I’ve written enough here at The Last Drive-In, to sort of feel more relaxed about letting it rip sometimes. I’m hoping you’ll indulge me a bit while I go off on a tiny rant… I hope that’s alright…
Michael Winner’s film was a failure at the box office. So what!
You will have undoubtedly read 9 out of 10 reviewers who will make too convenient a statement about The Sentinel being a Rosemary’s Baby rip off. In terms of how I experience this film there’s more too it than just a pat dismissal and a flip accusation of being derivative. I had first read Jeffrey Konvitz’s book when it was published in 1974, and then went to the movies to see his adapted screenplay The Sentinel during it’s theatrical release– I was a ripe 15 year old who was captivated by the grotesque and eerie imagery. I also saw Rosemary’s Baby in 1968 as a double feature with The Mephisto Waltz 1971.
Perhaps there is a conscious connection or homage made by director Winner between the devilish residents of the infamous Bramford Arms with it’s history of murderers and deviants –the facade filmed of New York Cities Dakota with birds eye view of Central Park as Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse move into their house of Hades in Rosemary’s Baby 1968, perhaps my favorite film.
Alison Parker (Christina Raines) does come in contact with a similar Gothic building filled with oddball characters who wind up being the ghosts of murderers who once lived in the impressive Brownstone. I imagine the gateway to Hell would attract an evil ensemble of nasties. And to counterbalance Alison as the women-in-peril who must fight off the paranoia and heady mind games are the devil and his minions who toy with Alison in order to drive her mad enough to once again try commit suicide. Rosemary Woodhouse has a perseverance to keep her devils at bay and hold onto her precious baby even if he was to carry on his father’s legacy. Either way, it’s both buildings filled with eccentrics and the fog of paranoia that tie the two films together for me, but that’s where it ends.
As an amateur film buff and classic horror film aficionado I think I have some authority when weighing in on whether director Michael Winner’s The Sentinel is just derivative dreck and/or dribble.
And I discovered that it’s not just the average chimer-in nudnik on IMBd who feel the need to review this film in such a simplistic way that making the comparison to Rosemary’s Baby feels like just a cop out to me.
It is even referred to as such in writer John Kenneth Muir’s entirely comprehensive book Horror Films of the 1970s– citing two film reviews during the time of The Sentinel’s theatrical release…
Look, as far back as it’s theatrical release and the critique was, to lump all ‘devil’ in the city, good vs. evil tropes with the 1968 seminal film by director Roman Polanski based on Ira Levin’s novel Rosemary’s Baby.
“…a crude and obvious imitation of Rosemary’s Baby, but much creepier and more bizarre. The unnerving ending obliterates the memory of the rest of the film… makes good use of several past-their prime actors in small roles but attempts at psychological insight, subtlety or believability fall flat (it’s a horror story not a autobiographical story of Aimee Semple McPherson for crying out loud… believability.) The great special effects at the end justify the film’s faults however.” Darrell Moore. The Best, Worst and Most Unusual: Horror films, Crowne publishing 1983.
I say to that, we leave believability outside our un-conscious abject fear chamber that is our most hidden dread drenched mind when partaking in a little collective anxiety ridden purge, right Dr. Jung?
And if critic Darrell Moore is talking about Ava Gardner–a gorgeous 55 year old woman is NOT past her prime, I hate when sexism and agism rears it’s ugly head!, I’m heading toward the number, which continually amazes people, I read these kinds of misdirected comments all the time, some critic or person saying ‘she’ looks so good for her age-40ish!, does that imply that Ava and I should be embalmed already? Geesh, but in the words of Sophia Petrillo, I digress…
February 12, 1977 from The New York Times written by Richard Eder—“The confrontations are supposed to be terrifying but the most they offer is some mild creepiness… Mr. Winner has sweetened the mess with some nudity, a little masturbation and a dash of lesbianism.”
Interesting that the one bit of titillation Richard Eder manages to pluck out is the lesbianism. In fact that seems to be of most interest to many reviewers. Well, it’s 2016 and if a lesbian pops up in a film, it’s now about as outmoded and the shock obsolete as the landline and mullets… well I have seen people still sporting mullets.
And I’d like to say there’s more than just mild creepiness, there are absolute moments of mind jolting terror. The exquisite color palette and the eye for detail that supports the sense of mystery such as the fabulous Houdini poster in Michael’s apartment -a center piece in plain sight that one might miss though it is there to instruct us on our journey through the dark maze of the storyline
If anything, the film lies closer in relationship to Roman Polanski’s The Tenant (1976) where another protagonist Trelkovsky portrayed by Polanski himself, is being mentally tortured by a group of people (Shelley Winters, Lila Kedrova and Jo Van Fleet) in his building that may or may not exist ultimately driving him to attempt suicide. The fact that our heroine Alison is driven to madness and suicide by her seemingly harmless yet strange and quirky neighbors, that are actually, unholy denizens of hell definitely evokes comparisons in my mind with Roman Polanski’s equally disturbing THE TENANT (1976).
The fact that the main protagonist is driven to madness and suicide by her seemingly harmless but, actually, unholy tenants brings forth comparisons with Roman Polanski’s equally unappetizing in THE TENANT (1976)
I’d even go as far as to compare director Michael Winner and writer Jeffrey Konvitz’s film has something of a Alejandro Jodorowsky flavor to it, with the grotesque imagery and surreal processional. Or might have influenced the very hallucinatory Jacob’s Ladder (1990) that deals with a soul’s nightmarish journey through unfathomable realms of consciousness that conjures demons and angels alike.
With The Sentinel some people are fascinated, some are repulsed and some just think The Sentinel is truly a retread of Polanski/Castle’s superior masterpiece.
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre (1989)
First off, my impression of classical 70s horror is that it’s hard for that decade to be derivative when it started an entire trend of moody, pseudo-violent social commentary’s that had a limitless freedom to go down an adventurous road. If 70s horror took its cue from older decades and genres, perhaps a nod to Tod Browning, Val Lewton, French New Wave cinema and the surrealists like Jean Renoir and René Clément, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Federico Fellini. But please arm chair critics that spend time comparing a 70s horror gem to a a film without the constructive reasons to support it, or to even hold it up against a contemporary film by saying it lacks a good body count and special effects, I hope I don’t offend thee, but –please!!! You’re out of your element– stick with Saw and films like The Conjuring by James Wan… You don’t understand the 70s decade of horror and it’s unique contribution. Sorry to be so snotty here…
Now it’s even been compared to The Omen (1976) and The Exorcist (1973) as well. I suppose where ever the devil lurks, it’s automatically a Rosemary’s Baby, Exorcist, Omen rip-off. Well… the element of paranoia exists in the film as Alison Parker goes through a nightmarish journey through a maze of surreal events, while she devolves toward her ultimate fate. There are elements of minions from Hell that lurk and groups of diabolical characters that come in and out of Alison’s orbit. And like The Omen and The Exorcist, the film does open up in Italy with a sense of ancient religious underpinnings hinting at the inner workings of the church. It then brings us to a church in New York City where Monsignor Franchino and a colorful group of acolytes convene in a ceremony, with a quick cut to Alison posing in a post-modern sheer black flowing cape as if moving Martha Graham style, a dark looming allegorical winged bird or augury swathed in black like the angel of death.
The juxtaposition of the old and the modern is a nice touch. BUT… that’s where the comparison ends. The film has it’s own unique story. It has been blamed for being too simplistic a story. Okay fine. Perhaps, too many mainstream contemporary narratives have gotten so convoluted and disorienting that a simple plot is not enough. Then again, there’s the complaint that it’s predictable. Well, then don’t watch it, if the journey isn’t worth the end result. Plot holes is another gripe– Well, perhaps during that simplistic story, they weren’t paying attention. The film explains as much as it can, within the visual narrative. And that’s enough…
The Sentinel is perhaps one of the most engrossing, nightmarish, surreal a horror film as any of the 1970s… with it’s origin based on the story of the Garden of Eden and the angel Uriel who was entrusted to guard the entrance from the Devil. Alison Parker (Christina Raines) has been chosen by providence and by lot for her past transgressions, her two suicide attempts–now to be groomed by the secret order of the Catholic church to redeem her damned soul, taking the place of the blind priest Father Halliran and become the new Sentinel, Sister Theresa to guard over the gates of Hell in– Brooklyn Heights.
Dante Alighieri wrote his allegorical epic poem between 1306 and 1321. Virgil is the guide who takes the reader through the author’s examination of the afterlife, which travels through the Inferno (Hell), the Purgatorio (Purgatory), and the Paradiso (Heaven).-source wikipedia
The Sentinel 1977 is another extraordinary occult film whose ambiance benefits from being shot on location in Brooklyn Heights and Manhattan. 10 Montague Terrace in Brooklyn Heights with the Promenade off Remsen Street. The building is still there…
As writer Jack Hunter describes in his chapter Flesh Inferno from Inside Teradome: The Illustrated History of Freak Film he talked about Federico Fellini’s Sartyicon 1969 and immediately The Sentinel floods into my mind- —“His vision of Petronius’ ancient Rome, Fellini willfully fills the screen with a succession of grotesqueries, images both beautiful and bestial, ghastly and gorgeous.”
Aesthetically, the scattered surrealism works, because it supports the religious mythology and dark fantasy of the oddball characters and the story. The moody camerawork by Richard C. Kratina and sense of realism within the disorienting story offered by set design Ed Stewart works to create a surreal atmosphere of anxiety and ambivalence. No one will believe that she isn’t just having another emotional crisis. The building reveals its dark origins, the entire film is decorated with dread and kitschy late-seventies embellishments filled with hallucinogenic moments of abject agony (a la Alejandro Jodorowsky and Federico Fellini Satyricon 1969, Juliet of the Spirits 1965) soul tormenting— ominous and sinister visions and flashbacks, profanity, debauchery, cannibilistic malevolent Milton’s Inferno and Dante’s Divine Comedy as archetype and the ‘fallen woman’ as fetish.
Dante’s Inferno is a weary journey emblazoned with fire and perdition… a landscape occupied by devil’s, lost souls and shades.
Divine Comedy opening verse—the plaque in the basement of the brownstone that Michael uncovers reads as follows
Now the hint that the brownstone is the gateway to Hell and she has been chosen as the next sentinel to guard over it, as a way of redemption for her past suicide attempt cutting her wrists in a graphically bloody scene while she’s wearing her Catholic girl short plaid skirt white blouse and penny loafers, Mary Janes or black and white saddle shoes. is chosen by a secretive and distant association of Catholic priests to be the next “sentinel” to the gateway to Hell, the idea of blinding these Sentinels is to prevent their eyes to fall upon evil horrors that might induce fear and influence them away from their guardianship. All sentinels had tried to kill themselves, now priests or nuns in the files. They didn’t exist until after their attempted suicides showing up as clergy. Raines’ father is a gnarled, bony old man and he is shown so scrawny as to be suffering from pernicious anemia and putrid bile, his cadaveric screeching mannerisms like a vicious desiccated old buzzard.
Both the operatives of good and the minions of evil, work to try and get her to either take up the mantle of guardian or try to kill herself and become another soul won over by the devil, thwarting the secretive group of the secret sect of the Vatican to protect the gates of Hell from re-opening, watching over her to keep her from being terrorized into another suicide attempt.
Writer Jeffrey Konvitz Produced and wrote the screenplay for the film Directed by Michael Winner (The Nightcomers 1971, The Mechanic 1972, Death Wish 1974) the film was scripted by Jeffrey Konvitz (Silent Night, Bloody Night 1972—-The Stone Killer (1973)) based on his 1974 novel which the film does an excellent job of paying tribute to. The story unfolds beautifully with twists and turns and an extremely creepy and campy bizarre ambience.
Composer Gil Melle created the resplendent orchestral vibe, majestic horn section,haunting woodwinds and resonant strings that cry out. Les Lazarowitz is credited as the sound recordist who creates a sonic landscape of terrifying wails, metallic splashes and waves of dark moody textures.
And Richard C. Kratina (camera work on Midnight Cowboy 1969) worked on the interesting camera angles and cinematography. Costumes and wardrobe by Peggy Farrell, Set Design –Ed Stewart. Film editors Bernard Gibble (The Man in the White Suit 1951) and Terence Rawlings (Our Mother’s House 1967, The Devils 1971, The Great Gatsby 1974, Alien 1979)
Someone on IMBd pointed out that Michael Winner’s audio commentary for the UK DVD spotlights the director regaling you with the tale of how Universal head honcho Ned Tanen rejected Martin Sheen and insisted on Chris Sarandon for the lead only to wonder who was “that awful Greek waiter.”
Director Michael Winner caught a lot of flack when it was realized that he had used actual disfigured people who were born with physical disabilities instead of special effects to represent the demons rising up from the bowels of hell. Something that Tod Browning experienced when he released his film Freaks in 1932. Or consider director Erle C. Kenton’s characters adapted from the H.G. Wells story of Island of Lost Souls (1932). Why Tod Browning’s film Freaks was banned for over 30 years, when in retrospect Browning portrayed his ‘freaks’ as sympathetic heroes that we not only saw as very human but empathized with, the accusation that the film was exploitative seems unwarranted.
Dick Smith did the make up which interspersed the real life ‘freaks’ with the make up costumed damned souls from hell. There’s a man who has testicles for a beard, I’d like to know if he was that way real life or created to as one of the denizens to shock. One of the sideshow ‘devils’ also appeared in the Thomas Tryon adapted film directed by Robert Mulligan —the incredibly atmospheric The Other (1972)
With special make up designed by legendary Dick Smith who also worked on The Exorcist 1973 and music by Gil Melle special effects by Albert Whitlock (The Birds 1963, Earthquake 1974, a few episodes of Star Trek, The Thing 1982, a few episodes of Star Trek) additional Make up by-Robert Laden —although people with real facial deformities were also utilized… -a whole crowd of real-life freaks and disabled extras as the denizens of hell. real-life freaks (some of whom are said to have also featured in Jack Cardiff’s THE MUTATIONS .
Without giving away a few secrets, I can say that the climax is riveting as the devils and damned start to pour out of Hell, unleashed by Chazen at their side.
As John Kenneth Muir aptly puts it, about the controversial use of real life people with actual deformities to plays Hellish monstrosities “it is no doubt the strongest in the film, “The idea of physical deformity (i.e.”evil”) is one of The Sentinel’s more powerful conceits.”
The Sentinel is one of the most definitive horror films of the 1970s decade. The cast of characters, and the story-line, the imagery and the intensity play out like a grim yet colorful nightmare, without shock value for the sake of just being graphically violent. I do have a bit of an uncomfortable time watching a certain scene with Beverly D’Angelo as Sandra who performs a sexual act on herself while Sylvia Miles goes to get the tea, in order to shock and upset Alison. I wish the scene had been more suggested and toned down, it still would have served its purpose. I understand that the idea was to be vulgar and offensive in order to express how profane these characters were to develop but it makes my skin crawl to watch it, as it’s only moments it seems to last forever until the look of ecstasy and climax washes over the beautiful actresses face. This is an extremely awkward moment for Alison and a very unusual welcome to the building to watch the couple fondle each other in their leotards and wild teased out coiffed hair.
Charles Chazen matter of fact tells Alison as he points with his own flamboyant style “This is where the lesbians live,” and exchanges like Alison asking Gerde “What do you do for a living?” She answers “We fondle each other.”
I suppose in 1977 even the allusion to the idea that lured and sexually explosive lesbians existed on screen was in itself a titillating and provocative notion, today the use of them as a ‘fetish taboo symbol” has lost its luster to shock and tantalize..
Christina Raines plays a young model with an afflicted soul –Alison Parker. Her boyfriend is portrayed by Chris Sarandon as the smarmy mustachioed sketchy Lawyer who was marvelous as Leon -Sonny (Al Pachino’s) lover who wants a sex change so bad, Sonny’s willing to rob a bank for the money–it’s a true story also set in NYC of course I’m talking director Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (1975). Sarandon apparently was not happy with the film post production.
Then there’s José Ferrer as a “Priest of the Brotherhood” Arthur Kennedy as Monseigneur Franchino , the magnificent Ava Gardner in a short cameo is sophisticated and outré Vogue as Realtor Miss Logan who I believe to be literally an ‘outside’ agent in the true sense of the word, working for the secret Catholic society trying to strategically ensure that Alison will be in place and ready to take over as the Sentinel because on the appointed date Father Halliran (John Carradine) who is now fading psychically too weak to uphold his task as Guardian over the Gates of Hell will need a successor. John Carradine looks decrepit and spooky with his fixed gaze and staring off white eyeballs, and although he has a distinctive voice we all love, he has no dialogue in the film which works.
Burgess Meredith -Ebullient, mischievous and intellectually charming, a little impish, a dash of irresolute cynicism wavering between lyrical sentimentalism. He’s got this way of reaching in and grabbing the thinking person’s heart by the head and spinning it around in dazzling circles with his marvelously characteristic voice. A mellifluous tone which was used often to narrate throughout his career. Meredith has a solicitous tone and whimsical, mirthful manner.
And his puckish demeanor hasn’t been missed considering he’s actually played Old Nick at least three times as I have counted. In The Sentinel 1977, The Twilight Zone episode Printers Devil and Torture Garden 1967. He also played a malevolent character along side Eileen Heckert as Arnold and Roz Allardyce in Dan Curtis’ equally creepy Burnt Offerings (1976).
While in Freddie Francis’ production he is the more carnivalesque Dr. Diabolo–a facsimile of the devil given the severely theatrical make-up, goatee and surrounding flames… he is far more menacing in Michael Winner’s 70s non humorous gem he’s splendid as the spiffy little eccentric cultivated Charles Chazen.
Veteran supportive actor Martin Balsam the scatterbrained scholar, Professor Ruzinsky, who translates the Latin passages into English for Michael Lerman, Beverly D’Angelo plays Gerde’s girlfriend Sandra a mute pixie, the guttural Sylvia Miles (Murder Inc 1960, Naked City 1961-1963, Midnight Cowboy 1969) plays Gerde the guttural pythoness who adds that bit of titillation everyone seems to like to point out, as they are vulgarian Lesbian ballerinas lazing in their leotards.
And of course the uncomfortable scene where Beverly D’Angelo delightedly pleasures herself in front of Alison while Gerde is getting the tea. When she comes back with the tray and finds Alison getting up to scram -Gerde replies like a Diva “It’s very rude to drink and run” I particularly loved this description of the classic actress- “featuring predatory Teutonic lesbian Sylvia Miles.” I just adore both actresses!
Fred Stuthman who has appeared on more television and theatrical features than you can imagine plays Alison’s horrible, skeletal, degenerate father and an even more repulsive looking damned soul, blueish toned, white eyeballed phantasmagorical corpse.
Eli Wallach plays the sarcastic cynical New York City homicide Detective Gatz who has believed in the guilt of Michael Lerman (Chris Sarandon) who has some secrets and sins in his life meaning he might have killed his first wife. Jerry Orbach plays a director of commercials Alison is working on. Jeff Goldblum plays Jack a fashion photographer.Tom Berenger, the wonderful William Hickey plays the a professional safe cracker Perry that Michael (knowing his share of shady characters and criminals as he’s a defense lawyer) hires to break into the church and grab the files on Father Halliran , and Christopher Walken as Rizzo, Detective Gatz’s partner, who utters this telling line “She went to a party with eight dead murderers” and Deborah Raffin plays Alison’s best friend Jennifer. Hank Garrett plays Brenner the private investigator Michael hires to dig into the back story about Father Halliran and the involvement with the Catholic church.
Kate Harrington plays Mrs. Clark who was at Jezabel’s birthday party and appears in the mug shot that Gatz and Rizzo look at. She murdered her boyfriend violently. Then there’s the Clotkin sisters, Lillian and Emma played by Jane Hoffman and Elaine Shore murderous cannibals and hedonists. All the neighbors become menacing, and nothing is as it appears on the surface. The decorated apartments, wind up being revealed as vacant shells in disrepair.
Christina Raines (The Duelist 1977, Nashville 1975) plays an afflicted soul–Alison Parker a high fashion model in New York City who also does shampoo commercials, who lives with but can’t make a commitment to her boyfriend lawyer Michael Lerman (Chris Sarandon) She craves her independents and holds Michael’s proposal’s of marriage at bay. Soon after an argument with Michael about moving out on her own Alison gets word that her father has passed away at her family home in Baltimore, which triggers memories of her childhood trauma, leading to her first suicide attempt. After the funeral she returns to the city and finds an advertisement for a lovely Brownstone in Brooklyn Heights.
So goes to meet with the chic Realtor Miss Logan (the voluptuous Ava Gardner) unaware that she is being followed by a priest. She finds that the apartment is unbelievably reasonable for a New York rental which is owned by the Catholic church —She agrees to take the place from Miss Logan who obviously wants Alison to move in, dropping it’s price from $500 to $400 as if Alison heard it wrong the first time she complained that it was out of her price range — “I can’t afford $500.” Alison says, with which Miss Logan misses no time in saying ”$400 is not excessive.”
… The beautiful layout is in Brooklyn Heights right across the water from Manhattan, decorated with gorgeous Gothic furniture, high ceilings and ivy growing up the sides of the building and a blind priest Father Francis Matthew Halliran (John Carradine), who just sits and appears to be looking out the window on the top floor. Although the Brownstone was a steal, and furnished as well, somehow it managed to be lensed by Dick Kratina with a sense of eerie and dangerous foreboding.
Alison’s response to learning that occupant of the top floor is Father Halliran a blind priest “Blind? Then what does he look at?”
Once she moves in, she starts to meet very odd and mysterious tenants who begin to give her the pip and the whim whams. First she meets the droll little character in 4B Charles Chazen…
Alison’s sense of independence starts to deteriorate after a series of disturbing events. Charles Chazen (Burgess Meredith — or the little dapper ‘devil’) is played to the hilt by wonderful character actor Burgess Meredith who runs rampant with his nifty asides and axioms, who has a sovereign reign over his legion of “devils.”
The door bell rings. The animated little puck like old man, which a yellow parakeet on his shoulder and tuxedo cat in his arms flashes his delightful smile at Alison…
“Chazen is the name Charles Chazen. I’m your neighbor in 4B and this is Mortimer. Um he’s from Brazil. And this on the other hand so to speak… this is Jezebel. Say hello to that nice lady Jezebel. (Meowww) That’s it darling. She’s got indigestion.” Alison introduces herself, “Well hi I’m Alison.” Charles Chazen-“Really, may we uh, (he enters her apartment) oh! what a lovely apartment. Absolutely lovely.” Alison-“I was wondering when I was going to meet my new neighbors.” Charles Chazin-“My, you’re so pretty. Haven’t I seen you before, on television? Now don’t tell me I know you’re in a ” Alison answers – “I’ve done some tv commercials.” Charles Chazen responds unenthusiastic– “Oh… really, I thought you were an actress…[…] Oh my dear your taste is impeccable. I wish you’d help me redecorate my poor place someday would you, hum?…Were you waiting to go out?” Alison- “I’m waiting for a friend.” Charles Chazen-“Ahh well, friendships often blossom into bliss as they say, and speaking of bliss Mortimer loves his belly rubbed would you..” Alison-“Do you know any of our neighbors” Charles Chazen-“Yes I know all of our neighbors and they’re very nice, except that priest who lives above me, he’s a… (waving his hands dismissively) well however he’s quiet most of the time.”
Charles Chazen leaves a picture in a gold frame on her fireplace mantle, leaving with her some mirthful advice, “remember you eat and drink in moderation my dear.”
Alison also meets the lesbians Gerde and Sandra…
As soon as she moves into the building her sleep is disturbed by loud footsteps and clanging sounds that make the chandelier swing back and forth. Alison meets the Realtor to find out more about the neighbors in her building, in particular the person occupying the floor above her, as their heavy footsteps and loud banging kept her up all night.
Alison goes to inquire about the tenants and the person who occupies the apartment above her telling Miss Logan about the noises that kept her up all night. Logan is shocked to hear about this as the only tenants in the building are supposed to be Alison and the blind priest, the only tenants who have inhabited the building for years. Alison is disturbed by this news and returns home to find that Mr.Chazen’s apartment is truly vacant and the dust tells the story that it’s been sorely neglected by time.
“My dear Miss Parker aside from the priest and now of course you, nobody has lived in that building for three years.”
Miss Logan and Alison take a cab back after having the conversation in the cafe about being kept up all night by someone making so much of a ruckus on the floor above her. Monsignor Franchino stands behind the blind priest his hand grasping a cobweb covered statue baring an insignia ring belonging to their secret sect, he tells Father Hilliran “I am here holy father I have come so that you may shed your burden in peace.” and Alison takes Miss Logan through the apartment building, showing her vacant furnished rooms that looked cob webbed and dust covered as if it has been neglected for years. Alison informs Miss Logan –“This is where the lesbians live.”- Miss Logan hands Alison the keys dropping them into her hands with a gesture of skepticism before she opens the door.- Miss Logan handing Alison the keys- “Be my guest.”
the continual shot of the stairs leading upward seem symbolic of spiritual ascension and the death journey of the soul as in the story of Jacobs Ladder.
As Alison and Miss Logan begin to walk around the room she tells her that the furniture was different in there before. “Oh come now Miss Parker these pieces have not been touched in years.” Miss insists that she has to get back to the office, but Alison takes her to 4B where Charles Chazin lives, staring out the window she sings to herself, “Happy Birthday dear Jezebel… believe it or not, I attended a birthday party here last night… for a cat.” Miss Logan smiles with a superior air “Sorry I missed it.”
Then Alison urges Miss Logan to let her into Father Halliran’s apartment as she wants to see the old priest, but she tells Alison that it would be highly improper. The priest is taken care of by The Diocesen Council of New York sees to his needs. Monsignor Franchino breathing a sigh of relief that Miss Logan hasn’t let Alison into the priests apartment.
We then see Alison on a commercial shoot where she has her first fainting spell, begins to suffer from severe migraines, begins looking pale as death.
Charles Chazen throws as sort of a welcoming party for Alison and introduces her to the rest of the odd tenants in the odd old building.
He invites Alison to the birthday party he is throwing for his black and white cat Jezebel, before he takes her inside to meet the guests, he blindfolds her with a red scarf. Jezebel is a perfectly delicious name for a devil’s cat. “Black and White cat… black and white cake…” -quoted by the murderess Mrs. Clark -Jezebel the tuxedo cat wears a pointed birthday hat with streamers at the top, very slick element to the quirkiness of the ghostly damned tenants.
Later on that night Alison hears more clamorous noises from the floor above her apartment which is supposed to be vacant. Alison starts to experience weird happenings in the apartment as well as her health starts to deteriorate as she begins getting striking headaches, looking paler, anemic and practically deathly.
Michael is becoming concerned for Alison’s safety and hires a private investigator James Brenner (Hank Garrett) to keep an eye on her.
We experience her past by way of flashback. Alison has a history of emotional distress, two suicide attempts, once as a teenager, after she saw her father’s sexual antics— a bacchanalian orgy— explicit menage a trios scene with assumed ladies of ill repute and then some time after Michael’s wife apparently committed suicide though detective Gatz (Eli Wallach) has been daunting him since it happened, believing Michael had something to do with her untimely death and it might turn out to be murder!
Alison’s strained relationship with her creepy philandering father who used to bring prostitutes home to the house and gallivant around the house with them, when Alison comes home from catholic school and finds them cavorting with cake and wine… In a protest to her religious schooling Alison’s father rips her silver crucifix from her neck and tosses it on the floor. She quickly runs to the bathroom and slices her wrists.
Since her past childhood trauma, her connection with religion and failed suicide attempts, she leaves her faith and the Catholic church behind.
Alison chases phantoms all through the building like Alice in Wonderland. It is more than mildly creepy as written, it is all out frightening as hell, and still is…
That night begins the first of horrifying visions that assault Alison’s world. Visions of her decrepit father who lurks and lunges in the shadows. Armed with a butcher knife and a flashlight she decides to go investigate the vacant apartment above her. When she sees him!
She is suddenly smack in the middle of a nightmarish sequence as she encounters the specter of her father, a ghoulish corpse, lensed with quick cuts to project an eerie type of movement by the phantom who spurts from behind the bedroom door of the apartment upstairs first hidden in shadow then walking quickly without an awareness of her presence at first, then he appears to come after her prompting her to slash at him with her knife, the blood sputtering out of the bluish corpse.
Slashing at her father’s ghost, she runs screaming out into the night blood splashed across her white slip, as people gather around her. Detective Gatz questions Michael the next day. Michael puffs on his Italian cigarette, “This isn’t police business” Detective Gatz “A girl running through the street at 4am saying she’s knifed her father, blood on her, that’s police business.” he shrugs staring out the window. He gives Michael Lerman a dig, making a comment an inappropriate hand gesture about his wife’s supposes suicide plunging off the Brooklyn Bridge. “The mistress of the bereaved husband took an overdose… but lived.”
Alison is resting at the hospital unable to respond for quite as she’s been drugged to keep her calm. Back at the police station Det. Gatz is discussing the case with Rizzo “She’s in the hospital blurbing about neighbors that don’t exist… except one, a priest, and he wouldn’t know if the building burnt down.”
Yet another theme has been developing that of paranoia and the protagonist experiencing alienation and disbelief by everyone surrounding her.
An un-credited Joe Hamer plays the detective who recognizes Anna Clark’s name. “It’s funny I know that name from somewhere.” Gatz tells him it’s one of the invisible neighbors. Cut to a book with crime history filled with murderers and a photograph headlining the infamous Anna Clark. Michael shows Alison the photo and ask if she’s seen that face before. “That’s Anna Clark she was at Charles Chazen’s birthday party.” Michael reads, “Mrs. Anna Clark convicted murderess, sent to the electric chair at Sing Sing March 27, 1949 for the murder of her lover and his wife.” Jennifer takes the book from Michael and continues reading “when he refused to leave his wife, she chopped them up in bed with an axe… charming.”
The quality in terms of how powerful The Sentinel holds up to a big production like The Omen or the vastly mimicked but never successfully redone William Peter Blatty /Director William Friedkin’s striking masterwork that is The Exorcist, The Sentinel is a self contained little jewel that must be seen through a very warped kaleidoscope of horrors. It’s tropes of good vs evil, secret religions sects, and the devil in the city exists for sure, but it’s bursts of horrors from the Id and unsavory characters create a world inhabited by a different set of innocents, angels and demons.
Perhaps the most startling vision in the film aside from the climactic ending which as said I won’t reveal here, is the moment her cadaveric father lurks behind her bedroom door hidden at first by shadow, in an almost paused moment in time, as if appearing from another realm, his movements otherworldly and alien, as she recognizes this ghoulish apparition as her recently deceased bastard of a father. I know it still rattles me to this day. It’s a gruesome scene as she stabs at his face, glazed over whitened fish like eyeballs and deathly comatose stare she thrusts away slashing at him with a large butcher knife.
The night she sees the ghost of her father she also has a lucid vision of killing her recently deceased father by slicing into his face, cutting an eyeball (the surrealist short Un Chien Andalou 1929) and cutting his ghoulish blue nose off!
They find Brenner’s body dumped in a land fill, with the exact wounds described by Alison claiming she inflicted on her father. They also find Alison’s file and Michael’s name in Brenner’s office, connecting them to his murder.
She goes to Church and seeks out counsel from the priest who has been secretly trailing her the entire time. Monsignor Franchino (Arthur Kennedy) tells her that it’s time to ‘embrace Christ’ and that the lord has a purpose for her.
Alison goes to church and lights a candle and prays. Monsignor Franchino who has been secretly trailing her comes to her side, he tells her that it’s time to ’embrace Christ’, “You came to be heard.”
What winds up being revealed is that Alison really killed Brenner and not the apparition of her father, it was the private Brenner hired by Michael. Detective Gatz and Rizzo. (Wallach and Walken) make connections between Michael Lerman, his hysterical girlfriend and now two murders, seem to link them all together some how. During her waking nightmare, running out into the dark streets collapsing in her scant white nighty drenched in her own blood, holding the knife, she is now suspected of murder along with her boyfriend the sleazy attorney Michael Lerman.
Drawing attention to herself by screaming out in the streets all blood soaked leads police detective Gatz (Eli Wallach) and partner Rizzo (Christopher Walken) to investigate both Michael and Alison with certainty that it all somehow leads back to Michael Lerman’s first wife who supposedly killed herself. Detective Gatz has an eternal hate on for this hot-shot lawyer who once showed him up in court regarding the whole wife’s suicide. That case is really a motivating factor is Detective Gatz’s dogged approach to finding out whose blood was really on Christina and if Michael Lerman has anything to do with it. Alison is taken to the hospital that night.
While the police do some investigating from the descriptions and names of the party guests Alison gives them. The cops uncover that one of her ‘imagined’ party guests and supposed neighbor is Anna Clark , a murderess who went to the electric chair for chopping up her boyfriend and his wife with an axe.
Michael starts to believe that Alison is experiencing some kind of uncanny paranormal phenomena, when she returns home he begins to quiz her randomly pulling out books from the shelf of the vacant apartment 4B… As he shows her pages, she begins to fluently read Latin phrases though it appears to her as being written in English. Of course Michael is suspicious of Father Halliran mysterious blind priest on the top floor. When he tries to question him, there is no answer and the door is locked.
Back at the brownstone she shows Michael the vacant apartment, pulling select books off the bookcase, “The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendahl, Techniques of Torture by Illard.. you’ll like this one for variety, all the pages are the same.” Michael, “Alison there’s nothing strange about this book.” “What do you mean?” “All the pages are different.” “All the pages are the same… all of them!” “Alison either one of us is lying or one of us is seeing something that isn’t there now, tell me what do you see in this book” She slams the book closed… and insists “Latin, I see nothing but Latin, everything in there is Latin” Michael takes a pen out of his pocket and tells Alison to write down exactly what she sees. Michael points with his finger, words like “Though the Church and superstitious” Alison begins to write down what she sees-“TIBI SORTU…” etc. “Jesus Alison you really are seeing Latin.”
They try to get inside Father Halliran’s apartment, but the lock has been changed.
Michael then takes the translation to the dotty absent minded Professor Ruzinsky (Martin Balsam) “You know when you phoned I thought you had a serious problem something challenging. A few word more and I’ll have it Eldridge” Michael corrects him, “It’s Lerman, Michael Lerman” Ruzinsky agrees, “Yes, Eldridge Lerman… there we are, well, -‘to thee thy course by lot is given charge and strict watch that to this happy place no evil thing approach or enter it.’-“
“It’s been a long time Mr. Lawyer you take a high chance.”
“William O’Roarke Father Halliran William O’Roarke disappeared July 12, 1952 after attempted suicide. “ Perry-(Hickey) says “They’re the same man. William O’Roarke became a priest named Halliran.” “Yes but why?” Perry shrugs-“I just open doors” Michael digs through each file expounding- “Before Halliran there was Father David Spinetti,who started life as Andrew Carter declared missing, Carter reappeared as Spinetti and died the day that Halliran started life as a priest. Before him Mary Thorne becomes Sister Mary Angelica. All of these people going back for years lived ordinary lives and then became priests or nuns. All of them sometime or another… attempted suicide…. […] if these files are right Father Matthew Halliran dies the same day that Alison Parker disappears and becomes Sister Theresa.” (insert sweeping Gil Melle style strings…)
So he hires offbeat character actor William Hickey as Perry the safe cracker and ace lock picker to break into the Diocese and lift the files on the quiet Father Halliran. Before becoming a priest, he too had tried to commit suicide, just like Alison. Michael also finds a file on Alison Parker who is next in line to become Sister Theresa who is due to take over– tomorrow!
This as writer John Kenneth Muir brings out how it begs the question about redemption, does Alison have free will? Was she chosen by God to be a servant or did her fall from grace, her suicide attempt cause her to owe her life to Christ?
Detective Gatz –“Rebecca and Malcolm Stinnet, Sandra (Narcotics Addict) Gerde Ingstrom, Emma and Lillian Clotkin, Anna Clark, all people the Parker girl said she met.” Rizzo-“All killers all dead. She went to a party with 8 dead murderers.” Gatz heartily replies- “Doesn’t everybody?”
Michael goes on to investigate further, rummaging around the old brownstone he finds a boarded up plague in the basement that tells the opening saga of Dantes Divine Comedy revealing that the building has been built over the portal to Hell and the lost souls who wander there. Michael finally goes up the stairs to confront Father Halliran strangling him to death then he himself is struck down by an unseen figure in the shadows who cracks him over the head with a religious statue.
When Alison returns home, she finds Michael there, who proceeds to explain that she has been daunted by ‘devils’ and that she is to be the next Sentinel.
The ending is a grotesque morality pageant that might terrify or even offend certain people, but if you’re willing to investigate a rare 70s horror story with a dark atmosphere and a visual journey into darker realms… dare enter!
John Kenneth Muir Horror Films of the 1970s
“Seventies films such as Frenzy (1972), The Last House on the Left (1972) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1973), The Hills Have Eyes (1977) were also more explicit, and far more intense, than previous horror productions had been. This was a result of the “new freedom” in cinema to freely depict graphic violence and bloodletting and a shift to the paradigm of existential ‘realism’ over the romantic ‘supernatural.’” continuing Muir writes “Seizing on this spiritual doubt and vulnerability was another blockbuster movie trend of the 1970s, the religious horror film. The Exorcist (1973), Beyond the Door (1975), The Omen (1976), and The Sentinel (1977) and many more that found stark terror in the concept of that the Devil was real, and that mankind’s eternal would was in jeopardy from demonic possession and the Antichrist, among other iconic boogeyman”
A term used called it ‘savage cinema’ and was unique to the 70s although not much anymore since the rising of the ‘torture porn’ movement.
The climax has very disturbing imagery, not unlike a parade of oddities and gruesome atrocities you’d see in a Jodorworsky (El Topo 1970, Santa Sangre 1989 or nightmarishly gory visions of hell from Lucio Fulci.
Once again from Muir’s book he at least insightfully makes the connection between The Exorcist 1973 and The Omen 1976 by endowing the type of good vs evil films coming out of the 70s as they “set forth a conspiracy in the Church, a kind of possession by evil, the corruption of the innocent,and other common elements of 1970s Hollywood supernatural flicks. The Sentinel is not as powerful a film as either The Omen or The Exorcist, but it does feature some startling moments and is a solid horror film despite an overload of clichés. The film’s greatest power comes in its jolting, surprising revelations.”
|American actress and singer Virginia Bruce, 1932|
|Ann Rutherford serves up made to order Halloween pumpkins, ca. 1940s|
|Anne Gwynne, 1941|
|Anne Nagel, ca. 1940s|
|Audrey Young as a black cat for Halloween, 1946|
|Ava Gardner dressed as a witch, 1944|
|Barbara Bates and Penny Edwards, 1950|
|Barbara Bates, 1945|
|Barbara Britton, Ella Neal, Eva Gabor, and Katherine Booth, 1941|
|Bessie Love, ca. 1920s|
|Clara Bow, 1929|
|Classic Hollywood actress Colleen Moore, ca. 1920s|
|Classic Hollywood actress Myrna Loy, ca. 1930s|
|Debbie Reynolds Halloween pinup, 1950|
|Dorothy Dare in 1928 Halloween|
|Dorothy Dix in Halloween costumes, ca. 1930s|
|Dusty Anderson as a black cat, 1945|
|Helen Bennett in spider dress, 1939|
|Ida Lupino in the 1930s Halloween|
|Joan Blondell in a cat costume, ca. 1930s|
|Joan Crawford as a funny clown, ca. 1920s|
|June Preisser carving pumpkins for Halloween, ca. 1940s|
|Lillian Wells, ca. 1940s|
|Linda Darnell, ca. 1940s.|
|Lynn Barri, ca. 1940s|
|Maila Nurmi as a vampire, 1954|
|Margaret Hamilton as the Wizard of Oz in the 1930s Halloween|
|Marjorie Reynolds, Frances Brix and Mitzi Uehlein, 1940|
|Myrna Dell, ca. 1940s|
|Olga San Juan, ca. 1940s|
|Paulette Goddard, 1939|
|Phyllis Kirk, ca. 1950s|
|Shirley Temple in Halloween, 1935|
|Silent film start Mary Pickford, ca. 1910s|
In celebration of our upcoming Anti Damsel Blogathon on August 15 & 16, I had this idea to provide a list of bold, brilliant and beautiful women!
From the heyday of Silent film and the advent of talking pictures, to the late ‘20s to 1934 Pre-Code Hollywood, films were rife with provocative and suggestive images, where women were kicking up a storm on screen… The end of the code during the early 60s dared to offer social commentary about race, class, gender and sexuality! That’s our party!
In particular, these bold women and the screen roles they adopted have become legendary. They sparked catchy dialogue, inspired fashion trends, or just plain inspired us… All together there are 111 of SOME of the most determined, empowered and uniquely fortified femmes of classic film…!
First of course I consulted the maven of all things splendid, shimmery and SILENT for her take on silent film actresses and the parts that made them come alive on the immortal screen…. Fritzi at Movies Silently has summoned up these fabulous femmes….
Stars like Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck , Joan Crawford and Ida Lupino managed to keep re-inventing themselves. They became spirited women with an inner reserve of strength and a passion for following their desires!
(source edited)- by Jürgen Müller‘s for TASCHEN’s Movies of the 60s- “Like no other decade before or since, the 60s embodied the struggle against a jaded, reactionary establishment. As the Vietnam War dragged on, the protests grew in scale and intensity. Revolution ran riot, in the streets and on the silver screen. The movies of the epoch tell tales of rebellion and sexual liberation, and above all they show how women began to emancipate from their traditional roles as housewives or sex bombs…”
Drew Casper writes, “Some films still styled along classic lines while others simultaneously embodied both the old and new approaches… Stirred the placid waters of the classical with grittier degrees of realism with their accompanying darker sensibilities.” –Postwar Hollywood 1946-1962
Women like Jane Fonda, Anna Magnani, Simone Signoret, Audrey Hepburn, Ann Bancroft, Piper Laurie, Angie Dickinson,Bette Davis, Joanne Woodward, Patricia Neal and so many more became iconic for breaking the old mold and grabbing a new kind of individualism without judgement and new kind of self expression.
Barry Keith Grant writes in American Cinema of the 1960s-“The decade was one of profound change and challenge for Hollywood, as it sought to adapt to both technological innovation and evolving cultural taste.”
In the 1960s we began to see more films like The Group 1966, Valley of the Dolls 1967, Bunny Lake is Missing 1965, Who Killed Teddy Bear 1965, Mr.Buddwing 1966, Walk on the Wild Side 1962, A Patch of Blue 1965, The Explosive Generation 1961, The Young Savages 1961, Look in Any Window 1961, Pressure Point 1962, Claudelle Inglish 1961, One Potato Two Potato 1964, Lilith 1964, Butterfield 8,(1960), Cul de Sac 1966, The Pumpkin Eater 1964, Sanctuary 1961, Belle du Jour 1967, Lolita 1962, The Children’s Hour 1961, Breakfast at Tiffany’s 1961, Rachel Rachel 1968, Up the Junction 1968, Darling 1965, To Kill a Mockingbird 1962, A Rage to Live 1965, Kitten With a Whip 1964, The Naked Kiss 1964, The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone 1961, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? 1962 , Juliet of the Spirits 1965, Psyche 59 (1964) ,Lady in a Cage 1964. & Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte 1964
And of course the films I’m covering here. These films began to recognize an audience that had a taste for less melodrama and more realistic themes, not to mention the adult-centric narratives with a veracious Mise-en-scène…
PS: I would have included Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby but that is my favorite film and plan on doing a special post in honor of this brilliant timeless masterpiece… and Mia’s quintessential performance.
Elmer Gantry is always chasing dreams and always telling dirty stories is the smooth talking traveling salesman, brought to life by Burt Lancaster who portrays his character with a bit more sensuality than Sinclair Lewis‘ cold predatory con man. Gantry is a hard drinking provocateur and a lady’s man. Raised by a father who quoted verse, he has a swift grasp of the Bible and uses it to insinuated himself into Sister Sharon’s hell fire traveling road show. Though he is a skeptic, he sees a great light in Sister Sharon and the potential to fill the coffers with riches!
The sublimely beautiful Jean Simmons is as ethereally angelic as she is a pure sensuality. Sister Sharon Falconer is a young revivalist in the style of Aimee Semple McPherson. Sharon is at first righteous and unwavering in her convictions, she begins to awaken unto the spell of the charming and bigger than life Elmer Gantry. Elmer starts out poetically ruthless as he insinuates himself into Sharon’s life, until she loses her firm grip on her faithful mission and their attraction blossoms into a physical one.
One night he craftily sweet talks Sharon’s virginity away from her, though she is a very willing participant ready to be freed from the confines of her stifling religious prison.
Sharon struggles with her identity as a pious figure and a sexually aroused woman. Simmons is an actress of fine distinction who can work with that duality bringing to the screen a role with great complexity. She is also stuck in between the conflict that ensues between Elmer and her manager Bill Morgan (Dean Jagger) who doesn’t like nor trust Gantry’s influence over Sharon.
Sister Sharon created herself from nothing and is now pragmatic and independent with a vision to capture the world, by building a temple for the people so she can share the good word of God. No more traveling as a revival side show attraction. She is brave, dedicated and faithful to the end. And I won’t spoil the ending– at least I will say that she is a true believer and a real woman filled with passion on both sides of the coin. She allows herself to be seduced by Gantry, yet still is fiercely dedicated to building her own tabernacle so she may offer comfort and inspiration to those in need.
Shirley Jones is fabulous as Lulu Banes who was first seduced by Gantry while she was the Deacon’s daughter now…. a call girl from Elmer’s tawdry past, who tries to rake up a little gossip and cash as payback for Mr. Gantry ditching her. Okay, there’s some blackmail involved when she sees the opportunity because there’s sour grapes as Gantry left Lulu in the lurch, with a broken heart. But in the end, Lulu’s got integrity. She’s plucky, and has some of the best lines in the film and hey she’s not only a call girl… she a nice girl…
She’s so lovable that Shirley Jones won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress that year!
It’s interesting to hear that it took actor Author Kennedy to get Simmons potted on milk and gin before she felt comfortable enough to do the scene where the revival tent catches fire and flaming debris is falling around her head.
Both Jean Simmons and Shirley Jones caught the spirit in this film!
Elmer Gantry wound up being a very controversial film when it was released directed by Richard Brooks, adapted from the book by Sinclair Lewis with lush and pulpy cinematography by John Alton and a stirring score by the great André Previn. And terrific costume designed by the brilliant Dorothy Jeakins (The Sound of Music 1965, The Way We Were 1974).
Directed by Sidney Lumet, The Fugitive Kind is based on the play Orpheus Descending by Tennessee Williams who also penned the screenplay. At this point there’s shouldn’t be any doubt about my passion for Mr. Williams or Anna Magnani.
Anna Magnani is a primal force of sensuality winning an Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Serafina Delle Rose in the marvelous, The Rose Tattoo 1955. (“A clown with my husband’s body!”)
The Fugitive Kind has a gritty, allure not only due to the level of acting by Magnani and Brando or the evocative material it’s partly due to Boris Kaufman’s (12 Angry Men 1957, On the Waterfront 1954) edgy cinematography.
Anna Mangani delivers another impassioned performance as Lady an equally potent role as a shop owner in Louisiana who is chained to a brutal marriage by her vindictive and dying husband Jabe (Victor Jory) when along comes Marlon Brando as Valentine “Snakeskin’ Xavier a guitar playing roamer who takes a job in the shop until Lady’s jaded loneliness and Valentine’s raw animal magnetism combust..
Brando plays the solitary Val, a drifter who’s presence is as commanding as a lion stalking. Val comes into the small town where Lady Torrance runs the shop, her husband Jabe is mostly bed ridden, dying of cancer, but also eaten up with jealousy and hatred toward his wife, foreigners and outliers. He’s vicious and controlling and Lady lives out her days caring for this angry and miserable man, until Val comes into her life, changing Lady’s stoicism awakening her heart releasing her desires.
Magnani gives a powerful performance of a woman starved from sexual pleasure, mentally abused by her husband and bemoaning the days when the wine flowed like a river at her father’s vineyard that was suspiciously burned to the ground.
Magnani manifests an authenticity that comes from a battered past and present, yet she exudes an enduring sense of love and passion. Lady dreams of fixing up the outside part of the store as a confectionery festooned with white lights and delicate atmosphere and Val can sing and play his guitar.
At first interviewing for a job is an awkward exchange. Once Lady and Val have a very intense and thoughtful conversation, she decides that she likes this strange talking boy and hires him to work in the store. The tension is visible even in the darkly lit scene and through the diffuse patch of light you can see their chemistry brewing.
Lady is taken with this strange talking boy who begins to tell her about people. “there’s two kinds of people in this world, the buyers and the people who get bought.” Then he tells her about a type of bird that has no legs so it can never land. It’s a meditative moment, and Brando is magnificent.
“…cause they don’t see ’em, they don’t see em way up in that high blue sky near the sun they spread their wings out and go to sleep on the wind and they only alight on this world just one time, it’s when they die.”
Val is pursued by Carol Cutere, (Joanne Woodward) the quirky local tramp from a wealthy family, who worships his snakeskin jacket as well as his incredible ‘hot’ body. But, Val finds himself drawn to the evocative and more complex Lady. They begin an affair, fall in love and Lady gets pregnant. Will they be like the bird that can never land, only sleep on the wind and the day they land is the day they die…
Directed by Alexander Singer with a slick burlesque/modern jazz score by Gerald Fried.
Lola Albright stirs the libido as a very classy ex-stripper Iris Hartford a very intoxicating woman who seduces a naive and inexperienced working-class boy, Vito Pellegrino (Scott Marlowe) who falls deeply in love with her. Soon Vito begins to feel the disparate reality of their relationship. Once his reality is shattered, discovering that she is a stripper, Vito ends the affair with Iris, seeking out a neighborhood girl who is of his own age.
Lola Albright has a very sophisticated way of coming across on screen with a reserved yet palpable dignity. But Iris generates an undercurrent of provocative and alluring intelligence. Marlowe has always been great as a either a clever playboy or whiny young man, who isn’t quite getting what he wants.
A Cold Day in August examines an authentic journey for a young boy who experiences his first sexual awakening with an older woman. And their socially unorthodox relationship not only serves the film’s exploitative narrative it comes across quite genuine because of Albright’s very real sexual magnetism and the attraction by an impressionable boy.
Of course the film works on the level of titillation & taboo because Iris is not only older than Vito, she is ALL woman and then some for any man. She would be considered a tramp because she used to take her clothes off for a living. Her ex-husband comes back into the picture and pleads with her to fill in for a week in NYC, but that life was far gone by now.
When Iris first seduces Vito she feeds him a dish of ice cream after he fixes her air conditioner. It’s as if she’s rewarding a little boy for doing a good job. In the midst of these queer moments where she desires him yet infantilizes him, they do carry on a sexual relationship. Iris is a free sexual being who makes no apologies for who she is. It doesn’t take too long before Vito realizes that he’s way out of his league, but Iris does initiate him into the world of sex.
I have come to adore Lola Albright this year. In A Cold Wind in August she manifests a kind of existential sensuality as she can offer a nurturing kiss and then go on to take what she needs. She yearns for pleasure which is literally illustrated by her stripper costume of a sort of Queen of Outer Space gold lamé number complete with eye mask, it’s alluring and vulturous at the same time.
Robert Rossen (The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers 1946, All the Kings Men 1949, Billy Budd 1962 & Lilith 1964) wrote of all his films, they “Share one characteristic: The hunt for success. Ambition is an essential quality in American society.”
The Hustler is the story of Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) who has a penchant for self punishment and self destructiveness and in his cockiness likes to take on high stakes pool games. He has a dream of bumping Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) off the pedestal of fame. Eddie and Fats meet up and by the end of a very long marathon, Eddie is wiped out and whipped, which doesn’t help his enormous ego.
Eddie meets Sarah (Piper Laurie), a highly educated modern woman. She’s an independent loner, a bit morose, a bit jaded, but somehow she allows Eddie to work his charms on her until she is hooked. Still no matter what happens in the end, Sarah Packard speaks her mind and lives life on her own terms…
Sarah has a physical disability as she walks with a limp, and is referred to as a cripple.
Finally, as the film progresses, whether Sarah feels that she is perverted and twisted because she sleeps with the repugnant opportunist Bert Gordon (George C. Scott) or drinks too much, or has the need to be loved because of her physical disability, Sarah Packard is such a real character that it breaks your heart.
Tensions arise when manager Bert Gordon signs on to promote Eddie. He’s a shady predator who tries to drive a wedge between Eddie and Sarah, and takes advantage of her one night while Eddie’s away.
Sarah reads poetry and uses alcohol as a way to balm her loneliness, but there’s a strength in her honesty that is very endearing. Talk about guts, Piper Laurie wanted to get a feel of authenticity for her character and so she hung out at the Greyhound Bus Terminal at night.
IMDb fact: Piper Laurie didn’t make another film for the next 15 years, devoting the time to her marriage and raising her only daughter. She returned to the screen in 1976 in ‘Brian de Palma”s Carrie (1976), earning her second Oscar nomination.
And we all know how bold that performance was…. memorable & cringe-worthy!
At the party that Bert invites Sarah to come to, he whispers something in her ear that makes her toss her drink and run away in tears. The actress talked about this scene in her autobiography. She had met up with George C Scott many years later and “I finally asked him what he had whispered into my ear in the big party scene in The Hustler that elicits a violent response from me. We shot it perhaps three or four times and I could never figure out what he was saying… He told me he chose to use just gibberish, knowing he could never invent words or phrases as powerful as what my imagination could summon up. Probably true.”
That was a very cool approach to the scene which came off beautifully!
The Misfits was initially written as a short story by Arthur Miller who was actually waiting for his divorce in Reno to go through before he could marry Marilyn Monroe. Based on a short story in Esquire Magazine, he specifically wrote it for his then wife Marilyn Monroe.
A beautiful divorcée Roslyn Tabor (Marilyn Monroe) who has been put through hell, takes up with a faded cowboy Gay Langland who is still strutting like a lady’s man in early-sixties Nevada. He’s a rugged individualist who wants nothing to do with earning wages. At first she meets up with Isabelle Steers played by the inimitable Thelma Ritter who can throw out a one liner like no one else, anything out of her mouth is gold.
Roslyn is in Reno to divorce her husband Ray. She meets up with Guido (Eli Wallach) who is building his ‘unfinished’ dream house for a wife who died during child birth years ago, yet he still holds a candle to her memory and suffers from WWII bombing raids He sets his sights on Roslyn but his friend Gay Langland (Clark Gable) a crusty old cowboy moves in first and the two start a tenuous relationship. Roslyn is kind and loves all animals, and still thinks kindness is always just around the corner.
Montgomery Clift plays an ambiguously sexual bachelor who drinks to try and take the pain away. All four are non-conformists who begin to form a type of family. Roslyn is thoughtful and sensitive and Gay is a typical male on the prowl. Along for the ride is Perce Howland (Montgomery Clift) who is the most trusting and kind. He is not committed to trapping the horses for pet food, and wishes to stop it too. The horses that roam free are symbolic of the beautiful spirit that Roslyn possesses. A bit sad but tender and kind. Roslyn tags along on a trip up in the mountains with Gable, Eli Wallach and Monty Clift much to Roslyn’s horror that they are capturing horses in order to sell them for dog food.
Marilyn Monroe later said that she had hated both the film and her own performance. I feel like she is selling herself short. She managed to navigate around the incredible testosterone on screen and off. Perhaps it was her innate sadness that shone through, but she brought a tremendous sensitivity that was an inner sort of beautiful… The Misfits is probably one of my favorite performances by Monroe, it seems like a close look into her sad yet dreamy soul.
Written by Lorraine Hansberry for the stage then adapted to film and directed by Daniel Petrie
Sometimes there are films and stories that I just immediately have to say “It’s some powerful good.” Maybe it comes from watching a lot of The Andy Griffith Show that has rubbed off on my conversational style. But regardless, A Raisin in the Sun is some powerful good! That’s what happens when an ensemble of incredible actors get together and tell a poignant story about family struggles, in particular, a Black family struggling in a privileged world that works very hard to keep Black people on the ‘outside’ of success, making them continually grasp at that mythical American Dream that just doesn’t exist, at least for most people.
Directed by Daniel Petrie a story about racial oppression and assumptions. Illustrated vividly in the scene with the marvelous character actor John Fiedler who plays Mark Linder. from the Clybourne park un- “welcoming committee.”
The woman form a strong wheel that keeps the family moving even when Walter Lee Younger (Sidney Poitier) takes his time coming to terms with his pride.
Mama Lena lived in a time where Black folk had fought so hard during the Civil Rights movement to witness a generation of young Black people to demand and obtain their rights. But there exists in the home a generation gap between her and her children. Walter Lee is a very proud young man who is frustrated with just being a chauffeur. When Lena’s husband’s insurance policy comes to the family, they each have ideas of how to spend it. Three very strong female characters satellite around one man whose identity rests on false notions of success reflected back at him through the lens of a white social class. But Walter Lee is continuously grounded by the strength of the women around him.
Beneatha is a progressive woman who railed against being a traditional wife and mother. She was way too independent and a strong female figure for 1962.
Cléo is a famous French Chanteuse awaiting the results of a biopsy. She is afraid that she will be told that she has cancer. We as are the spectators we watch Cléo spend two hours in her day until she finds out whether she is going to die. Sounds morbid, but director Agnès Varda (Varda herself was Bold & Beautiful– trained as a master photographer… and at the core or the soul of the French New Wave Cinema) weaves a whimsical visual dance as Cléo walks through the hours of her possibly tenuous life. The film is marvelous and Corinne Marchand as Cléo is a very captivating figure. In France it is said that the hours between five to seven are when lovers gather. Cléo wants to just keep moving in hopes of avoiding the results of her test. Throughout Cléo’s journey she is subtly restrained by the knowledge that she may be dying. Even as she sings torch songs, shops for hats and walks through the streets of Paris.
At 5pm she even visits a Tarot Reader. And just from experience, pulling The Hanged Man in a tarot reading is never really a good thing. And of course Death shows up as well. And the Death card should never be regarded as literal, but under the circumstances it would be frightening to a woman waiting for test results. She asks the woman to read her palm but she refuses, and so Cléo leaves frustrated.
Throughout Cléo wanderings, there are little interactions that lay on the periphery. Knowing that death could be looming overhead, Cléo seems to develop a heightened sense of awareness, even if the actions of unessential characters are truly incidental surrounding Cléo while she is walking through her two hours.
Cléo wanders through out the streets of Paris with her maid in tow or her friend the nude model. The next stop is at the hat shop, where she proceeds to try on many fashionable hats. Several mirror shots showcase the use of iconography of the female image as seen reflecting back. Cléo looks magnificent in even the most outrageous of hats.
Cléo and her maid come back to her apartment, that has a nice vast playful quality to it, with a piano, and a wonderful swing, and of course an opulent bed. Cléo reposes in her bed like royalty, as two fluffy kittens toss each other around. José Luis de Vilallonga credited as The Lover comes to see her. There doesn’t seem to be much passion between the two.
I couldn’t resist paying homage to at least one exploitation film seeing this is about the 60s! With a flavor and atmosphere of night club noir surrounded by decadence and the sordid lives of it’s inhabitants it comes across with a low budget appeal, Satan in High Heels was filmed in New York’s old La Martinique cabaret. This isn’t a film about immorality, it’s plainly just some high art sleaze that is so fun to watch, mainly because of Grayson Hall. Hall has a languid graveled voice that is almost intoxicating to listen to. Putting aside the other two leading ladies voluptuous Sabrina who plays herself, Meg Myles as Stacy Kane a second rate stripper whose wardrobe consists of various leather outfits and riding crop, it’s Grayson Hall (of Dark Shadows fame) that brings the story to a boil as the ultra domineering Pepe– as cool as the center seed of a cucumber.
She’s jaded and cynical and is a New York City kind of Marlene Dietrich with her quick asides and Sapphic strut. Even when she’s taking long drags of her cigarette she can deliver a curt line that cuts to the point, “Bear up, Darling, I love your eyelashes.”
After Stacy working the carnival circuit discovers her ex husband hanging around the dressing room with a load of cash, she grabs the doe and heads to New York City. Once she arrives she auditions at a night club as a singer, and is hired by the libidinous Pepe who wants to do a Pygmalion on the tramp. Belting out torch songs like “I’ll beat you mistreat you til you quiver and quail, the female of the species is more deadly than the male.” Neither Stacy (Meg Myles) or Sabrina (Norma Ann Sykes) Yikes get points for being buxom.
It’s Pepe who is sophisticated and wicked that makes you quiver & quail? Hmmm I need to look that up!
When it’s Bryan Forbes (Seance on a Wet Afternoon 1964,The Stepford Wives 1975) directing you know to expect something deeper and quietly intense. In The L Shaped Room Leslie Caron plays Jane Fosset a melancholy unmarried woman who is pregnant and on her own. She takes a room in a boarding house in London. While there Jane meets all the inhabitants of the decadent house where there dwells a collection of various misfits and outliers of society. Two working girls of the night persuasion, Pat Phoenix as Sonia, the man-eating Landlady who isn’t quite friendly, and the lovely old lesbian Mavis (Cicely Courtneidge).
And then there’s the struggling on edge Toby (Tom Bell) who is a writer living on the first floor. The two strike up a relationship, as Jane decides whether to get an abortion or keep the baby. There’s also Johnny a black Jazz Musician ( Brock Peters) who gets upset when Jane and Toby start a sexual relationship. The story is human and moving and as deeply whimsical as the tenants who come and go. Leslie Caron is superb as a solitary girl with a serious dilemma, so much so that she was nominated for Best Actress. Caron is splendid as Jane who manifests a courage and striking dignity to live life on her own…
Alfred Hitchcock’s cautionary tale based on Daphne du Maurier’s best selling novel. The Birds was Hitchcock’s film , that not only demonstrated the precarious security of everyday life by contrasting a quaint California seaside town inexplicably besieged by angry birds. One of Hitchcock’s most frequent theme is the precariousness of social order and morality. And the introduction of Tippi Hedren as Melanie Daniels definitely shakes things up. There’s almost a supernatural connection, if not the mere symbolic one.
I couldn’t resist Tippi Hedren as Melanie Daniels who is no shrinking violet. She may be a relatively straightforward central protagonist – the rich spoiled girl from the big city whose complacency is then severely shattered. Melanie is still an independent woman who mostly keeps it together right up to the end. Okay once she’s trapped in the attic she sort of goes a bit fetal but come on people the natural world is attacking! –with beaks and claws!
Behind the scenes she might have had a mini melt down thanks to Hitchcock’s maneuvering to have her attacked for real. Melanie Daniels ascends into Bodega Bay like the birds, she is a warning of the dangers of strong, and non-conformist women, especially strong willed sexually free women. Are the people being attacked by just the birds or is the strength of Melanie Daniels presence to tear apart the claustrophobic relationship between son and mother and the quiet conventional community.
From Carol Clovers Men, Women and Chainsaws -Her Body, Himself.
in Poe’s famous formulation , the death of a beautiful woman is the “most poetic topic in the world.”
Hitchcock during the filming of The Birds said: “I’ve always believed in following the advice of the playwright Sardou”. He said ‘Torture the women.’
Clover comments that what the directors don’t reveal out loud about the women in peril theme is that “women in peril are at there most effective when they are in a state of undress” and assailed by a totally phallic enemy.
Melanie Daniels while trapped in the attic and justifiably shaken from the ordeal does not lose her ability to protect herself and give up and die.
In one of the most vivid and unforgettable scenes in film history (I would wager my one-of-a-kind Columbo doll that other people agree) is when Melanie is waiting outside the schoolhouse sitting on the park bench with the jungle-gym behind her. She sees a few birds gathering on it. As Hitchcock is known to do, he drags out the suspense until we are at the very edge. She sees a few more birds join in. She lights up a cigarette, as this extends the scene further. There isn’t the composed style of filming a scene where it would go right to the fright factor. Hitchcock manipulates Melanie and us the spectator. Once more she follows the movement of another crow heading toward the jungle-gym which now is revealed has hundreds of birds waiting to attack…!
Directed by Martin Ritt and based on Larry McMurtry’s novel. From -Drew Casper Postwar Hollywood from 1946-1962 “Ritt Caught the parched, circumspect, empty quality of a middle-class WASP life in a Texan cattle community.”
The raspy attractiveness of Patricia Neal can make any film worth watching. In Hud she conveys a weary yet wise housekeeper/mother figure for the elderly widower Rancher and the Bannon men Hud and Lonnie. She has to deflect all the lustful advances by Hud, but she has grown comfortable with the blueness of her isolation, and has made peace with her troubling past. She handles the volatile Hud (Paul Newman) and nurtures the impressionable Lonnie (Brandon deWilde)
Patricia Neal won an Academy Award for playing the housekeeper Alma in Martin Ritt’s Hud, although she only appears in the film for 22 minutes! James Wong Howe creates a desolate, moody sense of Americana with his cinematography and Elmer Bernstein contributes his magnificent score.
Patricia Neal was particularly proud of one unscripted moment that made it into the film. While talking to Hud about her failed marriage, a huge horsefly flew onto the set. Just as she says she’s “done with that cold-blooded bastard,” she zaps the fly with a dish towel. Martin Ritt loved it and printed the take.
Paul Newman is the cold blooded Hud Bannon. He’s a ruthless reckless cowboy and a heartless uncaring miscreant who hurts everyone in his life. He’s self confident, drives a pink Cadillac and when he’s not swaggering slow like he’s a meandering playboy, who still lives on the isolated farm with his elderly father and his nephew Lonnie (Brandon deWilde) who worships him, he’s sleeping around.
Melvyn Douglas plays Homer Bannon, his father whom he clashes with. His father is a righteous man, filled with principles but his son is a self-indulgent outlier of society who cares for nothing and no one. Life is just about having ‘kicks’ It was that time in film history that the youth archetype were all looking for those ‘kicks’
Hud’s amoral lifestyle and the struggle between the good people who satellite around him create a dismal world for everyone. Alma and Hud develop a sexual banter between them. She’s attracted to his prowess and his good looks, but Hud only sees her as the help. He want’s what he can’t have, so she is a challenge to him that’s all. But Hud is abusive to Alma, he even parks his Cadillac in her flower bed.
Alma has a hearty strength and takes all the masculine posturing with stride. She’s as laid back as a cat taking a nap in the sun. Alma too has a sensuality that lies open, on the surface as she flirts with Lonnie and is aroused by Hud’s beautiful torso. The theme that is underlying through out Hud or I should say Alma’s part in the narrative is that women like to be around dangerous men. Alma doesn’t expect anything from Hud, understanding his nature all too well. He possesses a merciless kind of sexual desire that cannot be satisfied. But Alma does create a conflict for him…
In his cynical exchanges with Alma, he is contemptuous toward women and boasts a sexual confidence, that makes him one cocky bastard. But Alma is not a child nor is she an inexperienced woman. she is equally world weary and is titillated by his sexual innuendos.
Directed by John Huston based on the story by Tennessee Williams, Night of the Iguana.
John Huston loved placing a group of interesting people in a landscape that was inhospitable and sweltering.
A defrocked Episcopal clergyman the Rev. T Lawrence Shannon (Richard Burton) working as a tout guide in Mexico leads a bus-load of middle-aged Baptist women and a teenage girl on a tour of the Mexican coast. It is there that he wrestles with the failure and doubts that haunt his wasted life. While temporarily stranded he takes respite with Maxine who runs the small out of the way hotel. Ava Garner wields heavy dose of sensuality as she burns up the screen with her raw and unbound sexuality. Surrounded by young men whom she swims with at night. And not taking any crap from the busload of repressed Baptists and Sue Lyon as a young Nymphomaniac.
Shannon was kicked out of his church when he was caught with one of his parishioners, and now Charlotte Goodall (Sue Lyon) is a troublesome nymph chasing after him provocatively. Her guardian is Judith Fellowes (Grayson Hall) an uptight lesbian who seems to hate all men, bus rides and humid weather besides. When Fellowes catches Charlotte in Shannon’s room she threatens to get him in trouble, so he enlists the help of his friend Maxine Faulk, and leaves the group stranded at her remote hotel.
Once Hannah Jelkes (Deborah Kerr) and her elderly grandfather arrive, the atmosphere seems to shift and Shannon is confronted with questions of life and love. Everyone at the hotel has demons and the rich and languid air seems to effect everyone… Ava Gardner as Maxine waits patiently for Shannon to realize that they could have a passionate life together if he’d stop torturing himself..
From Ava Gardner: “Love is Nothing” by Lee Server
Ava Gardner loved the chance to work with director John Huston.
The play had opened on Dec 28th 1961 at Broadway’s Royale Theatre with Bette Davis, Margaret Leighton and Patrick O’Neal.
“A typical Williamsian study of desire, dysfunction and emotional crisis. set in a frowzy Acapulco Hotel where defrocked alcoholic horny minister now tour guide The Rev T Lawrence Shannon haphazardly battles for his salvation aided and abetted by lusty innkeeper Maxine Faulk and wandering spinster Hannah Jelkes.”
Producer Ray Stark regarded the film’s formula should be a “mix of soul-searching, melodrama and lowlife exotica” which would capture Huston’s imagination.
Ava was cast to play the ‘earthy widow’ Maxine- Huston considered Gardner perfect as she was a Southern actress with ‘feline sexuality’. perfect to play one of Tennessee Williams’ ‘hot-blooded ladies!’
Ava Gardner wanted the role to be really meaningful. She did have several volatile scenes, for instance when she is exasperated by Shannon, to spite him Maxine impulsively rushes into the ocean to frolic with her two personal beach boys.
According to the book, “Ava had become sick with fear— of the physicality of the scene (how could she not look bad falling around in the water with her hair all soaked?), the sexuality of it (the two boys roaming all over her body as the surf rolled across them). and the physical exposure (the scene called for her to be wearing a skimpy bikini) Huston told her in that case, kid they would rewrite and shoot the scene at night and with minimal lighting. As she got more uncomfortable Huston suggested that she simply go in the water in her clothes (Maxine’s ubiquitous poncho too and toreador pants). ‘It’ll look more natural like that anyway’- Huston said.”
Houston even waded into the water with her, they had a few drinks, he held her hand and waited til she was ready to shoot the scene. And it came out beautifully with one take!.
Directed by Don Siegel This remake of Ernest Hemingway’s taut thriller has been given a 60s sheen of vibrantly slick color. In contrast to Robert Siodmak’s masterpiece in 1946. The femme fatale in this Post-Noir film is Angie Dickinson as opposed to Ava Gardner.
Don Siegel’s 1964 adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s short story The Killers is quite a horse of a different colour. first off the obvious is that it is not in haunting B&W… The double – crosses are still in the picture. the big heist and the hidden doe…
And we don’t have Ava Gardner, but we do get Angie Dickinson. Cassavetes is a race car driver Lancaster was a mechanic… we don’t have the primal sexuality of Burt Lancaster we have the pensive arrogance of John Cassavetes.
The viewpoint of the story is not seen through the eyes of the victim, but the Kiilers who want to understand why the protagonist just stands there and lets himself be gunned down in cold-blood “just stood there and took it.”
While Siodmak’s version is drenched in shadow and nuance, Siegel’s version is gorgeously played out like a taut violin string in the brightly mod colors of a 60s world. It was no longer the year of the dark and dangerous femme fatale that hinted at promises of a sexual joyride alluded to with suggestive dialogue and visual iconography. Now we have Angie Dickinson’s character Sheila Farr a modern sexually liberated woman who struts her stuff in the light of day.
In exchange for the two odd misanthropes —William Conrad and Charles McGraw as Al & Max who walk into the diner and make the first 12 minutes of the ‘46 classic incredibly memorable and a noir essential— now we have Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager as a snarling thug and a creepy neurotic. Henry Mancini scored the music for 1964 slick production which became a 60s cult classic and Miklós Rózsa scored the 1946 noir masterpiece
The two hit men Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager walk into a school for the blind and shoot down John Cassavetes. On the way back to Chicago Marvin’s character wants to know why he didn’t try to run when he had the chance. Also told in flashback, it pieces together the reason for him wanting to die. After Cassavete’s is washed up as a race car drive when he has a near fatal crash- he takes up with crime boss Ronald Reagan and tries to steal his woman- Sheila.
I simply couldn’t choose the 60s and not include a little psycho-melodrama, a bit of Grande Dame Guignol–without including my favorite of all… Bette Davis. Directed by actor/director Paul Henreid this extremely taut suspense thriller starring Bette Davis in two roles is a captivating story that grips you in the guts from beginning to end.
It’s 1964 Los Angeles and Bette plays twin sisters Margaret de Lorca and Edith Phillips.The film opens at Margaret’s husband’s funeral. The two sisters haven’t seen each other in twenty years.
Margaret has married very rich, with the man that Edith had planned on marrying. Edith lives a modest life and is dating a very fine police officer Sgt Jim Hobbson played by the wonderful Karl Malden. He loves his Edie who has a little jazz bar, is kind and simple and doesn’t share the arrogance and ruthless nature like Margaret. Margaret tricked Frank into marrying her, claiming she was pregnant.
One night Margaret comes to visit Edie and insults her by offering her some cheap clothes as a hand off plus Edie learns from the chauffeur that the pregnancy was all a lie. That Margaret ruined her chances of happiness. Adding to Edie’s troubles the property agent has give her the boot, since she’s 3 months late with the rent.
In a moment of rage with several ounces of premeditation -Edie shoots Margaret, assuming her identity, hopping into her sisters chauffeured limo and moving into the great house with servants and wealthy snobbish friends. Unfortunately it’s only a matter of time before Margaret’s smarmy lover Tony (Peter Lawford) shows up and discovers right away about the masquerade. Of course he blackmails Edie for his silence. Also Detective Jim Hobbson starts coming around thinking that Edith’s death was suspicious and not a suicide. What makes the film interesting is how Jim is the one person who could recognize Edie behind the elegant clothing, and at times there is a spark of awareness, but it just might be too late for Edie playing Margaret to turn things around. One particular exchange that is wonderful is the unspoken sympathetic relationship between Edie and Henry the quintessential Butler played Cyril Delevanti who has the most marvelously time worn face.
You can read more about this iconic noir masterpiece in The Dark Pages feature issue
Here’s the link below to order a copy of The Dark Pages for yourself or subscribe all year round… so you’ll always get your fill of everything Noir from this sensational publication!
Produced by Mark Hellinger (The Naked City, Brute Force and The Two Mrs Carrolls Music by Miklós Rózsa; Cinematography by Elwood Bredell (Ghost of Frankenstein 1942, Phantom Lady 1944). Boldly directed by the great Robert Siodmak. The Screenplay is by Anthony Veiller and uncredited co-writers John Huston and Richard Brooks.
The evocative opening scene is one of the most powerfully ferocious in film noir. It is faithful to Ernest Hemingway’s short story. The determined thrust of the first twelve minutes mesmerizes. It has a villainous and cynical rhythm, paced like shadowy poetry in a dark room with no open windows. The film opens with Miklos Rozsa’s ominous brassy jazz that later becomes the killers motif. Two men drive into a small town, Anywhere, USA. We see them from behind in darkest black silhouette inside the car.
While cars and trains are iconographic means of escape in noir films, the opening sequence of The Killers offers no escape. The two gun men enter the screen in their vehicle veiled by the darkness of the highway road. The vision is more like one of bringing the means of death to this ordinary environment. The peculiar, unsettling gunmen Al and Max (Charles McGraw and William Conrad) are two dark forces invading an ordinary landscape with their malicious and aggressive presence. The dark highway is a typical Hemingway metaphor for the eternal strife, of ‘going nowhere’ and his cycle of ‘heroic fatalism.’ The road is an unfinished trajectory, unpredictable and unknown with no way out but ‘the end.’
We see the two walking onto the street silhouetted in shadow. We know they are trouble. They enter a diner reminiscent of Edward Hopper’s 1942 painting ‘Nighthawks.’ Perhaps this American Diner scene influenced scavenger hunting director Quentin Tarantino for his Pulp Fiction in 1994.
The men ask about a man they’re looking for, ‘the Swede.’ They make no effort to hide their malevolence. They revel in belligerence as they demean and degrade the men in the small town diner. Al and Max begin to psychologically torture George (Harry Hayden) who works the counter and Nick the boy at the end of the counter. They exude an offensive egotism and a cruel antisocial spirit as they barrage the men with perverse assaults.
George: “What’ll it be, gentlemen?” Max: “I don’t know. What you want to eat, Al?” Al: “I don’t know what I want to eat.” Max: “I’ll have the roast pork tenderloin with apple sauce and mashed potatoes.” George: “That’s not ready yet.” Max: “Then what’s it on the card for?” George: “Well, that’s on the dinner. You can have that at six o’clock. That clock is ten minutes fast. The dinner isn’t ready yet.” Max: “Never mind the clock. What have you got to eat?”
The conversation is absurd and meaningless. It is just a mechanism to bully these townsmen. They continue to harass George asking “you got anything to drink?” George tells them “I can give you beer, soda or ginger ale.” Al: “I said you got anything to drink?” George submits a quiet “no.” Max says “this is a hot town, whatta you call it?” George: “Brentwood.” Al turns to Max “you ever hear of Brentwood?” Max shakes his head no. Al asks George “what do you do for nights?”
Max takes a deep breath and groans “They eat the dinner, they all come here and eat The Big Dinner.” The outsider mocks the small town conformity of eating whatever is served. George looks downward murmuring “that’s right” and Al says “you’re a pretty bright boy aren’t you?” He uses “boy” to demean. George mutters “sure” and Al snaps back “well you’re not!”
Al now shouts to the young man at the end of the counter“hey you, what’s your name?” he looks earnestly at Al and says “Adams. Nick Adams.” Al says, “Another bright boy.” There is sadism at work here, almost subconsciously homophobic/homoerotic in the way they are using the term “boy” to subvert these bystanders’ manhood. Max says, “town’s full of bright boys.”
The cook comes out from the kitchen bringing the plates. ”One ham and one bacon and” George starts to serve the men the food and asks “which one is yours?” Al says “Don’t you remember bright boy?” the continued use of this phrase truly begins to tear at the layers of our nerve endings. George starts laughing and Max says “What are you laughing at?” “nothing.”
“You see something funny?” “No.” “Then don’t laugh.” “Alright.” Again Max says ”He thinks it’s alright.” Al says “Oh, he’s a thinker.” It’s an antisocial backlash to an intellectual society that would perceive Al and Max as outcasts. This is where a noir film begins to break the molds of Hollywood civilized society. The two intruders have trespassed into an ordinarily quiet community to shatter it’s sense of security. It is the death of humanism in film language.
Max and Al tie up Nick and the cook in the kitchen. “I’ll tell ya what’s gonna happen, we’re gonna kill the Swede, you know big Swede, works over at the filling station.” He lights a cigarette. George says, “You mean Pete Lund?” Max takes the cigarette out of his mouth and the smoke enervates George’s face, “If that’s what he calls himself… Comes in every night at 6 o’clock don’t he?”
Georges asks “what are you gonna kill him for? What did Pete Lund ever do to you?” Max replies,”He never had a chance to do anything to us he never even seen us.” The conversation is so matter of fact that it’s chillingly absurd. Again George asks, “What are you gonna kill him for?” Max smirks “We’re killing him for a friend.” Al pokes his head through the sliding window to the kitchen “shut up you talk too much” but Max says ”I gotta keep bright boy amused don’t I?”
When George explains that ‘the Swede’ never comes in after 6pm, the killers head to the station where he works. George unties the men in the kitchen. Nick leaves to warn ‘Swedes,’ jumping fences on his way to the rooming house.
At the rooming house, Pete (Lancaster) is on his bed in almost complete darkness, face hidden in the shadows, his body’s repose in stark contrast to the backdrop of the frenetic orchestration by Rozsa. Nick enters and urgently warns him about the two dangerous men. Nick asks, “Why’d do they want to kill ya?” He replies: “There’s nothing I can do about it. I did something wrong. Once. Thanks for coming.” His tone is soft and fatalistic.
Nick offers “I can tell you what they’re like?” Swede replies “I don’t wanna know what they’re like… thanks for coming.” ”Don’t you wanna go and see the police?” “No that wouldn’t do any good.” Nick asks “Isn’t there something I could do?” “There ain’t anything to do.” “Couldn’t you get out of town?” He answers “No… I’m through with all that running around.”
A merciful violin plays while Swede remains resigned to the dark bed. His large hands rub his face. We hear the squeaking of a door downstairs as it opens slowly then shuts. The Swede turns his head looking slightly worried for the first time. He leans up in the bed, the light from outside hitting his face, as Al and Max mount the staircase that leads to his room.
The Swede listens like a trapped animal. He does not betray any fear, only a gloomy resignation that his life is about to end. It is not death that he ponders, memories and another enemy. Cinematographer Elwood Bredell switches between closeups of Lancaster’s face and the door, then suddenly the two men come in blasting. From pitch black begins a light show, arcing like electricity striking a void. The canon fire gunshots pound into a field of blackness. The killers walking up the stairs acts as foreplay and the gunfire like violent intercourse… White hot flashes of light break grave blackness. The last image we see as it fades to black is Lancaster’s hand falling limp by the bedpost. The last words we hear are Swede uttering “Charleston was right, Charleston was right.”
This is where the powerful prologue ends and Hemingway’s story leaves us with no explanation as to the reason for Swede’s murder, nor insight into why he acquiesces to his death by not trying to elude the killers and his fate. From this moment on Veiller’s screenplay starts to expose the back story to the killing.
This has been a killer post! Your Everlovin’ Joey
The Killers (1946) is the quintessential existentialist film. Based on Ernest Hemingway’s 1920’s short story who was immersed in the pre war existentialism of that time period, that fostered tales of crimes and violence. As the two French critics Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton remark in their fantastic read and seminal work A Panorama of American Film Noir 1941-153 the killer’s gunmen walking into the diner in Brentwood N.J. and begin complaining about the menu predates the dark Absurdism of the existential movement of playwrights like Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett.
It reminds me of how great directors like Quentin Tarantino pay homage to films like The Killers in Pulp Fiction, or the work of Samuel Fuller who didn’t hold back on the vicious realism that was ground breaking in it’s day.
According to Electric Sheep blog “the first twelve minutes of The Killers (1946) is a faithful (almost word for word) adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s much-anthologized short story. Two hit men enter a diner (shot to look like Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks – itself apparently inspired by Hemingway’s story) typical Hemingway heroic fatalism.”
From what I’ve understood about Hemingway, the debate still rages on as to whether or not Hemingway was guilty of being a misogynist. Here is a decent essay about this question that tries to think about it critically and not write from a place of subjectivity or take a defensive stance. http://thequatrain.org/?p=285
The Killers (1946) the original version scripted by Hemingway himself, was produced by Mark Hellinger (The Naked City, Brute Force and The Two Mrs Carrolls– 3 of my favorite films,) and once again boldly directed by the great Robert Siodmak. With the rise of Nazism Siodmak left Germany for Paris and then for Hollywood. He’s singularly responsible for a great deal of the noir films that are so memorable.
In my opinion Siodmak’s film is a meatier piece of work that rendered a more brutal impression than the 1964 version directed by Don Siegel.
Perhaps due to it’s more neo-gangster noir style it gave it a liminal and evocative intensity. Siodmak’s Killers has a more violently surreal tone, than the stylishly slick and richly colorful pulpy Siegel version.The effective black and white environment of the 1946 Killers once again sets the stage for the players to live in a world that is condemned by shadow. While I love Siegel’s version, it does seem brighter and the world more aired out than usually frames noir desolation.
Although I’m a huge fan of Angie Dickenson and she was incredibly lush and provocative in the role of Sheila, Ava Gardner’s Kitty Collins was a more subtly carnal as the temptress who becomes Swede’s downfall. Siodmak’s version gives us the noir police investigation, there is a pervasive Machiavellian cruelty, and the characters have more stratum to their persona’s. John Cassavettes is more icy while Burt Lancaster’s Swede is a very sympathetic yet imperfect man, that fatalistic heroism.
Burt Lancaster plays Ole “Swede” Andersen ex boxer and con, Ava Gardner is Kitty Collins, Edmond O’Brien is Jim Reardon insurance investigator, Albert Dekker is Big Jim Colfax (Dr. Cyclops) criminal mastermind and Virginia Christine is Lily Harmon Lubinsky (she cameos in the ’64 version as the blind secretary).
Sam Levene is Lt. Sam Lubinsky Swede’s old childhood friend and Charles McGraw( The Narrow Margin) is Al the killer and William Conrad (Cannon tv series)is Max the other killer. The Killers also casts Jeff Corey as “Blinky” Franklin (The Outer Limits O.B.I.T.episode) one of Big Jim’s criminal lackies with a “monkey on his back” implying that he has a drug addiction. And Vince Barnett as Swede’s devoted and world weary petty thief Charleston.
The film opens with Miklos Rozsa’s ominous brassy jazz score that later becomes the killers motif, as the two men drive into a small American town, anywhere USA, we see them from behind in darkest black silhouette in the car. Then a long view of them walking onto the scene still surrounded in shadow, we know they are trouble. The opening scene of The Killers is perhaps one of the most powerfully ferocious I’ve seen from a 1940’s film.
The two men enter Henry’s Diner William Conrad’s Max and McGraw’s Al, are The Killers, who begin to psychologically torture George who works the counter and Nick Adams the boy at the end of the counter. They exude an obnoxious egotism. A cruel anti social spirit as they barrage the men in the diner with verbal assaults, having a somewhat perverse quality which begins with the menu.
George: What’ll it be, gentlemen?
Max: I don’t know. Whatta you want to eat, Al?
Al: I don’t know what I want to eat.
Max: I’ll have the roast pork tenderloin with apple sauce and mashed potatoes.
George: That’s not ready yet.
Max: Then what’s it on the card for?
George: Well, that’s on the dinner. You can have that at six o’clock. That clock is ten minutes fast. The dinner isn’t ready yet.
Max: Never mind the clock. What have you got to eat?
George: Well, I can give you any kind of sandwiches: bacon and eggs, liver and bacon, ham and eggs, steak…
Al: I’ll have the chicken croquettes with the cream sauce and the green peas and the mashed potatoes.
Max: Everything we want is on the dinner.
They continue to harass George, asking for alcohol, “Al: You got anything to drink? George tells them “I can give you beer, soda or ginger ale. Al: I said you got anything to drink?”George submits a quiet “no.”Max says “this is a hot town, whatta you call it?”George”Brentwood” Al turns to Max “You ever hear of Brentwood?” Max shakes his head no and then Al asks George “What do you do for nights?”Max takes in a deep breath and groans out “They eat for dinner, they all come here and eat The Big Dinner” George looks downward and murmurs “that’s right”and Al says
“You’re a pretty bright boy aren’t you”, meanwhile George is a grown middle aged man. The term “boy” is designed to demean him. George mutters “sure” and Al snaps back “Well you’re not!”
Al now shouts to the young man at the end of the counter “hey you what’s your name?” he looks earnestly at Al and says “Adams, Nick Adams.” Al says, “another bright boy.” There is an emerging sadism at work here, almost subconsciously homophobic/homo erotic, in the way they are using the terminology of “boy” working to subvert these bystanders’ manhood. Max says, “Town’s full of bright boys”
The cook comes out from the kitchen bringing the plates of ” one ham and one bacon and” George starts to serve the men the food and asks “which one is yours?”Al says “Don’t you remember bright boy?” the continued use of this phrase truly begins to flay the layers of our nerve endings. George starts laughing and Max says “What are you laughing at?” “nothing” “You see something funny?” “no” “Then don’t laugh” “alright” again Max says ” He thinks it’s alright” Al says “Oh, he’s a thinker” Here we see the anti social backlash to an intellectual society that would perceive them as outcasts. The term “thinker” is used pejoratively as is “boy.” This is where the film begins to break the molds of the Hollywood window dressing of a civilized society, when two intruders trespass on an ordinarily quiet community and shatter it’s sense of security. It is the death of humanism in film language.
Max and Al proceed to tie up Nick Adams and the cook in the kitchen. They further taunt George who asks “what’s this all about?” Max “I’ll tell ya what’s gonna happen, we’re gonna kill a Swede, you know big Swede, works over at the filling station” he lights a cigarette. George says, “you mean Pete Lund?” As Max takes the cigarette out of his mouth the smoke enervates in George’s face, “If that’s what he calls himself’, comes in every night at 6 o’clock don’t he?” Georges asks “What are you gonna kill him for? what did Pete Lund ever do to you?” Max replies,” he never had a chance to do anything to us he never even seen us.” The conversation is so matter of fact that it’s almost chillingly absurd. Again George asks, “what are you gonna kill him for?” and Max smirks “we’re killing him for a friend.” Al pokes his head in from the sliding panel window to the kitchen “shut up you talk too much” but Max says ” I gotta keep bright boy amused don’t I?”
Once the killers believe what George tells them, that Swede isn’t coming into the diner for his supper because it’s passed 6pm, they go to Swede’s boarding house. George unties the two men in the kitchen who have been bound up with dish rags, and Nick jumps over fences trying to head off the killers and warn Swede that they’re coming for him. Nick bursts into Swede’s room.
At first we only see the obscured figure of a man lying on his bed, only from the neck down to his feet. We do not yet see the figure clearly. Swede is framed in shadow.Nick tells him about the men at Henry’s Diner, they were going to shoot him when he came in for supper.”George thought I oughta come over and tell ya” out of breath Nick is panting , and we still only hear Lancaster’s substantial voice in a whispering tone “There’s nothing I can do about it” Nick says ” don’t you even wanna know what they’re like?” “I don’t wanna know what they’re like, thanks for coming” Don’t you wanna go and see the police?” “No that wouldn’t do any good” Swede tells Nick he’s sick of running and “I did something wrong (pause) once, thanks for coming” he ends very solemnly. Nick leaves. The last words we hear Swede utter are “Charleston was right, Charleston was right.”
Now we see Swede’s face just staring and waiting. Sitting up, as the killers come bursting into the room, blasts of light from the gun spray, we are left looking at Swede’s hand lying limp against the side of the bed, surrounded in shadow once again, he is dead.
The Killers relies a lot on the noir mechanism of the flashback. At times there are flashbacks within flashbacks.
We’re now at the police station with Nick and Sam the cook giving their statements. We see a silk scarf with harps among his effects. Swede left a death benefit life insurance policy for $2,500 that goes to a woman in Atlantic City. The case is now being investigated by an insurance detective for the Atlantic Casualty and Insurance Company. Edmond O’Brien plays Reardon, who refuses to drop the case even after his boss insists that it’s not financially worth the company’s time. But Reardon wants to know what happened to this man who had “8 slugs in him, nearly tore him in half.”
Reardon goes to the hotel in Atlantic City and talks to the old chamber maid, Queenie, who is the beneficiary of Swede’s death benefit. She tells Reardon that at least he could be buried in consecrated ground and Reardon asked why she thought it was a suicide.
Queenie tells him in flashback how she was working that night and came into Swede’s room to clean, and he was visibly disturbed, smashing and stomping the furniture crying out “She’s gone, she’s gone!” Queenie asks “who’s gone mister?” He picks up a chair and breaks the window and tries to jump out, but Queenie grabs him and tells him” for the sake of God, you’ll burn in hell for all time” and stops him from killing himself. The death benefit was his way of paying thanks for her kindness.
Reardon embarks on a journey to get the bell to ring in his head, about why the green silk handkerchief with the golden harps is on the tip of his mind.His boss says that claims are piling up and he’s off running around with a 2 for a nickle shooting, but Reardon wants to know why 2 professionals put the blast on a filling station attendant, a nobody. He also notices his hands, scarring which indicate that Swede had been a boxer at one time.
He meets up with Swede’s old boyhood friend from the 12th ward in Philly. Lt Sam Lubinsky who is now married to Swede’s one time girlfriend Lily played by the a young and ever present character actress Virginia Christine who was also in The Killer Is Loose. In The Killers, she is absolutely beautiful as the “nice girl” playing opposite Ava Garner’s femme fatale role as Kitty. Sam joined the police force and Ole Swede started fighting professionally. They always kept in touch, but “when you’re a copper, you’re a copper” and eventually after taking a savage beating in the ring, Swede breaks his knuckles beyond repair and has to stop boxing. Sam winds up putting ” the pinch”on his friend Ole later on.
In a flashback we see Lily and Swede at a party thrown at a swanky hotel by Jake, one of Big Jim Colfax’s men. Lily doesn’t like Jake, he’s got mean eyes. Swede sees Kitty for the first time sitting at a piano. Swede is mesmerized by Kitty. The women share competitive glances. Kitty says, “Jake tells me you’re a fighter” he says “Do you like the fights?” Kitty says “I hate brutality Mr Anderson the idea of 2 men beating each other to a pulp makes me ill.” Lily tells Kitty that she’s seen all Swede’s fights, but Kitty comes back with “oh really, I couldn’t bare to see the man I care about hurt” at that point Lily is finished once Swede remarks how beautiful Kitty is Lily leaves the party.
Lt. Lubinsky tells Reardon that “It seems like I was always in there when he was losing, ever see him fight? He took a lot of punishment.”
Ole’s manager leaves Swede after he isn’t any good as a money making fighter anymore since the bones in his hand are crushed. It’s why he didn’t use his right hand to fight the night he lost the bout to Tiger Lewis. That night his manager says ” no use hanging around here, never did like wakes”
In a flashback within a flashback, Ole starts dating Kitty Collins, Big Jim’s girl. Evidently she shop lifts a diamond pin, Reardon recognizes it as she’s wearing it at a table sitting with a group of thugs who work for Big Jim Colfax. She drops it into a plate of soup, but Reardon stops the waiter, fishes it out and rinses it off in a cup of coffee then tries to take Kitty in, but then “Ole” Swede walks in and winds up taking the rap for her spending 3 years in jail for Kitty’s robbery then he gets released for good behavior.
Kitty’s given him this green silk scarf with golden harps of hers, which he strokes in jail. Swede has a cell mate and friend in a man named Charleston, a petty larceny crook and old time hoodlum who bonds with Swede while in prison. Charleston brings up Jupiter one night. He liked to look at the stars after lights out, he knew their names because he got a book from the prison library.
“You can’t learn any better about stars then by staring” Swede and Charleston staring out the window at the stars, while Swede is stroking the silk scarf Kitty gave him. He asks Charleston is he knows what “harp” means. He says “yeah, angels play ’em” “they mean Irish, Kitty gave me this scarf.” But Kitty hasn’t come to see Swede once while he’s in prison for the robbery she pulled. Swede asks Charleston to look up Kitty when he gets out, because he’s worried about her. But Charleston knows she’s not sick or in trouble. Swede is too much in love to see it.
Later on Charleston relates to Reardon at a pool hall that he was told to bring Swede on the day after his release from jail, because Big Jim is planning a “big set-up.” Also in the room is a thug named Dumb Dumb and Blinky Franklin. Charleston opts out, he only wants easy pickings at his age he’s spent half his life in stir, but Swede seeing Kitty in the room, still Big Jim’s girl, says he’s in. Kitty becomes Swede’s mistress again. We see the glances between the two, and Swede knocks Jim down when he tries to hit Kitty. The two men swear that after the heist, they will even up the score with each other.
The last thing Charleston says to Swede before he leaves the room is “Want a word of advice?, stop listening to golden harps, they’ll land you in a lot of trouble.” We now know what Swede meant by his last words.Charleston leaves the room. Closing the door, hoping Swede will follow, but ” he never showed up, and I never seen the Swede again” We see the character Charleston in flashback standing outside the door. Framed by the shot making the door a principal moment in the film. Charleston staring at the door waiting, looking trapped and small. The door symbolizing the unknown and what lies behind or ahead.
Back at Atlantic Casualty and Insurance Co. Reardon tells his boss the “bell rang” he remembered hearing about it in relationship to a big caper that was pulled on July 20th, 1940 at The Prentiss Hat Company. Armed gunmen got away with quarter of a million of Atlantic’s money. One of the robbers was seen wearing a green scarf with golden harps wrapped around his face like a bandit. Swede was one of the people involved in the heist. Now hiding out under an assumed name, and working at a filling station supposedly hiding all the loot from the Hat Company heist, taken away from the other members of the gang.Who sent the killers to assassinate Swede and did Kitty Collins sign his death warrant?
The Killers, details double crosses of all double crosses, as The Killers go to the sleepy town of Brentwood to even a score with Swede, who didn’t take Charleston’s advice and stop listening to golden harps. In noir films there is often a fetishistic quality to an item or action. I think the scarf is a sexual symbol of Kitty for Swede. It bares her scent, it was a token of her sexuality being made of “real silk” as if her skin. the idea of touching something golden. The scarf acts as surrogate for Kitty’s body, as he strokes it in place of the real thing.