Suspicion 1941, A Streetcar Named Desire 1951, A Face in the Crowd 1957, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs 1960, Gypsy 1962, My Fair Lady 1964) and haunting score by great composer  Dimitri Tiomkin.

Angel Face is a bit of a reserved psycho-drama/noir directed by Otto Preminger who also produced. Quite striking in it’s few brutal moments scattered throughout as the murders play out at the hands of the extremely poised Jean Simmons, (So Long at the Fair 1950, The Big Country 1958, Spartacus 1960) which is what gives the film it’s nasty ironic burn in the end.

Jean Simmons was absolutely mesmerizing as Charlotte Bronn, a tormented woman who suffers a nervous breakdown, who leaves the institution and tries to make sense of her life with her austere husband Dan O’Herlihy, sister Rhonda Fleming, and sympathetic Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in director Mervyn Leroy’s Home Before Dark 1958.

In Angel Face, Simmons plays it almost perfectly chilling with her refined beauty that displays no affect, a few obvious inner demons behind those dreamy eyes, not so much bubbling passion underneath as there is bursts of fervency out of necessity. She stunningly floats through the scenes with ice water in her veins, determined to possess, first her father (Herbert Marshall) and then Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum).

As an actor Robert Mitchum possesses an enormous range, and many layers to his film & real life persona– although he always exudes that smooth yet brawny exterior, he can either play it self-possessed, a coolly determined hero or visceral anti-hero and at times he’s been quite effective as a sicko. In Angel Face, Mitchum while still the usual rugged beast and cocksure fella, this time he is foolish and unsympathetically led by his pants, right into our anti-heroine’s trap…

Frank should have stayed with nice nurse Mary, a nice fella for a girl.

Herbert Marshall as Charles Tremayne tries to explain to the doctor and the ambulance drivers what might have happened when the gas valve was left on in his wife’s bedroom.

Robert Mitchum plays former race car driver Frank Jessup, and ambulance jockey who becomes drawn into Diane Tremayne’s (Jean Simmons) psychotically woven web of obsessive love. Frank and Bill are called to the wealthy Tremayne family’s hilltop mansion, when Catherine Tremayne (Barbara O’Neil) is almost asphyxiated when the gas valve on her bedroom fireplace is stuck on. In reality Diane’s attempt to gas her stepmother fails. It seems that Diane is insanely jealous of the woman who took her dear doting father Charles’ (Herbert Marshall) attentions away.

Catherine Tremayne insists that someone has tried to kill her, and that the gas inhalation was not a suicide attempt. Catherine Tremayne is looked after by the doctor, given a sedative and tucked into bed. Frank wanders down the great staircase, lured by haunting piano playing.

Frank wanders into the parlor when he hears the refined and innocent doe eye looking Diane playing a classical melody on the grand piano. He is immediately struck by the beautifully delicate young woman. As soon as Diane sees Frank who tells her that her stepmother is okay, she becomes hysterical. He tries to calm her down in his gruff manner, “Look take it easy I told ya she’s gonna be fine.” Diane continues to sob, “Leave me alone.” He grabs her arm forcefully and yells at her to stop it, but Diane acts as if she is inconsolable, while Frank is getting more frustrated with her. So, the big guys slaps her, slaps her hard. Some sort of awareness washes over her face, in fact she might have rather liked getting smacked in the face and so, she slaps him back, just as hard. Frank laughs, “Now look, the manual says that’s supposed to stop hysterics, it doesn’t say a word about getting slapped back.” “I’m sorry”, “That’s alright forget it. I’ve been slapped by dames before.”

We can see that there is something definitely off about this strange young woman and it should have raised the hair on the back of his neck but Frank is a bit of a dog you see.

Frank and Bill drive back to the hospital where they are set to get off from work. Frank says goodnight to Bill and walks over to the cafe, because Mary is waiting on his call. Bill tells Frank he’s a lucky guy, and he agrees- “You know it!”

What Frank doesn’t realize is that Diane has jumped into her little sportscar and has followed the men in the ambulance all the way back to the hospital. She watches as Frank enters the cafe. Harry the cafe owner says, “Well if it ain’t the dead body jockey” “Sure Harry that’s why I come here it looks like the morgue.”

Frank puts a coin in the phone and begins to call Mary but he gets a busy signal. He turns around and voilà Diane is standing there. She floats out an innocent sounding,“Hello.” Frank pleasantly surprised says “Well hello, you do get around fast don’t ya.” Diane answers, “I parked my broomstick outside” Frank-“Beer Harry… what do witches drink?”

Now… This is why Frank is a dog, it doesn’t trouble him that this young woman has followed him to work. He was supposed to have dinner with his girlfriend Mary who is a nurse at the hospital and a wonderful person.

Naturally one busy signal and Frank’s attention span is switched to this young stalker whom he finds intriguing. He finally gets Mary on the phone and tells her that he’s too tired to get together and goes off into the night to dine and dance with Diane. He is now ensnared in her web.

Frank-“I’ll see you tomorrow” Mary-“Tomorrow… was it a rough call?” Frank staring at Diane- “Yeah, rough.”

Diane asks Mary to lunch… she’s got a plan you see

What makes Diane even more conniving is that the next day she meets Mary for lunch and tells her about her evening with her boyfriend. She puts it under the pretense of helping the couple out with Franks plans on owning his own sports car repair ship, Diane having the means to offer financial support. But the seed is planted and Mary gets the heavy hint dropped that Frank is a dog and feels betrayed by Frank’s lie about being too tired. Mary is no dope and she let’s Diane know that she won’t be a fool. She tells Diane that she would have rather not known about their evening together and knows that Diane has brought her to lunch to try and shake her faith in Frank and to “find out how stupid” she was. Mary isn’t the typical good girl in noir—she’s more streetwise than that and a bit jaded by the ways of the world. She’s the good girl, but not a dumb girl.

That night Frank is about to go out on a date with Mary and he continues to lie about the previous evening “I was so beat last night I hit the sack as soon as I got in” Mary tells him “That, I can believe.”

Diane walks into the diner and tells Frank that she met with Mary for lunch.

Diane-“Go ahead hit me.” Frank-“First I’ll buy you dinner then I’ll hit ya.” Diane -“When I tell you what I did you probably won’t want to see me again, ever.” Frank-“sounds pretty grim.” Diane-“I had lunch with Mary I told her about last night… oh not everything just that we went out together.” Frank gripes-“Well why did you say that, I told her that…” Diane-“I just told her that I wanted to help you get the garage.” Frank-“Oh yeah you’re a big help.”

Later that evening while dropping subtle barbs at each other about the price of Diane’s spending, she lays the groundwork for getting Catherine to hire Frank as her new chauffeur.

Diane to Catherine complaining about her expense account-“Don’t you know it’s the simple things that cost the most!”

Diane tells Catherine that she could really use a chauffeur…

Now that Frank and Mary’s relationship is strained Diane moves in for the kill, she initiates a passionate kiss, she tempts him with the idea of a race coming up, tempting him with “pebble beach” and that she will loan her car to him, also luring him with the security of a better paying job.

He decides to take a job with the Tremayne’s as her stepmother Catherine’s chauffeur, though he tells Diane he’s just “not the type” even moving into an apartment over the garage. Diane tells Frank about her father, how he is a widowed writer, who has been wasting his talent, marrying into money for it’s comfort with the rich Catherine whom Diane despises for the way she treats him.

Part of Diane’s diabolical plot to draw Frank into her web, she pretends to be nice to Catherine asking her to invest in Frank’s desire to open up his own garage that caters to sports cars.

This is also a way for Diane to ingratiate herself into Franks life by appealing to his love of fast cars, as an extension of her own dangerous mind, she drives a sports car that Frank seems to be dazzled by and covets as he was once a race car driver. This is just an example of one of Diane’s manipulative powers as she seduces Frank with the illusion that he will be in control. Race cars are vehicles that represent freedom and freedom of movement as they are capable high speeds and risk taking. Both Diane and Frank seem to want to move at their own speed and of their own volition with no one interfering. In that way they are suited. Frank wants to do his own thing, opening up his own garage and Diane is looking for someone new to possess and control since her father is now a little more out of her reach.

But this is where the bait, or point of attraction leads Frank down a dangerous spiraling road led completely by Diane’s calculating will— where he will ultimately and literally crash and burn.

And so Frank meets with his employer who is receptive to him. Catherine actually thinks he’s a very nice young man and calls over to her lawyer to look over the papers, feeling fine about lending a great deal of money for him to open up his own garage, though she must wait for her attorney to look over the financial details of the transaction. Frank believes the deal is going to happen, until Diane sabotages the whole thing by insinuating herself using deception once again, pretending to show Frank a crumpled paper from the waste pail with the figures for the investment, that her stepmother supposedly trashed. Frank seems surprised that Catherine decided not to go ahead with it, as she appeared keen on the idea.

“Oh Frank I’m so sorry.” Frank-“Don’t take it so hard. You had a nice idea it just didn’t work that’s all.” Diane-“I’m so sorry for you.” Frank-“She changed her mind forget it, we’ll make a big night of it.” Diane– “Not tonight.” Frank slightly annoyed-“Now why?” Diane warns him, “It would be safer not too. We have to be careful for a few days. More than ever now.” Frank-“What do we have to be careful of now?” Diane-“Well if she finds out she’ll dismiss you and I couldn’t stand to lose you now…” Frank-“So she fires me and I get another job. Maybe it’s better that way. At least we won’t have to play around like this. Hiding like kids.” Diane-“You don’t know her Frank. She’d lock me in.” Frank laughs-“How could she lock you in?” Diane-“She could do anything to me because of my father. If I try to fight her, she makes him pay for it, she knows I can’t stand that, please try to understand.”

Of course Diane has constructed this lie as Catherine was very interested in going through with the deal. She wants to poison Frank’s mind against Catherine, and Frank doesn’t go straight to Catherine and merely ask if this is true, he just takes Diane’s word for it.

Once he is working for the Tremayne’s, and the prospect of his garage will not materialize-Frank gets antsy.

While Diane plays chess with dear old daddy, Frank gets bored playing chauffeur above the garage and tries to call Mary but he can’t reach her. Diane says goodnight to father laying out his milk, biscuits and cigarettes by his bedside, like the loving daughter, he can’t do without.

While Diane sits at the piano and plays her lamenting melody, in her eyes she appears like a black widow knowing that she has a juicy fly trapped above the garage, planning her next strategy which comes in the middle of the night.

She comes to Franks room crying and frightened claiming that Catherine had been in her bedroom looking down at her. Diane says with her most delicate voice-“It was so strange I wanted to speak but I couldn’t.” Diane tells Frank that Catherine had closed the window and put the gas on in her room, that she heard that awful hissing sound. She didn’t dare leave the room. Frank wants to tell her father and the police, but Diane quickly gathers her composure, “No Frank we mustn’t do that.” 

Diane’s pretense of paranoia about Catherine’s trying to kill her emerges more clearly for Frank who is now taking notice of it.

An exercise in frustration, Frank begins to realize that he is in love with a lovely yet quite homicidal head case! but he fails to untangle himself from this deadly beauty.

Frank  [of Diane’s supposed ‘evil’ stepmother] … “If she’s tryin’ to kill you, why did she turn on the gas in her own room first?”

Diane  “To make it look as though somebody else were guilty…”

Frank  “Is that what you did?”

Diane  “Frank, are you accusing me?”

Frank  “I’m not accusing anybody. But if I were a cop, and not a very bright cop at that, I’d say that your story was as phony as a three dollar bill.”

Diane “How can you say that to me?”

Frank  “Oh, you mean after all we’ve been to each other?… Diane, look. I don’t pretend to know what goes on behind that pretty little face of yours – I don’t *want* to. But I learned one thing very early. Never be the innocent bystander – that’s the guy that always gets hurt. If you want to play with matches, that’s your business. But not in gas-filled rooms – that’s not only dangerous, it’s stupid.”

Diane tells him that she’s very tired. He says “Yeah, that I can believe.” When she tries to kiss him, he pulls away from her.

Meantime Frank visits with Mary, who is on her way out to meet up with Bill for a date. She is surprisingly nice to Frank which is more than he deserves. She tells him Bill was sure he’d show up for last night’s bowling tournament he tells her –“I’ve been busy.”

Frank asks how Bill did in the tournament, she tells him “wonderful.” Frank answers, “He’s been making out alright with you too huh.” 

Mary says, “Bill was very sweet to me after you walked out.”

Frank-“I took a job that pays better than being a lousy ambulance driver, is that a crime?” Mary- “Is taking the bosses daughter to the Mocalmba (club) part of the job?” Frank-“They got a good band there, remind me to take you there sometime.” 

You just can’t blame Mary for trying to move on, Bill is a much more dependable and a very likable guy who has worshiped Mary from the beginning. She asks about Frank’s new life, and he tells her that he’s thinking of quitting.

He tells her, “I’ve been thinking about quitting, it’s a weird outfit, not for me.”

Frank asks-“What’s the score Mary, has Bill taken over or do I still rate?”

Mary-“That’s a hard question to answer and I don’t think a fair one to ask” Frank-“A very simple question, yes or no, Bill or me? Can’t you make up your mind?” Mary tells him, “Yes, but I want to be sure you can make up yours. Can’t we let it go at that for a while” Frank-“Oh, I’m on probation, okay, how bout tonight, we got a date?” Mary laughs- “Why not” Frank says, “You know something you’re a pretty nice guy… for a girl.”

The next day Frank is going to leave, but Diane has packed her bags, and stumbles onto Frank packing his own bags. She asks him where he is going. He tells her that he’s quitting, when she asks why, he tells her, “well maybe it’s the altitude. Living up here makes my heart pound.”

Of course Diane collapses onto the couch and begins to weep. Frank tells her, “Now let’s face it I never should have taken this job. You shouldn’t have asked me… you know I’m right. You have your world I have mine. You got beautiful clothes a big house, someday you’ll come into a lot of money. I got a pair of big hands and not much else.”

“But all I want is you. I can’t let you go now… I won’t.”

He tells Diane that he wants to quit his job and she becomes upset as her plaything and the object of her second fixation is now slipping away from her. Frank doesn’t want to be involved with the whole package anymore. “It’s no good I tell you, I’m not getting involved.” She asks “Involved with what?”

“How stupid do you think  I am –You hate that women Someday somehow you’re gonna hate her enough to kill her. It’s been in the back of your mind all along.”

Diane says coldly-“So she’s fooled you too! Just like she has everyone else.”

Diane reminds Frank about her father’s book. That one day she went into his desk to hide a present for him, just “something between him and me…”

And that she found inside the drawer where he was supposed to keep his manuscript, there was nothing but a stack of blank paper. He hasn’t written a line since he married Catherine. At first Frank just blows this off, “So he got tired. Writer marries a rich widow what’d ya expect him to write… checks.”  This touches on a nerve, “Don’t joke about my father!” She tells Frank that Catherine has “humiliated and destroyed him.”

Frank tells her that there’s no law that says she has to stay, she could move out and find work the way other girls must do. She tells Frank that she would leave if it weren’t for her father. “That’s where I came in. I guess that’s where I leave.”

“Frank please will you tell me one thing. Do you love me at all? I must know…”

“I suppose it’s a kind of love. But with a girl like you how can a man be sure.” Diane quietly asks, “Will you take me with you?” 

Frank-“You had it all figured out didn’t ya. You mean you’d really leave your father and everything here.” Diane-“If I have to, to keep you.” Frank-“I could be wrong about you.”

Diane begins to tell Frank how she can sell her jewels and the fancy car and he can get a small garage at first. He wants her to be sure what she is getting herself into. She tells him that she’s sure. They hear Catherine’s car pull around. He tells her to think it over for a few days. Her kisses and sympathetic story about her poor father has worked perfectly on Frank. And she makes sure that he promises that he won’t leave until then. Diane’s maneuvering has worked.

Diane leaves Franks room, and walks passed Catherine’s car. Tiomkin’s score plays fervently, feverishly as she looks down the steep cliff and seems thoughtful about the car that is framed behind her. Finding an empty package of cigarettes stuck in the hedge, she holds it out and watches it as it drops down the deep cliff side. Shades of darker things soon to follow.

Diane is so sinister she even loans Catherine a pair of her new driving gloves, just for the irony of it all. Sometimes she can be so sweet.

Catherine needs to go to her bridge game looking for Frank to drive her, Diane makes the excuse that he needed to go to Santa Barbara, having loaned her sports car to him. Diane offers to drive her instead, knowing all too well that she’ll refuse. And of course Catherine does in fact decide to drive herself to her bridge game. At the last minute, Charles decides to tag along for a ride to Beverly Hills.

Diane languidly floats as if in a psychotic trance and sits at her piano performing the same melody she played the night she failed to asphyxiate Catherine. We can hear Diane playing her melancholy ‘death song’ on the grand piano as her stepmother and father proceed to drive. But…

Diane has figured out how to tamper with the gear shift. She’s been watching Frank tinker with the mansion’s cars, and learns how to reconfigure the brakes and the shift.

Catherine starts up the car, put the gear into drive AND the car shoots backwards rather than forwards –it has been rigged to go into reverse, as her stepmother and father are propelled over the steep cliff’s edge.

Of course the convertible car goes careening over the jagged cliff, rolling over and over and smashing against the rocks, the crash dummies used are quite effective as they (Catherine and Diane’s father) seem to become crushed under the twisted fiery metal…

here’s a nifty gif to illustrate

It is one horrific scene indeed. A scene that truly rattles me!

Diane is successful at the second attempt on her stepmother’s (Barbara O’Neil Stella Dallas 1937, Gone with the Wind 1939, All this, And Heaven Too 1940, Secret Beyond the Door 1947, Whirlpool 1950) life. The problem with Diane’s almost ingenious perfect murder unbeknownst to her is that dear daddy wasn’t supposed to be a passenger in the car so he also dies in the fiery crash, a casualty in the wreckage of Diane’s unbridled psychotic scheme of stepmother machine meddling.

The police think there is something strange about the accident and Frank is charged with murder after Diane’s packed suitcase is found in his room.

The a cop on the case knows Frank from driving the ambulance, and he brings Frank in for questioning. Detective Lt. Ed Brady asks how Frank came to work for the Tremaynes, and Frank tells him that he sort of just fell into it, after they had gotten the call about Catherine’s near asphyxiation. Ed tells him he knows. He’s got the report right there on his desk, Detective Lt. Ed Brady (Larry J. Blake)-“probably accidental, sure makes you wonder, don’t it.”  Frank asks,“What da ya mean?” Ed “She claims somebody tried to murder her” Frank laughs it off-“She was hysterical, why would anyone try to murder her?” Ed-“Are you kiddin’ a woman with her kind of money. Oh by the way Frank, what sort of a girl is this step daughter er… Diane?” Frank tells him, “Very nice girl, very pretty girl.” Ed-“Any boyfriends?” Frank-“None that I ever saw. She and her father were very close.” he puffs on his cigarette some more. Ed mentions “But didn’t get a long with her stepmother eh” Frank- “I didn’t say that.” Ed-“Okay okay, when was the last time you drove the Tremayne car?”

Ed shows him the packed suitcase and then tells Frank he should get himself a lawyer.

Attorney Fred Barrett (Leon Ames), Diane’s lawyer comes to see her in the prison hospital ward.

“She idolized the man Fred it’s no wonder her nerves are cracked!”

Diane suffers a breakdown as she had only wanted to kill her stepmother, she never intended on killing her beloved father when she tinkered with the car. It looks like Frank is involved because he was the last known person to handle the car. He was known to have worked on the cars at the Tremaynes.

The Tremayne family lawyer hires one of L.A’s best defense attorneys, Fred Barrett a master at playing on a jury’s emotions.

Barrett tries to tell her that it won’t serve either she nor Frank to shoulder the blame because the jury would believe them both guilt. In a moment of honesty she tries to save Frank’s neck. Seeming less like a crazy girl and in more control of her powers now in the aftermath of what she has done, inadvertently killing her father, she wants to take responsibility for the murders herself, not wanting anyone to defend her and that she acted alone.

Diane confesses to the crime-“But I’m telling the truth.”

“The truth is what the jury decides…not you, not me, not Frank.”

At first Frank doesn’t want to go along with Barrett’s plan.

Barrett-“To be perfectly blunt Mr. Jessup I’m not particular invested in saving your neck. The concern is with my client Diane Tremayne” Frank-“Yeah that’s what I figured” Barrett tells him, “But the point is you have a much better chance together than separately. And the evidence actually points much more to you than it does to her. The fact that an automobile was involved” Frank interrupts, “If she thinks she can get away with that she’s lost her mind.”

Frank and Diane are married at the hospital…

The ladies at the prison bake the bride and groom a wedding cake-“Kids we sure hope you beat the rap!”

Barrett concocts a scheme to have Frank and Diane married in the hospital jail ward where Diane is spending her time while first catatonic, she is then convalescing after the break down. Diane’s legal team insists that she marry Frank so that it would seem like the couple were just innocent young people who intended matrimony and not having a sordid affair. They want Diane to keep her honest revelations to herself. A morally distasteful strategy that might guarantee a good outcome for them at the trial.

This scheme tries to offset any more scandal for the headlines framing it as two innocent people in love. And that explains them leaving the Tremayne house that day with plans to elope.

Another bad choice, Frank goes along with it, hoping to save his own skin not wanting to be convicted of the murders himself. He allows yet again an outside influence to manipulate his life. The idea of Frank and Diane getting married seems to push Diane further into the delusion that they will remain married and that she will have a future with Frank.

But Frank now wants nothing to do with the obsessive murderous Diane. D.A. Judson (Jim Backus) brings in the car’s mangled motor and drive shaft to demonstrate his theory how the transmission was jimmied to stay in reverse. The defense attorney Barrett manages to create a measure of reasonable doubt, supplied by with his own specialists who does create doubt in the minds of the jury and the trial ends with an acquittal. And the couple is now free to go. Frank wants a divorce.

Returning to the mansion Frank tells Diane he’ll go visit Mary to see if she’ll take him back. If she won’t he’ll leave for Mexico. Diane is devastated and in desperation makes him an offer. She’ll loan him her jaguar to go see Mary. If Mary takes him back, he can keep the car. If not he’ll bring the car back.

Here we are not sure whether Diane’s psychosis has broken up a little like a dark cloud getting clearer, as she appears more genuine at this point or is she is still manipulating Frank?

She shares a little history about her childhood and where her fixations might be coming from. She tells him that she was only ten years old when her mother was caught in an air raid in England, after which her father “became everything” to her. But once he married Catherine, Diane says she used to fantasize about what she and her father would do if her stepmother were dead.

She tells Frank that now she realizes that Catherine never meant any harm and she wants him to believe her when she says that she would give her life to bring them back. This is why she tells Frank that he cannot leave her because she wouldn’t know what to do without him. Now appearing just desperately lonely than viciously psychotic. But Frank isn’t ready to stay married to her, not even try at staying close, though he doesn’t hate her, he is “getting out all the same.”

After Frank leaves she closes up the house, dismisses the servants and wanders around the estate alone, before she goes to Frank’s room where she spends the night curled up in the armchair wrapped in his jacket.

Diane believes that she’ll never see him again. She goes to Barrett’s office, wanting to confess, and Barrett reluctantly agrees to take her statement. Diane details how she unwittingly got Frank to show her while giving the car a tune up how to rig the car to go in reverse. But he tells her she can’t be tried again due to double jeopardy. Her admission shows that she might not be totally delusional, just a regretful psychotic.

When Diane returns to the lonely mansion, Dimitri Tiomkin’s dark score swells dramatically around Diane as she appears to drift bereft with grief through the empty halls and rooms. But Diane’s hopes are sparked when Frank returns, Mary has by right rejected him, preferring the kind and loyal ex-partner Bill and Frank decides to leave for Mexico.

Diane pleads with him to let her go along. He says no way. Even though he’s called a cab, he decides to let her drive him to the bus station. They get in the jaguar, and Diane brings champagne and two glasses.

It might not be necessarily clear when the idea came to Diane, If it was the final realization that she’d be driving him to the station never to see him again. Maybe she thinks she can change his mind over that glass of champagne. But something clicks in her brain when Frank criticizes the way she puts the car in gear, as he exclaims. “Easy” that seems to spark her reaction…

He pours the champagne as she starts the engine. Then looking at him, she floors the car in reverse as the two go frighteningly backwards over that scary steep cliff…

And rockets them down the same cliff that killed her father and stepmother, the car smashing against the rocks mangled into the same kind of twisted metal sculpture.

Irony-a few minutes later the cab arrives…. Frank you idiot.

The scene is given it’s moxie by cinematographer Harry Straddling (Suspicion 1941, A Streetcar Named Desire  1951, A Face in the Crowd 1957)

Angel Face dramatically embraces the darker implications of noir.

I admit, I’d have a hard time saying no to Jean Simmons too… but Franks stupidity and Mitchum’s ability to play a tough guy (who smokes a cigarette sexier than any man I can think of) a guy just floating where the wind blows his pants is aptly described in Silver and Ursini’s book—FILM NOIR: THE DIRECTORS– on Otto Preminger

“One of the big achievement of Preminger his writers his cast and composer Tiomkin is to create a tone of amour fou in Angel Face that is realistic, poignant, delirious and suspenseful in equal doses. Frank is not the smartest guy, but he’s not a dummy, either. His lackadaisical attitude about life is embodied in Mitchum’s languid body language. Slow on the uptake about how dangerous Diane is, his problem is one of the noir anti-hero most common:thinking with his balls and not his brains. If he hadn’t given Diane a second chance, if Mary had taken him back;and if he’d realized Diane was willing to sacrifice her own life to be with him. A lot of ifs. Frank is always a half-beat behind trying to get in rhythm and he pays for it dearly. Preminger actually generates some sympathy for Diane when she tries to make up for the murders by confessing, only to realize the state will never punish her. Barrett’s assertion she may end up institutionalized if she presses the issue is more unpalatable to her than the gas chamber. When she comes home before seeing Frank for the final time, the romantic delirium builds to fever pitch, culminating in a bittersweet shot of her curled up in the shadows in Frank’s room. Frank’s coat wrapped around her. It is one of the most moving sequences… the character is completely self-aware of her own psychosis. Angel Face is Preminger’s finest noir.”

Continue reading “Beautiful Poison: Jean Simmons in Angel Face (1953) & Gene Tierney in Leave Her To Heaven (1945)”

🚀 Keep Watching the Skies! Science Fiction Cinema of the 1950s: The Year is 1952

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Continuing with my series on Science Fiction Films of the 1950s, though 1952 seems sparse in comparison to lets say 1956 & 1958, there was definitely a prevailing theme… fear of communist invasion! My favorite picture for this year would have to be watching Hildegarde Knef torment Erich von Stroheim in director Arthur Maria Rabenalt’s ALRAUNE, though Brigitte Helm’s 1928 portrayal of the soulless beauty born of sin is quinteseentially sublime.

WILD WILD UNTAMED WOMEN, POST NUCLEAR TRIBES, SOULLESS TEMPTRESSES CONQUERING PLANETS & STRATIFIED ZOMBIES!

Alraune aka Unnatural aka Vengeance aka Mandragore

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Born outside the laws of God and man!-the fruit of evil!

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Directed by Arthur Maria Rabenalt, based on the novel by Hanns Heinz Ewers published in 1913. Starring Hildegard Knef as Alraune, Erich von Stroheim as Dr. Jacob ten Brinken, Karlheinz Böhm ( Of  director Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960) ) as Frank Braun, Harry Meyen as Count Geroldingen, Rolf Henniger as Wolf Goutram, Harry Halm as Doctor Mohn.

Viennese director Rabenalt is better known for his Nazi propaganda films and for countless operettas, lederhosen and heimatschmalz. Considered a tech-noir film import from outside the U.S.A., included among Spaceways (England 1953) The H-Man (Japan 1958) and Atom Age Vampire (Italy 1961)

The story was first filmed in 1918 and then in 1928 & 1930 with Brigitte Helm which was a beautifully films version. Brigitte Helm among dolls — Alraune 1928 silent- possesses an eroticism

Brigitte Helm among dolls -- Alraune 1928 silent

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Stroheim broods and over-acts in his inimitable way and Hildegarde Knef is exquisite. ten Brinken (von Stroheim) collects a the semen of a hanged murderer at the gallows, and takes this seed and inseminates a prostitute. What he creates is a ‘daughter’ Alraune–who is incapable of feeling ‘love’ or having emotional human connections with voracious sexual appetites, portrayed as almost demonic or like a succubus.

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the Cinematography of Friedl Behn-Grund (Murderers Among Us 1946, Confessions of Felix Krull 1957 and Titantic 1943) paints an expressionist foray into a moralistic fairytale of good & evil love & hate sin and redemption.

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The film is dark and uncanny as Alraune mesmerizes every male she meets, while ten Brinken becomes more and more perversely sexually obsessed with his beautiful but unfeeling archetypal dark-eve.

The film has an awkward atmosphere about it as if it’s trying to be a the threshold of new medical research blended with the profane and taboo science of artificial insemination, Gothic romance fantasy and man’s desire to conquer reproduction. The fetish of creating life, controlling it as if becoming god-like, the question of individuality, morality and the seed of moral instinct and sin–misfire in shocking and dreadful ways.

Alraune and the gorilla in the lab

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Erich von Stroheim—as ten Brinken shows Karlheinz Böhm or Karl Boehm the diary and where Alraune’s mother came from “I made a long search for her in the convent of Hamburg.”

When ten Brinken (von Stroheim) is in the lab and sees Frank out in the garden with Alraune he asks Doctor Moh (Harry Halm) his associate “Did he kiss her”

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Alraune-“ They were all in love with me and they all died and I killed them… You mustn’t stay I bring destruction. “

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Frank-“You can’t believe that there’s something strange and different about you. You’re a human being like anyone else.”

Alraune- “You could never forget that I’m trained from birth. My life began as a horrible crime that I was part of a foolish experiment.”

Frank –“Alraune how can you say that…  no one is all good or all evil. If only the bad were inherited then the world would be a HELL..”

Alraune-“In me there is no good-look where I came from. I was brought into being by the evil thoughts of a depraved man.”

Frank-“The crime was to bring you into the world and then to raise you without love. The plaything of insanity. Who ever is brought up without love is sick. You were never evil, you were sick. I won’t let you stay here. You must go away.”

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At that moment von Stroheim shoots Alraune being carried by Boehm and Alraune begins to die.

ten Brinken (vonStorheim) says-“No one else should have have!”

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ALRAUNE’S last words before he dies– “Now the toy is broken-the crime against nature that God didn’t want.”

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BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA

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BELA LUGOSI FINDS THE PERFECT GOOF TO TURN A GORILLA INTO A HUMAN AND VERSA VISA!

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Directed by William Beaudine who started out doing shorts in pre 1920s and directed several superior police procedural/noir/ dramatic Naked City television episodes in 1958,  (The Living Ghost 1942, The Ape Man 1943, Ghosts on the Loose 1943, Mystery of the 13th Guest 1943, The Face of Marble 1946, Forgotten Women 1949, Billy the Kid vs Dracula 1966)

This is the only film that actually featured Bela Lugosi’s name in the title. It co-stars the comedy team Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo who is trying to take off on actor/comedian Jerry Lewis with several more doses of whiny asininery and though he might actually look like him, is not at all funny.

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Duke Mitchell: You know, someday I’m gonna let you fry in your own grease!

Sammy Petrillo: Could you make it chicken fat, maybe?

Unfortunately the team does not nearly come close to touching the brilliant pairing of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Petrillo only did a handful of bit part appearances, Shangri-La (1961), The Brain that Wouldn’t Die (1962) Keyholes are for Peeping (1972) and Out to Lunch (1977)

As Phil Hardy states about the state of Bela Lugosi’s career at the time, “already bedevilled by management, money, marital and drug problems, is the star of this awful piece.”

Technically a screwball comedy starring, it still seems to want to fall into the mold of science fiction as it involves a mad scientist and a formula.

Mitchell and Petrillo play night club performers who are entertaining the troops in Guam who fall out of an airplane and land on an a South Sea island. Nona (Charlita) finds them and takes them back to her father, chief Rakos (Al Kukime). Nona convinces her father to spare their lives. The unfunny pair also meet Dr. Zabor played by our lovable yet tired actor by this time without some of the nuanced dialogue he had been given in the 30s & 40s… Bela Lugosi. Zabor is a scientist who is performing clandestine experiments on gorillas trying to transform them into people. He is obsessed with Nona, and when Duke catches her eye, Zabor injects him with the serum and turns him into what else but a gorilla!

Sammy at some point figures out that it’s his friend Duke when the gorilla begins singing “Deed I Do” by Walter Hirsch and Fred Rose.

Sammy Petrillo: This looks like Death not only took a holiday, but he got a hangover from taking it.

Captive Women

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1000 YEARS AFTER THE H-BOMB!

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Directed by Stuart Gilmore (44 editor credits including- Sullivan’s Travels 1941, The Palm Beach Story 1942, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek 1944, Two for the Seesaw 1962, Toys in the Attic 1963, and The Andromeda Strain 1971), stars Robert Clarke as Robert, Margaret Field as Ruth, Gloria Saunders as Catherine, Ron Randall as Ridden, Stuart Randall as Gordon, Robert Bice as Bram Paula Dorety as first Captive, Chili Williams as second Captive, William Schallert as Carver. Once again some of the images are courtesy of matte painter Irving Block (Rocketship X-M 1950, Forbidden Planet 1956, Kronos 1957)

Not to be mistaken with Captive Wild Women (1943) starring John Carradine!

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In a post-apocalyptic New York City, three tribes of mutants (the Norms, the Mutates and the Upriver people) battle each other to survive.

When Aubrey Wisberg and Jack Pollexfen saw they success they had with The Man from Planet X (1951) (incidentally re-using the cast once again, Margaret Field, Robert Clarke and William Schallert) they decided to try another science fiction story which had a British title originally called 3000 A.D. & 1000 Years from Now which reflect a much more science fiction sensibility that Captive Women which evokes that trend of jungle/adventure pictures. Howard Hughes who was running RKO at the time, decided to use the more sensationalist film title.

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After the world is destroyed by an atomic bomb, the survivors in our story concern three tribes who hunt each other down throughout the desolate ruins of New York City. First there are the Norms who by virtue of their name tell us that they haven’t been effected by the nuclear fall out. The Mutates led by Riddon (Ron Randall) , are ancestors who have been deformed by the passing down of their mutated genes, and go on raids of the subterranean tribe of Norms to conquer their women who are portrayed as beautiful and perfect for procreation which the Mutates would like to cleanse their lineage of the mutation they have suffered and begin to have healthy offspring. Then there is the last tribe, the Upriver People who are an evil bunch who are violent and worship the devil- ruthlessly led by Gordon (Stuart Randall)

When the Upriver People attack, the Norm leaders Riddon and Rob (Robert Clarke) take off, finding the Mutates are willing to help them hide out. One of the Norm women Ruth (Margaret Field) falls in love with Riddon.

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William Schallert plays Carver who has been banished by the Mutate tribe, winds up betraying them and showing Gordon the secret passage under the Hudson River, a tunnel that leads to the Mutate’s camp in New Jersey. In an ironic twist, during a battle between the tribes, the Upriver People are drowned. Though the story is very dark and brooding, there is a tinge of hope that with the budding romance between Riddon and Ruth they may begin a new civilization where all tribes work together.

Early on in the 1950s Rocketship X-M (1951) and Arch Oboler’s Five (1951) both dealt with the consequences of a nuclear holocaust, Captive Women plays out less about the effects of the atomic fallout  weaving the story around the different factions of tribes that are trying to forge their own society in a post-apocalyptic world. People have regressed back to a time of primal necessity (well they aren’t much different today are they), to survive, to procreate to prevail over other threatening tribes… the nuclear warfare has changed the look and function of the world and it’s survivors. Humanity is all about biological need and the misogynistic tribal-warfare narrative drives the story. Man vs man, man needs woman, woman gets dragged off like a piece of property. Some tribes are worse than others…

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The Hollywood Reporter said, “Captive Women was a ‘pretentious, long winded dissertation on the bleak future lying ahead… While the intent is certainly laudable, the pompous, hackneyed dialogue  and the stilted performances make this… a long 64 minutes.” In Daily Variety “Is strictly for the exploitation houses.” 

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In The Monthly Film Bulletin called it an ‘unattractive farrago’ they also said- “preposterous story contrives to be both childish and absurd.”

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Invasion U.S.A

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THEY PUSH A BUTTON AND VAST CITIES VANISH BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES! (1956 re-release)

Producer Albert Zugsmith worked with director Douglas Sirk on a few classics-was at a time the house producer for Universal -International, including Touch of Evil 1955, Written on the Wind 1956, The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957, The Tarnished Angels 1958,

Invasion U.S.A. is directed by Alfred E. Green (Baby Face 1933, The Jolson Story 1946)

What a cast!!!…Starring Gerald Mohr (Gilda 1946, Detective Story 1951, The Angry Red Planet 1959, Funny Girl 1968) as Vince Potter, Peggy Castle as Carla Sanford, Dan O’Herlihy as Mr. Ohman and Edward G. Robinson as the radio dispatcher. Phyllis Coates as Mrs. Mulfory, Knox Manning as the newscaster.

Albuert Zugsmith’s cheap exploitation film is a bleak journey laced with doom, scaremongering and feasting off of the vitals of paranoia of the McCarthy era Communist invasion scare, and plays off the worst of our fears back in the 1950s –the film did more as a propaganda piece than a truly insightful science fiction thriller. Using stock footage from World War II army training films.

From Bill Warren’s book Keep Watching the Skies–he cites In a letter to the New York Times, Larry Evans said the film seemed to be claiming “that peace is merely a space between wars”

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A largely forgotten film that plays on the fears about communism featuring Dan O’Herlihy as a mysterious stranger who hypnotizes a group of people in a New York City bar and makes them believe that the Cold War is over and Russians have launched an all out atomic attack.

The film opens in a New York City bar littered with a variety of characters, you know the counter-intuitive groups of people who’s sensibilities will no doubt span the spectrum of American taste. They are involved in a heated discussion about the universal draft. Gerald Mohr plays Vince a television reporter interested in controversy and high octane filled conversations that stoke ideas,while Peggy Castle plays Ruth who isn’t too keen on the idea herself. Then there’s the cross section of America, the tractor manufacturer George Sylvester played by Robert Bice who is too pleased with his own success refusing to convert his plant over so the military in order to make weapons. Then there’s the rancher Ed Mulfory played by Erik Blythe who is on the attack against the system. Illinois Congressman Arthur V. Harroway is portrayed by Wade Crosby who goes off on his own rant about tax increases because of all the defense appropriations.

Dan O’Herlihy plays Mr. Ohman who expresses himself very carefully presenting himself as a ‘forecaster’ and tells the group that the future all depends on how we as a people will act presently.

Suddenly the television set in the bar becomes the focus as there is an emergency announcement that enemy troops have invaded Alaska and are now heading toward Washington to attack! The group in the bar scramble to get to where they need to be, the pall of doom hanging over everyone’s certain fate.

Before the various characters involved wake up from their trance they all die horrible deaths, plunging form the top of a skyscraper, drowning etc.

Vince goes back to his television studio to try and report that the enemy troops are invading Oregon, taking over air bases, bombing cities and devastating important landmarks all over the West.

The rancher returns home and he and his family are drowned when Hoover Dam is A-bombed. The manufacturer is shot dead in his office by his window washer who was actually a spy. The enemy is never clearly specified but the idea that they start their invasion with Alaska which is not far from Russia let’s us know who we are truly afraid of in this film.

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Finally enemy troops not only descend upon Washington D.C. where the Congressman is shot to death while giving a speech, they reach Manhattan and set off another A-bomb- a scene which the film boasts as it’s only special effects sequence. Carla who worked for the Red Cross dies, and so does Vince, unfortunately there was no time for their budding romance to bud…

With many fantasy/horror/science fiction type stories that allow second chances or glimpses into the dangerous tomorrows, the scene at the bar shows all slowly awakening as if from a trance. Mr. Ohman has placed them into some sort of illuminatory stasis now giving them back precious time to go into the world and perform good deeds in the name of “Eternal Vigilance”

From Bill Warren’s Keep Watching the Skies “Russian MiGs are shown and some of the stock footage used is printed reversed left to right so that the letters are backward This was to make them look Cryillic and therefore, Russian According to Larry Evans’ letter quoted earlier , The American Mercury, then the self -appointed mouth piece of anti-communism , Anti-Unamerican fanatics is shown in the film. The message in Invasion U.S.A isn’t just that we should consider the possibility that another war and one with the communist nations in particular will take place, but that we should actively prepare for one to the point of providing arms & trained propaganda newscasters actually here fomenting the inevitable conflict.?

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Hedda Hopper allowed her name to be used with the advertising of the film and it’s posters saying- “It will scare the pants off you” Edwin Schallert in the Los Angeles Times quotes the cheap exploitation picture by saying, ‘there is still a modicum of high suspense running through the production, and perhaps even something to cause audiences to think.”

Newscaster: The big mystery now is why have no cities been attacked? Why did the enemy throw away surprise yet fail to drop a single atom bomb? 

Mr. Ohman: I think America wants new leadership.

Vince Potter: What kind of leadership do you suggest?

Mr. Ohman: I suggest a wizard.

Vince Potter: A what?

Mr. Ohman: A wizard, like Merlin, who could kill his enemies by wishing them dead. That’s the way we like to beat Communism now, by wishing it dead.

MONKEY BUSINESS

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Directed by Howard Hawks and notably considered a screwball–madcap-zany comedy starring Cary Grant, there is an element of science fiction that cannot be ignored and that’s why Monkey Business is viewed by some belonging to the Sci-Fi genre even with all it’s zany antics. Hawks having accomplished the more terrifying yet camp filled The Thing from Another World the year before certainly wears a versatile director’s cap. With a screenplay by writers Ben Hecht, Charles Lederer and I. A. L Diamond.

Referring back once again to Bill Warren’s terrific book Keep Watching the Skies, I could never write as concise and witty as Warren he puts it like this…After Here Comes Mr. Jordan 1941, light fantasy, comedies became popular and a steady Hollywood product. Generally they took the form of fantasies, such as Heaven Only Knows 1947, and You Never Can Tell 1951, but frequently the fantastic elements was actually science fiction…{…} Cary Grant was one of Hawk’s favorite actors- Bringing Up Baby 1938, Only Angels Have Wings 1939, etc–and Grant was often at his best under Hawk’s direction. Hawks seemed to be amused by Grant’s ability to appear stiffly repressed while suggesting banked fires of frivolity. That is the specific subject of Monkey Business.”

Cary Grant plays Dr. Barnaby Fulton (even his name is delicious!)

Grant plays absent minded professor Barnaby Fulton financed by Oliver Oxly played by Charles Coburn who wants his research to find a way to slow down the aging process. Fulton discovers a youth serum-elixir B-4, but when a chimpanzee sneaks out of his cage and mixes chemicals together, and spikes the water cooler,Fulton accidentally ingests the serum himself. Now listen, implausible you say, I’ve heard said that leave a chimpanzee in a room over the course of years he’d paint the Mona Lisa… true story!

Fulton begins acting like a high spirited college rowdy, buys a hot rod and drives Oxly’s secretary the adorable Marilyn Monroe all over town, and I mean drives her wild!
Problem is Fulton is married to sophisticated Edwina who is shocked by his new behavior, but eventually the serum wears off, but everyone from Edwina, old Oxly and his colleagues start drinking a lot of water! As in the end they revert to childish behavior swinging around the laboratory like chimpanzee’s themselves, they are in contrast with the civilized world, the elixir has caused emotional and moral anarchy and flies in the face of being a responsible adult, the message is quite dire. You not only can’t go home again, you can’t be young at heart again… Gee wiz!

There are no special effects, there are no substitute actors representative of the younger characters, the only signifier of youth is the actors behavior. So science fiction—not so much in terms of technology, but it’s always fun to include a comedy in the mix besides, Abbott & Costello and the bad movies that are unintentionally funny.

With the screwball dialogue and shenanigans the film the story resolves itself at the end with a bittersweet message that youth is for the young and we must accept getting older.

“Youth as presented in Monkey Business seems as much nightmarish as it does anything else”

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Barnaby: Hello, Griffith Park Zoo, Snake Department. Sssshhh!

Oliver Oxley: Hello? Hello? What is this?

Barnaby: What do you want?

Oliver Oxley: This is Mr Oxley.

Barnaby: I’ll see if he’s here.

Oliver Oxley: No, I said *this* is Oxley!

Barnaby: Who is?

Oliver Oxley: I am, speaking!

Barnaby: Oh, you’re Mr. Speaking…

Oliver Oxley: This is Mr. Oxley speaking!

Barnaby: Oxley Speaking? Any relation to Oxley?

Oliver Oxley: Barnaby Fulton is that you?

Barnaby: Who’s calling?

Oliver Oxley: I am, Barnaby!

Barnaby: Oh, no, you’re not Barnaby. I’m Barnaby! I ought to know who I am.

Oliver Oxley: This is Oxley speaking, Barnaby!

Barnaby: No, that’s ridiculous! You can’t be all three. Figure out which one you are and call me back!

 

Lois Laurel: {Marilyn Monroe -at her secretrial desk, responding to Barnaby’s remark that she is at work early} Mr. Oxley’s been complaining about my punctuation, so I’m careful to get here before nine.

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Barnaby: Umph! I’m beginning to wonder if being young is all it’s cracked up to be. We dream of youth. We remember it as a time of nightingales and valentines. But what are the facts? Maladjustment, near idiocy, and a series of low comedy disasters. That’s what youth is.

Radar Men from the Moon

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Directed Fred C. Bannon

A Republic Serial in 12 Chapters!

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Starring George Wallace (224 credits to this omnipresent supporting actor) is Commander Cody, Aline Towne as Joan Gilbert, Roy Barcroft as Retik, William Bakewell as Ted Richards, Clayton Moore as Graber, Peter Brocco as Krog, Tom Steele as Zerg.

George Wallace wearing the special rocket suit from Republic’s earlier King of the Rocket Men (1949), is Captain Cody, Sky Marshal of the Universe. It’s cheap, really really cheap serial production– Cody must stop the Moon’s dictator the evil Retik from invading the Earth. Most of the action takes place on the Moon. Wallace doesn’t even need a spacesuit, and the lack of gravity doesn’t seem to effect Cody even after Destination Moon two years earlier showed up the problems with weightlessness. In 1966, the serial was condensed into a feature, Retik the Moon Menace.

George Wallace is Commando Cody, Sky Marshal of the Universe — that fantabulous flying super-hero scientist is fighting evil forces from the Moon who are destroying Earth’s national defenses using a strange and destructive weapon. Scientists Joan Gilbert (Aline Towne) and Ted Richards (William Bakewell) design both a special rocket powered suit and helmet that enables Commando Cody to fly, and a rocket that can reach the Moon. With the aide of security head Henderson (Don Walters) our hero uncovers a race of Moon Men who are using an atomic ray gun to target the Earth in order to invade the planet. When Cody, Joan and Ted travel to the cratered Moon to try and thwart the menacing Moon Men –in their rocket-ship they are captured by the Moon minions led by Retik (Roy Bancroft). The serial also stars Bob Stevenson as Daly, Clayton Moore as Graber, Peter Brocco as Krog, Tom Steele as Zerg, Dale Van Sickel as Alon, Noel Cravat as Robal, Baynes Barron as Nesor and Paul McGuire as Bream.

Radar Men from the Moon

Radar Man from the Moon

"Commando Cody, the Sky Marshal of the Universe," aka, George Wallace, appears to defy the laws of gravity, for a moment at least, as he lands in the arms of a prop man during production of the film " Radar Men from the Moon," at Red Rock Canyon in the Mojave Desert, 80 miles northeast of Hollywood, Calif., Dec. 12, 1951. Gravity may be defied in some the new movie serials based on the fantasies science fiction, but what goes up still comes down, even if the film wont let you see it. (AP Photo)
“Commando Cody, the Sky Marshal of the Universe,” aka, George Wallace, appears to defy the laws of gravity, for a moment at least, as he lands in the arms of a prop man during production of the film ” Radar Men from the Moon,” at Red Rock Canyon in the Mojave Desert, 80 miles northeast of Hollywood, Calif., Dec. 12, 1951. Gravity may be defied in some the new movie serials based on the fantasies science fiction, but what goes up still comes down, even if the film wont let you see it. (AP Photo)

Graber: How ’bout a ride to town, mister?

Motorist: Sure. Hop in.

Graber: There’s a man in a flying suit chasing us. Step on it.

Motorist: Huh?

 

[Commando Cody, Ted, and Joan are about to board ship for the moon]

Commando Cody: I still think this is no trip for a woman.

Joan Gilbert: Now don’t start that again. You’ll be very glad to have someone along who can cook your meals.

Red Planet Mars

Red Planet Mars

Directed by Harry Horner (Beware, My Lovely 1952, Vicki 1953, The Wild Party 1956, production designer on The Hustler 1961)

Written for the screen by John L. Balderston, Anthony Veiller based on the play by John L. Balderston and John Hoare. John L. Balderston had also written the screenplays for Dracula 1931, Frankenstein 1931, Mad Love 1935, Bride of Frankenstein 1935 and Gaslight 1944. Veiller having written the screenplays for The Killers 1946, and  The Stranger 1946.

Stars Peter Graves stars as astronomer Chris Cronyn, Andrea King as his wife Lynda Cronyn, Herbert Berghof as Franz Calder, Walter Sande as Admiral Bill Carey, Marvin Miller as Arjenian, Willis Bouchey as the President, and Morris Ankrum as Secretary of State Sparks.

Based on screenwriter Balderston’s play Red Planet, the film is overtly focused on the fear of invasion and the insidious spread of Communism in the American consciousness in the 1950s.

Martyrs,Miracles,and Martians
Religion and Cold War Cinematic Propaganda in
the 1950s by Tony Shaw

Introduction

Consider this script: Chris, a Californian scientist (played by Peter Graves), has established radio contact with Mars, thanks to the invention of a former Nazi scientist, Calder (Herbert Berghof), now serving Lucifer with Soviet money in the Andes. Consequently, the United States learns that Mars has attained a high level of “civilization,” has developed nuclear power, and has dispensed with coal and oil. The news causes pandemonium on Earth, stock markets crash, depression reigns, and Moscow gloats over the threatened collapse of Western society. On the brink of chaos, the world learns that Mars is also a Christian society, ruled by a “Supreme Authority” whose teachings parallel those of the Sermon on the Mount. This prompts a religious revival on Earth and a revolution in Russia, where a group of pious peasants inspired by Voice of America broadcasts throw out the Communists and crown an elderly patriarch as their new ruler. The story ends on a bittersweet note: Chris, his wife, and Calder are all killed in a laboratory explosion, leaving the U.S. president (Willis Bouchey) to announce that the faith of the world has been saved and that peace now reigns. Few films capture the personal and political paranoia so often associated with “McCarthyite” Hollywood better than Harry Horner’s
Red Planet Mars, described by one critic at the time of its opening in 1952 as “a grotesque, almost insane fantasy, told in deadly earnest.–Even fewer films threw all their Cold War eggs—anti-Communism, an ambivalence toward science.”

red planet mars

Graves plays a California scientist trying to establish contact with Mars, soon into the film he and scientists at the observatory discover that the Martians have melted the ice caps in order to irrigate their planet. Graves as Dr. Chris Cronyn surmises that Martians are a superior race. His wife Andrea King who plays Lynda feels worried about the findings believing that her husbands research is like “sitting on a volcano.”

Peter Graves whose specialty is radio waves and King play a husband and wife team of research scientists/astronomers who pick up a television transmission from Mars. The message describes the planet as being a utopian society with a god-like higher power in charge. Here on Earth, this news spreads panic among both Western governments and the Russian Communist government. In Russia, the peasants revolt and place a priest like monarchy in rule.

 

Narrator opens “This is a story not yet told….”

Observatory is high on a mountain in Southern California the giant telescope… “Searches the heavens for the secrets there contained…”

Red Planet Mars Observatory

Dr. Cronyn (Peter Graves) is the radio man— Dr. Boulting – Mitchell’s Assistant (House Peters Jr.)  is the guy with the spy glass…

red-planet-mars-1952

“Do you seriously think that you’ve established contact with Mars…?”—Dr. Boulting (Peters)
“Well you take pictures of it, why shouldn’t I talk to it?”—Dr. Cronyn (Graves)

Red Planet Mars the team meets

Photos of the canals of Mars that traverse the entire planet–Lynda asks if Dr Mitchell has had his telescope for years –why is he getting these pictures just now. Mitchell explains that Mars’ journey around the sun is an elliptical curve.

After the next batch of photos are taken… it shows the mountains are gone and the poles are level.

Dr. Cronyn- “You can’t wipe out mountains taller than the Rockies in the space of a week!”

Dr. Mitchell the astronomer asks Boulting to look at the canals with his magnifying glass. Lynda says “They’re different now they reflect light like mirrors.” Dr Mitchell (Lewis Martin) ‘Water reflects light”

Cronyn asks “Are you saying you think those pole formations are ice… and in a week these Martians have melted ice caps thousands of feet high and use the water to irrigate the planet?” “Isn’t that what the picture says?”-asks Dr Mitchell

Red Planet Mars "are you saying you think those pole formations are ice?"

Cronyn would love to ask the Martians who they figured out that amazing way to irrigate the planet…
“It’s Mars I’m getting my signal from, but how do I give that signal meaning… how do I find a means of communication.”

Boulting says, “One man who takes pictures, one man who believes he can talk over 35 million miles… it’s like having a grand stand seat to the creation of the world…”

red planet mars lobby card

Red Planet Mars magnifies the canals

Red Planet Mars
Red Planet Mars prof shows the orbit of mars

There is also an ex-Nazi scientist Franz Calder (Herbert Berghof) who has invented a ‘hydrogen tube’ that he brings with him after the fall of Nazi Berlin. Cronyn (Peter Graves) uses this ‘hydrogen tube’ to contact Mars. The Soviets have planted the former Nazi spy  in order to make contact with Mars. “At this point the Christianization of the film begins.” – Bernard F. Dick

red-planet-mars-1952-g

Franz Calder who has believed to been dead since the war, has actually been living in a cabin in the Andes, living in the  ironic and ghostly eclipse of the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer. He taunts his Soviet compatriots —“You can find me only through finding Christ.”

Calder claims that the messages from Mars are actually fakes, telling everyone that he is the one who has been sending them –his plan– to bring about the downfall of capitalism. Calder is being supported by the Russians led by Arjenian (Marvin Miller) urging him to contact Mars before Cronyn in order to help wipe out democracy and bring about the fall of the Western civilization entirely.

Mars is the promised land, powered by cosmic energy. Its inhabitants have a three-hundred year lifespan and enjoy such an abundance of food that rationing is unnecessary. The realization that Mars is the new Eden and Earth is a garden gone to seed results in global chaos  as coalminers and steel mills close and banks default, believing that humankind had suffered enough, delivers an ultimatum: LOVE GOODNESS AND HATE EVIL… {…} Forget the galaxy and the follow the star of Bethlehem. The voice emanating from Mars is none of than God’s, the man of Nazareth and the man of Mars being the same. Suddenly, church attendance rises, and miracles are seen. The Soviet Union which ‘denied God’s word and worshipped false gods” abjures communism, and the patriarch of the Orthodox Church becomes head of the provisional government. – Bernard F. Dick

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RedPlanetMars (46)

Eventually Cronyn does receive messages from Mars saying that there has been incredible scientific advancements, this he deciphers from what looks like bar codes on the television screen. Cronyn has photos showing the ice caps on Mars described as mountainous peaks of ice thousands of feet thick, that are now melting at a faster rate, virtually overnight.

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When Cronyn releases his findings he is persecuted and blamed for the economic collapse in the West. Secretary of Defense Sparks (Morris Ankrum) tries to stop the flow of information in order to avert the disaster saying, “Our civilization is collapsing around our ears like a deck of cards… I can hear the laughter in Moscow now!”

red-planet-mars

In Moscow they are celebrating–“We will build our world on the ruins.”

red planet mars peasants revolt

This is pretty harsh straight forward propaganda that utilizes the elements of science fiction to push the fear and anxiety Americans felt during 1952. The President begs Cronyn not to release the information about the messages from Mars, pleading “You’ve shattered the economy of the free world” in which the scientist who is only interested in revealing the truth about his research and the secrets of the universe tells hims “I’m not interested in economics” as he continues to receive messages from the Martians. Another example of science vs –us against them etc.

Admiral Bill Carey (Walter Sande) responds ‘Science has made the volcano we’re sitting on… you’ll be the next to advance science–and maybe us–right into oblivion.”

Admiral Carey Walter Sande trying to convince Dr. Cronyn not to contact Mars nor refer to it as the more advanced civilization Cronyn tells him,  “Me talking to Mars won’t affect Vesuvius.”

Cronyn learns through their coded messages that the Martians have created their utopian society by following a supreme power much like our Christ figure. “Seven lifetimes ago we were told… to love goodness and hate evil.”

Calder shows up at the observatory claiming that he has been the one all along to be fabricating these transmissions from Mars in order to goad the naive into following them, he has sent them himself in order to sabotage the world. Calder assumes that Dr. Cronyn was responsible for the religious themed messages and that those pious missives never would have occurred to him at all since he only recognizes Milton’s version of a Satan who would rather reign as a king in Hell than follow God in a Heaven. He threatens to divulge his lie saying it’s all been a hoax at a press conference but Dr. Cronyn cannot risk that disaster from happening and so sacrifices himself and his wife to save the world.

Red-Planet-Mars God Speaks

“That’s my god-Satan!” he shouts. “I’ll have beaten God!” when he reveals all to the world. Then he quotes Milton’s Satan.

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“As when of old some Orator renound
In Athens or free Rome, where Eloquence
Flourishd, since mute, to some great cause addrest,
Stood in himself collected, while each part,
Motion, each act won audience ere the tongue
Sometimes in highth began, as no delay
Of Preface brooking through his Zeal of Right.
So standing, moving, or to highth upgrown
The Tempter all impassiond thus began”-Milton’s Paradise Lost

In the end, Cronyn and Calder fight as proof –a final ‘real’message from the Martians comes through the television screen saying that the supreme being on Mars is God himself.

Red Planet Mars - Lobby Card
Red Planet Mars – Lobby Card

Dr. Cronyn and his wife have secretly released hydrogen into the observatory room in order to blow the place up, preserving the message from the Martians and keeping Calder’s lies from getting out and wrecking the progress of the new world order. Lynda asks for a cigarette and begins to light it –Calder is standing there while another message from Mars comes in just to show that these communications are not fabricated by the evil Calder and the Cronyn’s are now vindicated. Calder pulls his gun out and fires at the monitor, the cigarette already ignites the hydrogen and blows the the three and the laboratory to bits.

The final word from Mars being “Matthew 25:23 “Ye hath done well, good and faithful servant… Enter into the joy of your master.” 

It is an act of Martyrdom and self-immolation The wife boasts to Calder that she possesses free will and she proves it by reducing three of them to charred bones. The article states cite again—“Of course one could argue that the lighting of a match is morally neutral but the laboratory setting makes the act at least morally questionable. Was she merely trying to frighten Calder, who panicked when he saw the match? Did the tactic backfire, literally? The biblical text approves her action elevating it to a sacrificial act. Since Calder identified with the Satan of Milton’s Paradise Lost, preferring to reign in hell than serve in heaven, his wish was granted.” – Bernard F. Dick

 

ANCIENT ASTRONAUTS: JESUS WAS AN ALIEN?

Jesus was an alien

Painting “Vintage Contact” by Lawrence Jones

The film bring out an interesting argument that became a cultural fad in the 60s & 70s that pertaining to Erich von Däniken was a leading proponent of this hypothesis in the late …. In Chapter 4 of Chariots of the Gods?, entitled “Was God an Astronaut? … claiming that Jesus was an extraterrestrial, citing John 8:23

The young sons of the scientist Stewart or Roger (Orley Lingren -Bayard Veiller) are later told that their parents were snatched up in a chariot of fire.

After this final message, the people of Moscow dig up old vestments and place their new religious leader in charge toppling the Communist government, a new religious revival arises in Russia taking back their country from the Communists and they place one of the peasants who had been a priest as the new spiritual leader as head of state.

Cronyn now vindicated and becomes a hero with followers who gather around the observatory to applaud and worship him. Then he is reviled as a traitor. By the end he is somewhat of a Christ figure himself being sacrificed, while Calder’s house is destroyed by an avalanche.

During the fight where Calder fires his weapon at the transmitter causing the hydrogen explosion killing Cronyn his wife Lynda and Nazi Franz Calder, Cronyn becomes Christ-like.

The film has an epilogue where the American President (Willis Bouchey) gives credit to Cronyn for delivering the word about the new world order.

The President is making a speech. He says that that final message coming from Mars was “Ye have done well my good and faithful servants.” The rest was silence. We are told the whole Earth is their sepulchre.

During the early 1950s while these anti-communist science fiction narratives were being rolled out, there were religious crusades and sub-texts that bear a trace of what Phil Hardy referred to as ‘religiosity’ lead by high profile preachers like Billy Graham–and politicians like Senator McCarthy who exploited the fear of the spread of communism. This sentiment could be seen in films like Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

From The Screen is Red: Hollywood Communism, and the Cold War by Bernard F. Dick, he writes that Red Planet Mars 1952 is one of the few science fiction films of the fifties featuring Soviets as characters sharing America’s determination to communicate with Mars.

redplanet

red planet mars1952

The final title rolls  “The Beginning” Instead of ray guns, monsters from Mars and rocket ships as Bill Warrens says–“it was sermons and a trip to church…”

From Bill Warren’s Keep Watching the Skies-“The writers concur with this the technological advances on Mars, though Bogus almost demolish Earth’s society through simple shame. When Cronyn’s wife expresses doubts and goes back to the house (probably to make coffee) Cronyn sucks on his pipe and sighs indulgently “Poor Lynda, with all her silly fears” The lab scenery is pretty good for the early 1950s. Calder’s hut is covered with ritual masks, which he occasionally talks to. The director tries to make the astronomer’s family important to him, little homey touches.” Warren calls all the Russians esp. Marvin Miller’s character Franz Calder ‘a swinish boor…. he adds The religious messages those woven into the film are monumentally patronizing… (LOVE and HATE )… bored those who didn’t care about the message, embarrassed those who believed in the message and turned off the rest.”

 

Admiral Bill Carey: I wonder what kind of world we’re opening the door on!

Linda Cronyn: [to Chris] We’ve lived on the edge of a volcano all our lives. One day it’ll boil over.

Franz Calder: He who follows the tyrant’s banner shall wear the tyrant’s chains. He who carries God’s banner shall know everlasting life!

Arjenian: You expect me to to tell them that?

Franz Calder: What you tell them is no concern of mine.

Untamed Women

untamed_women_poster_02

They Feared No Monster – Yet Fell Before the Touch of Man!

Directed by W. Merle Connell, starts Mikel Conrad as Steve Holloway, Doris Merrick as Sondra. Richard Monahan, Robert Lowell, Morgan Jones, Midge Ware as Myra, Judy Brubaker as Valdra, Carol Brewster as Tennus, Autumn Russell as Cleo and Lyle Talbot as Col.Loring.

Untamed Women cast

Untamed Women -director W. Merle Connell used clips from One Million B.C (1940)–Untamed Women was shot in under a week.

The story- a World War II bomber pilot Steve Holloway Mikel Conrad (The Flying Saucer) crashes and is rescued from a raft, given truth serum better known as sodium pentothal tells doctor Lyle Talbot the strange story of where he’s been. He and three members of his crew had washed up on an Island inhabited by beautiful women, dinosaurs and a nasty man eating plant. Did I mention the beautiful women?

Untamed-Women-1952

Untamed Women the plant that eats

The dinosaurs courtesy of One Million B.C —The half naked gals, costumes designed by E. Anderson responsible for the scantily clad UNTAM-ERY with their make up by Harry Gillette, not sure who tackled the 50s hair styles… very not- untamed. The women are supposedly descendants of Druids, how they wound up on this Island who knows, it’s just simply—by ancient druid magic one would suppose.

Morgan Jones and Carol Brewster. Jones is NOT a hairy man from the sea!

untamed women Morgan-Jones-and-Carol-Brewster

They fear being savaged again by the ‘hairy men’ from the sea. Doris Merrick who plays Sondra believes in the beginning that Steve and his men are also the hairy men because they haven’t shaven for days. She and her untamed women banish them to the valley of the stock footage dinosaurs in order to put them through a trial by fire, then they pair off with these nice American fellas until the hairy men do actually return. These wooly savages kill some of the untamed women, one of the good guys and then of course a volcano erupts and everyone dies but Steve who has been given a token of Sondra’s love, a medallion that he is found clutching.

Untamed Women Doris-Merrick-1952

untamed women Mikel-Conrad-and-Doris-Merrick

Doris Merrick as Sondra who wears the ancient amulet around her neck.

Bill Warren adds wonderful vintage reviews at the end of each film he covers. Here’s another particularly hilarious summary from The Monthly Film Bulletin called it “remarkable rigmarole”

Untamed-Women

Zombies of the Stratosphere

ZOMBIES OF THE STRATOSPHERE

Invasion From A Mystery Planet!–the Rocket Man Battle the “Robot from Outer Space”!

BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES YOU’LL SEE…ROCKET SHIPS IN STRATO-FLIGHT!…STRANGE CREATURES FROM ANOTHER WORLD! ROCKET MEN FIGHTING ROBOTS! DEADLY MACHINES AND WEAPONS IN ACTION!

Radar Men From The Moon 1952 (Robot)

A REPUBLIC SERIAL IN 12 CHAPTERS!

Directed by Fred C. Bannon, starring Judd Holdren as Larry Martin, Aline Towne as Sue Davis, Wilson Wood as Bob Wilson, Lane Bradford as Marex, Stanley Waxman as Dr. Harding, John Crawford as Roth, and Leonard Nimoy as Narab.

Zombies of the Stratosphere

Lost in Space jetpack

NOW!! that’s a jet pack… Guy Williams as Professor John Robinson — Lost in Space (1965-1968)

This time out it’s Holdren who wears the mask and flying suit. He plays a sort of star ranger. who uncovers and foils the plot of the Martians to blow up the Earth with an H-bomb and then shift Mars into Earth’s orbit. Bradford is the villain Nimoy is a zombie-like henchman and Waxman the treacherous scientist who helps them. The script by Davidson who single-handed wrote the last 13 Republic serials is crude as is Brannon’s direction. A year later Holdren took over the role of Commando Cody first layed out by George Wallace in Radar Men. but the serial was a false culled from episodes of Republic’s Commando Cody teleseries. In 1958 an edited down version of this serial was re-issued as Satan’s Satellites.

Judd Holdren plays Larry Martin a secret agent who can fly wearing his campy rocket suit with a kitschy control panel on his chest with buttons marked up & down (teehee), and not quite as fantastical ala Commando Cody. Martin is on the trail of a Martian spaceship that has been making secret trips to Earth. Seems the invaders working with a villainous atomic scientist with a grudge and they are looking to take over our galaxy by blasting Earth out of it’s orbit!

Zombies of the Strat here's Narab leonard-nimoy1952

Yes that Leonard Nimoy!

Shatner and Nimoy

STAY TUNED FOR

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Coming up…
Abbott and Costello Go to Mars
Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms
Cat-Women of the Moon
Donovan’s Brain
Four Sided Triangle
Invaders from Mars
It Came from Outer Space
The Lost Planet
The Magnetic Monster
Mesa of Lost Women
The Neanderthal Man
Phantom from Space
Port Sinister
Project Moonbase
Robot Monster
The Twonky
The War of the Worlds

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The Classic Movie History Project Blogathon 2016! 🚀 “Keep watching the skies!” Science Fiction cinema of the 1950s

History-Project-2016-godzilla

“I bring you a warning. Every one of you listening to my voice. Tell the world… Tell this to everybody wherever they are. Watch the Skies! Everywhere. Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!

Ned ‘Scotty’ Scott — The Thing From Another World (1951)

Keep watching the Skies!

It’s that time of year once again when Movies Silently, Silver Screenings & One Upon a Screen host a momentous event…. The Classic Movie History Project Blogathon 2016 which will begin August 5th -10th, 2016.

Science fiction is a genre of speculative fiction dealing with imaginative concepts such as futuristic science and technology, space travel, time travel, faster than light travel, parallel universes and extraterrestrial life. Science fiction often explores the potential consequences of scientific and other innovations, and has been called a “literature of ideas. –Wikipedia definition of Science Fiction

Robot Monster rocket

This event always promises to be an epic endeavor as there are so many interesting themes and subjects to cover. I am excited to be participating once again with these fabulous hosts who make it possible for all of us to contribute to a wealth of classic film history goodies to devour. Now listen folks, don’t get frightened off! You cast of exciting unknown readers… This has become a real project for me, a work in progress that will unfold over the next several weeks. For the purpose of The Classic Movie History Project Blogathon 2016, I offer an overview that will be a lead in for the entire decade of 1950s science fiction cinema conquering it year by year in separate articles. As I started delving into this project, it began to grow larger and larger as if Jack Arnold and Bert I. Gordon themselves compelled me to GO BIG!

amazing colossal man vegas

attack_of_the_50_foot_woman_3_by_farzelgaart-d4ubn9h

50 foot woman at the bar

In order to review an entire genre of such an influential decade and do the treatment it so rightly deserves, I realized that I needed to spread it out as a series. Re-visiting these beloved movies that inspired my childhood with wonder and sometimes tapped into my own authentic fears, I fell in love all over again. And though I tend to gravitate towards the classical Gothic horrors that are steeped in mythology, the supernatural and the uncanny, I can’t help but feel my mind expanding by the iconic themes that emerged from 1950s science fiction! So I’ll be publishing each year as individual posts or chapters from 1952 on… over the next several week or so instead of all at once. Talking about all the films I mentioned here and so many more films & things to come!

It’s a collection–a decade of the sci-fi genre, sub-genres and it’s hybrids– some eternally satisfying because of their remarkable ability to continuously shine a light on fascinating & mesmerizing fantasy stories. Well written and adapted as visual narratives and surreal stories by beloved visionaries who set out to reach inward and outward through all of us dreamers and thinkers.

There are also those lovable Sci-fi films that are charming and wonderfully kitsch. And some… are just downright so, so, soooo awful their… awesome!

That’s what makes so many of these diverging films cut through the cross-sections to become cinematic jewels & memorable cult favorites!

Robot Monster 2

There are many films that I’ll cover more in depth, some are the more highly polished masterpieces that have lingered for decades with us as adult children who grew up watching them on a rainy afternoon on televisions with knobs that only had 9 channels and if you were lucky you didn’t snap the knob off every 6 months! Growing up in New York I had Chiller Theater, on local channel 11 or Creature Features on Channel 5, or Fright Night on Channel 9. That’s how I fell in love, and got my fill of the treasures of films & television anthology series that was lurking out there destined to leave long lasting impressions on so many of us!

Chiller Theater

Fright Night WOR

Or back in the day, you went to the Drive-In theater to explore in the back seat of your pop’s Chevy Impala any double feature, and it was an invigorating and entertaining experience and you didn’t even have to get out of your pajamas.

Retro Drive In

You could spend all day in a musty theater festooned with captivating promotional lobby cards and colorful posters. Too bad, I wasn’t of the age to witness William Castle’s ballyhoo he strategically placed at certain theaters for that interactive live experience , EMERGO, PERCEPTO! You could take in a bunch of the latest scary films, sometimes double & triple features, while sitting on sticky red velvet seats that smelled like hot buttered popcorn and week old spilled Pepsi. A box of Milk Duds in hand and the faint wiff of air conditioner freon at your back. You’d enter the movie theater in the bright light of a sunny Saturday afternoon only to exit into the dark of night, tired and filled with wonder, awe and okay maybe looking over your shoulder a few times. Some films were big budget productions, that contained serious acting by studio contract players, terrific writing that blended deep thoughts and simple escapism pulled from some of the best science fiction, fantasy & horror literature and adapted screenplays, scares and witty dialogue besides and cinematography that still captivates us to this day.

3D Audience

Well… sure some were B movies that have now sustained that Cult film charm and cheesiness, and some… are just downright pitiful, laughable guilty pleasures… and a bunch even came with really neat 3D glasses!

SOME ICONIC GEMS FOR THE AGES THAT I’LL BE COVERING!

Creature From the Black Lagoon

Incredle Shrinking Man vs Cat

THEM! (1954)*INVADERS FROM MARS (1953) *DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951)*FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956) *THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951)*EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956) *THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957) *INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) *WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953) * CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) * IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953)* IT, THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958) *EARTH VS THE SPIDER (1958) *THE CRAWLING EYE (1958) *THE GIANT BEHEMOTH (1959) *IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955) *TARANTULA (1955) *FIEND WITHOUT A FACE (1958) *THE MONOLITH MONSTERS (1957)* THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN (1957) * THE ANGRY RED PLANET (1959)*KRONOS (1957)* THE CREEPING UNKNOWN (1956)*X-THE UNKNOWN (1956

I’LL ALSO BE TALKING ABOUT SOME GUILTY PLEASURES!

Attack of the Crab Monsters 4

Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957)

not-of-this-earth paul birch

Paul Birch is the alien vampire Paul Johnson in Roger Corman’s Not of This Earth 1957

The Brain from Planet Arous 1957* Attack of the Crab Monsters 1957* The Killer Shrews 1959* The Giant Claw 1957 *Beast From Haunted Cave 1959 *The Monster from Piedras Blancas 1959 *Invasion of the Saucer Men 1957 *The Monster that Challenged the World 1957 *Not of this Earth 1957* The She-Creature 1956* The Man Who Turned to Stone 1958* Invisible Invaders 1959* Attack of the 50 Foot Woman 1958* The Hideous Sun Demon (1959) * Monster on the Campus 1958* The Unknown Terror 1957* Creature with The Atom Brain 1955 * The Unearthly 1955 * From Hell it Came 1957,

Tabanga and Korey

It’s also important to mention some of the ubiquitous actors who graced both the great & guilty pleasure flicks, you’ll be seeing a lot of in the following chapters like John Carradine * Ed Nelson *Allison Hayes *Paul Birch *John Agar *Hugh Marlowe*Peter Graves *Richard Denning *Richard Carlson *Faith Domergue *Mara Corday *Les Tremayne *Marie Windsor *Morris Ankrum * Arthur Franz *Kenneth Tobey* John Hoyt * Whit Bissell and of course Beverly (kicks-ass!) Garland!

One thing is for certain, each film is relevant and all have a place in the 50s decade of Sci-fi / Horror & Fantasy!

So come back and read a little at a time and get some thrills even while you’re sitting under the hair dryer… Do people still do that today? I need to get out more…

1955 hairdryer wants to be a space-age helmet

This 1955 hair dryer is just begging to be a space-age helmet!

It all started with Georges Méliès 1903 fantasy A Trip to the Moon
Le Voyage Dans La Lune 1902 – Georges Méliès

Le Voyage Dans La Lune 1902

Trip to the Moon 1902

As early as 1920 there was the German expressionist film dealing with the arrival of a menacing alien visitor from the planet Algol giveing actor Emil Jannings a machine that awards him unlimited powers. ALGOL aka POWER 1920 directed by Hans Werckmeister

Emil Jennings in Algol 1920

“That which you believe becomes your world.”
Richard Matheson from ‘What Dreams May Come’

Science Fiction emerged out of the “Age of Reason” literature reflected a merging of myth and historical fact. Stories filled with an imagination that had no boundaries. While Science Fiction is a literary movement that can be a separate study all it’s own, story tellers who grasped the concepts of science fiction who questioned the endless possibilities, the far reaching machinations of brilliant minds, this project if focused on the history of 1950s science fiction cinematic and all it reveals. Science Fiction cinema flirted blatantly with ideas and images of a world that reached beyond the known, and contemplated aloud, fantastic stories as early as the silent era. Consider Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, re-envisioned time and time again.

barrymore 1920 dr jekyll

dr-jekyll-and-mr-hyde-(1920)

John Barrymore lifts the dark conflicting tale of the inward monsters off the pages of Stevenson’s book. Barrymore so fluently moved through the silent stage, reveals that we all just might be harboring in our sub-conscious hidden dark and primal desires. Unleashed by a concoction, a seduction of science creates a fiend! Dr Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1920)

aelita-queen-of-mars-1924

Aelita Queen of Mars (1924)

The odd yet visually stunning Russian spectacle Aelita Queen of Mars (1924) aka Revolt of the Robots.e

There were a few early visions of fantasy, magic & Science Fiction films from all around the world- At 3:25 aka The Crazy Ray (1924)  Directed by Rene Clair-a scientist invents a ray that makes people fall asleep where they stand! The German film Master of the World (1934) (Der Herr der Welt) where a German scientist wants to create an army of Robots to do the dangerous work of laborers so, when he is told it’s too risky he goes mad and it’s too late the machine has a mind of it’s own. It features really cool electronic chambers and more!

And Transatlantic Tunnel (1935) Scientists construct a tunnel under the ocean-stars Richard Dix, Leslie Banks and C. Aubrey Smith.

Metropolis 1927 the dystopian masterpiece by director Fritz Lang was the beginning of the fascination with exploring the fantastic and our unbounded imaginations on film, it’s remarkable set design, imagery and narrative sparked the Science Fiction genre in a big way— spanning decade upon decade, in particular revived in the 1950s!

Metropolis

The first influential science fiction film by Fritz Lang created a dystopian societ in Metropolis 1927. It’s influence has maintained it’s powerful thrust for decades. An inspiration for Ridley Scott’s neo-noir sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner (1982)
Metropolis 1927

“Man is the unnatural animal, the rebel child of nature, and more and more does he turn himself against the harsh and fitful hand that reared him”-H.G.Wells

Island-of-Lost-Souls 1932

Kathleen Burke Island of Lost Souls