BRIDES OF HORROR – Scream Queens of the 1960s! 🎃 Part 2

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JANE ASHER

British born red head Jane Asher started out as a child actress who worked extensively in television and film. Her contribution to the horror genre is that of her character, Francesca the unflinching heroine peasant girl who out of six is the only one to survive the plague and begs Prospero to spare her father and brother. She is thrust into the hedonistic Danse Macabre of the castle, as Prospero’s unwilling mistress, in Edgar Allan Poes story directed by Roger Corman THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH 1964.

From Roger Corman’s How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime –

“Masque was the most lavish of the Poe films…(part of what made the film so visually stunning with it’s vibrant color scheme is the work of cinematographer by Nicholas Roeg)

Masque was a surreal, philosophical tale set in medieval Italy with Vincent Price playing Prince Prospero, a sadistic debauched Satan worshipper who retreats into his castle and hosts a lavishly decadent ball as his land is ravaged by the Red Death…{…} I had started going out with my Masque leading lady, Jane Asher, and we were having coffee on a Friday. But Jane showed up with a young companion. “Roger”, she said, “I’d like you to meet a friend of mine from Liverpool, Paul McCartney. Paul’s never been on a movie set and he’d like to see what’s happening.” … Jane had been dating Paul but because he was constantly away on tour, she was seeing me in London.” -Roger Corman

She was Paul McCartney’s muse for much of the 1960s; “Here, There And Everywhere” and many other songs were written with Jane in mind. They were engaged for seven months until finally separating in July 1968. -IMDb tidbit

She appeared the television series – Journey to the Unknown 1968 episode Somewhere in the Crowd. And went on to star in the psychological thriller Deep End 1970, The Buttercup Chain 1970 and the television movie, The Stone Tape 1972. Most notable is her performance in the major motion picture Alfie 1966 co-starring with Michael Caine. IMDb tidbit-By the time she was fifteen, she had appeared in 8 films, made 9 television appearances, over 100 radio appearances and was in five plays-

Personal quote – “Of all the things I do, acting is the thing that grabs most, but there’s another level on which it strikes me as being a little silly. In the end you’re dressing up and deciding to be somebody.”

Maxine Audley

British actress noted for her perfect diction and for her excellent acting range in classical plays on stage, in television and on radio. Her contribution to the 60s horror genre is her marvelous performance as Mrs. Stephens in Michael Powell’s subversive Peeping Tom, who can see Mark Lewis’ psychopathic personality clearly though she is blind. She has the instincts to feel that she and her daughter are in terrible danger.

Peeping Tom 1960, The Brain 1962, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed 1969

Michiyo Aratama

Beautifully shot, suffuse the landscape with haunting and uncanny stories that are chilling in Masaki Kobyashi’s- Kwaidan 1964.

Continue reading “BRIDES OF HORROR – Scream Queens of the 1960s! 🎃 Part 2”

BRIDES OF HORROR – Scream Queens of the 1960s! 🎃 Part 1

This special The Last Drive in Halloween Feature will conclude with Part 4 and it’s primary focus exclusively on the great Barbara Steele!

‘through the complex changes in society surrounding traditional female roles using the ambivalence of the horror genre’ – Claudia Bunce

The 1960s were plagued by controversy and convulsed with violence. Horror cinema with the exception of Hammer Studio and European filmmakers’ colorful pageantry of Gothic tales, and the colorful dreamlike poetry of Mario Bava, mainly transitioned from classical themes. In the 1950s, B-horror movie narratives were concerned with outside hostile forces, alien invasions, and fear of nuclear war, but the new decade began to explore more interior horror that originated in the home and within ourselves. And many of these movies stand out as women-centric protagonists…

“Widely interpreted as a pivotal moment in the horror genre. Suggestive that monstrosity must be defined as inherent to the bourgeois family structure rather than an arcane social aberration: the crimes of Norman Bates can be read as the consequence of the sexually active mother, not unlike Marian Crane. The film is profoundly subversive.” – source unknown

After Riccardo Freda abandoned Black Sunday, the project went to cinematographer Mario Bava and became his directorial debut. The film was the start of the director’s momentous contribution to the genre with his masterful grasp of mise en scené composition, allegorical visual symbolism imagery, and the bold use of expressionist color, vivid tones and spectrum of light. Bava directed Kill, Baby Kill! 1966 featuring a ghostly little blonde girl (actually a boy actor) with a white ball that is the creepy harbinger of a series of violent deaths.

Mario Bava unleashed on us his very dark-hearted black & white Black Sunday in 1960 with jolting scenes of death and a new horror goddess, the provocative, wide-eyed- Barbara Steele. During the decade of the 60s, Steele’s ascendance within the genre was part of a broader trend in horror cinema that echoed the real world. Her strong presence and instinct to captivate our gaze, stood head to head with male horror stars Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing during that period of horror cinema. Barbara Steele inhabited the haunted screen with such a formidable primacy, there’s no disputing she is the ultimate scream queen.

The Italian movie industry of the 1960s saw a wave of Italian gothic chillers. Bava’s Blood and Black Lace 1964 is best remembered as the first ‘Giallo’ a particularly savage trademark of murder mysteries.

Riccardo Freda directed The Horrible Dr. Hichcock 1962 and The Ghost 1963, Margheriti’s beautifully orchestrated, eerily atmospheric ghost story Castle of Blood and Ciano’s Nightmare Castle 1965. All starring Barbara Steele.

Roger Corman established himself as a successful director. Of course, maverick filmmaker Corman showered us with some of the best campy low budget sci-fi / horror films of the 1950s, and in the 60s we were reintroduced to the splendid Poe adaptations in a series of vivid films of glorious terror and dread, with Daniel Haller’s gorgeous hallucinogenic art direction. These films are a series of Gothic masterpieces, – House of Usher 1960, Pit and the Pendulum 1961 and Masque of the Red Death 1964, featuring Hazel Court, another icon of 60s horror, who would command the screen with her fiery sensuality, flexing her bloodlust to offer herself up as Satan’s bride in Red Death.

Corman established himself as a successful director with his landscapes as Rodrick Usher says are a ‘feverish and deranged mind’ with his colorful more substantial yet still low-budget homages to Poe’s series of horror tales. With screenplays by Richard Matheson and cinematography by Floyd Crosby. Reaching its artistic peak with Masque of the Red Death. Many of the women in his Poe series feature a more incendiary female character. The horror genre especially from the 60s forward would prove to have more provocative roles for women since the femme fatale reigned during the time of film noir.

Instead of the restrained earlier decades, the 60s held up a mirror to the decade’s social turbulence and reflected back to us, with subversive storytelling, its edgy gore, and taboo-breaking narratives that fed a whole new audience who were hungry for more realistic and challenging scenarios. A new vanguard of filmmakers shattered traditional boundaries that restrained on-screen violence and sexuality.

Women’s roles in classical horror films of the 1930s & 40s (to my memory for now), with the exception of Elsa Lanchester as the Bride, and Gloria Holden as Countess Marya Zaleska in Dracula’s Daughter, initiated most of the leading ladies and supporting actresses, as easily fainting from fright, who screamed with hollow innocence, projecting reductive nuances of helplessness.

Still, there were established directors such as Alfred Hitchcock who caught wind of the changes, inspired by Clouzot’s le Diabolique 1955 and impressed by William Castle’s popular run of low-budget horror formula (albeit with its use of gimmickry).

Psycho 1960 would be set in safe and secure American suburbia instead of the imposing castles of Europe. The clean-cut serial killer would eclipse the caped swarthy vampire as the screen’s new boogeyman. Yet Marion’s ascendancy is as much a major element of the narrative as Norman Bates’ psychopathy!

Hitchcock offered us the bold cautionary, The Birds, a film Fellini referred to as “an apocalyptic poem” featuring a beautiful woman perceived as a she-devil that ushered in the natural world’s revolt.

FROM BARBARA CREED THE MONSTROUS FEMININE:

“Melanie Daniels in The Birds is a single woman in her thirties drifting – who must go through a trial by fire which she suffers, is humiliated and lectured to lower her defenses. She is an outsider who is being shown how social behavior becomes physically agonizing.”

The stark black & white Psycho 1960 based on a real-life serial killer, Ed Gein, pushed the boundaries of the Production Code with its shocking scenes of murder and inflected frames of Janet Leigh’s bra and slip. Leigh’s 30-minute on-screen persona of the immoral Marion Crane was a diverging representation of the traditional leading lady.

The decade also signaled a multitude of black & white psychological thrillers. Hammer split off some of its focus on the gory period pieces- translations of Frankenstein, Dracula, and Mummy, and jumped on the Psycho bandwagon with films like Scream of Fear 1961, Maniac 1963, Nightmare 1964, Hysteria 1965, Die! Die! My Darling! 1965 starring Tallulah Bankhead as the menacing Mrs. Trafoil, not a Medieval crone but a modern-day unleashed psychopath. And, The Nanny 1965 with Bette Davis, coming off of her pair of shockers by director Robert Aldrich, plays a sinister governess terrorizing young William Dix.

After Baby Jane, the industry was rife with menacing Hollywood starlets. I’ll be writing about the shattering of the myth of Hag Cinema, down the road. Robert Aldrich set in motion a trend of psychological horror films after he paired Bette Davis and Joan Crawford together in what is considered campy, outrageous at times, sickening – What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? 1962. It was a watershed moment for the genre.

Crawford and Davis in particular in Aldrich’s films made the bold and courageous decision to act under harsh white lights, in grotesque makeup, and willing to immerse themselves into a character -eccentric, cringingly childish, and utterly sadistic.

After Baby Jane, Aldrich followed up with Davis, de Havilland, and Agnes Moorehead in Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte 1964. Crawford worked with William Castle on Strait-Jacket 1964, and Geraldine Page played a greedy murderess in What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? Co-starring Ruth Gordon. Shelley Winters appeared as the maniacal villainess in the fable-like Who Slew Auntie Roo? 1969 and Winters, Debbie Reynolds, and Moorehead in 1971 topped it off with Harrington’s What’s the Matter with Helen? A personal favorite of mine.

The second wave of the feminist movement and its emergence and impact began with Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, giving 50s suburban housewives a different vision of domestic enslavement and began to disassemble the myth of that decade’s family values. The quaint and complacent sentiment of post-WW2 comfortability became subverted by empowered women who broke free and found new independence reigniting the Monstrous Feminine giving permission to women as represented more freely in film, with more prominent parts, especially fostered in… the horror genre.

The 60s subverted the expectations surrounding the traditional housewife roles. Witches could be well-bred housewives like Janet Blair in Burn Witch Burn 1962 or a malevolent ingénue, Sharon Tate in Eye of the Devil 1966.

“The housewife witches of Burn, Witch, Burn and Season of the Witch use witchcraft to escape the confines of the domestic sphere and subvert their husbands’ patriarchal power. Then there is the cult leader witch of Eye of the Devil who uses her femininity to intimidate traditional societal gender roles” – Claudia Bunce

Significant films like Robert Wises’ The Haunting 1963, which were suggestive of lesbianism and repressed sexuality, stars two very significant central female characters, Julie Harris and Claire Bloom who give intensely complex and reflexive performances. Bloom as the stylish and extraordinarily self-composed Theo is a truly independent woman who lives life on her own terms. There isn’t anyone who wouldn’t shiver while at the mercy of the malevolent forces of Hill House. Director Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face (The French title Les Yeux sans Visage) 1960 has perhaps one of the most graphic scenes of horror, a gruesome fairytale with its medical experimentation with facial transplantation and a lead actress, Edith Scob with her macabre blank mask who floats around the halls like a lost princess swallowed up inside a night terror. The film also stars a stoic Alida Valli, a strong ally to the twisted plastic surgeon in search of a new face for his daughter.

Jack Clayton’s adaptation of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, became a screenplay by William Archibald, The Innocents 1961’ lead actress Deborah Kerr lies wide open with her distillation of a woman tortured by her sexual paranoia. Dressed in classical clothes, unlike Deneuve’s role in Repulsion, where her character Carol’s neurosis is flayed and hung out naked on display.

And most significantly, the female-centric role of Mia Farrow as the allegorical heroine Rosemary Woodhouse, hunted down by a coven of upper west side devil worshipers in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby 1968. Farrow’s performance is a striking denunciation of control over women’s bodies, a slow burn of paranoia, and a strong instinct for survival.

“but when he (Guy Woodhouse) took control of her reproductive functions, he asserted his dominance over her in the darkest way possible.

Assertion of dominance reinforced his masculinity and the traditional role that men had in relationships. Guy’s taking control assuages the fear of women gaining too much independence.” – From Jenna Labbie damsels in Distress Analyzing gender in horror movies of the 1960s and 70s

Polanski’s earlier released Repulsion 1965 strayed from Hitchcock’s black humor drizzled about in Psycho. Repulsion rather has a sense of nightmarish realism and a protagonist, Catherine Deneuve who goes down a rabbit hole of repressive seizures.

Repulsion is an extremely disturbing contemplation on the destructive forces of loneliness, isolation, and paranoia seen through the lens of a sexually repressed young woman, Carol who suffers a homicidal breakdown while her sister and married lover leave her alone for a long weekend. An exit from the cheeky dark humor of Hitchcock’s Psycho, Repulsion brushes the screen with strokes of Carol’s existential misery.

Michael Powell’s groundbreaking shocker Peeping Tom is a hauntingly twisted mood piece about serial killer Karl Bohm who films his victims in the last moments of their death to capture their fear. It features two very strong female leads, Anna Massey and Maxine Audley.

Mexican fright flicks abound with atmospheric gems like The Curse of the Crying Woman 1963, The Brainiac 1961, and The Witch’s Mirror 1962, featuring strong female-centric characters played by Rosita Arenas and Rita Macedo. And in Jack Hill’s oddball black comedy Spider Baby 1967 benefitted from the quirky presence of both Beverly Washburn and Jill Banner as two bizarre, homicidal sisters.

Luana Anders features significantly in the genre, highlighted in Coppola’s Dementia 13 as the independent yet ruthless Louise Halloran and as prostitute Sylvia in Robert Altman’s psycho-sexual thriller That Cold Day in the Park 1969. The film stars one of my favorite underrated actors, Sandy Dennis who gives a stunning performance as the disturbed Francis Austen, who holds Michael Burns hostage.

George Romero broke ground with the brutal realism of Night of the Living Dead 1968 which has not so indirect social relevance. 60s horror films were breaking away from Hollywood and being forged by gutsy independent filmmakers with smaller budgets, and an imaginative longing to experiment with diversity, artistic style, and a divergent way to visualize and process gender roles outside traditional cultural norms.

Barbara Shelley

The Queen of Hammer

Ryan Gilbey, in her obituary in The Guardian, praises Shelley’s acting in the Hammer films, considering that she had “a grounded, rational quality that instantly conferred gravitas on whatever lunatic occurrences were unfolding around her.”

The world lost Barbara Shelley in January 2021 at the age of 88. With hair like paprika, Barbara Shelley was born Barbara Kowin. A glamorous gothic leading lady was considered the ‘Queen of Hammer’ during the studio’s golden age of Gothic horror. A classical beauty, with an air of elegance and self-assuredness, she has co-starred with other Hammer royalty Christoper Lee and Peter Cushing. Shelley was an actress with such integrity and beauty that she transcended the horror genre.

The London-based production company was founded in 1934 by William Hinds and James Carrera who made a string of hit Gothic horror films from the mid-1950s until the 1970s. Inspired by classic horror characters like Baron Victor Frankenstein, Count Dracula, and the Mummy and appeared in 104 films and television series until 2000. She was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company between 1975 and 1977.

From Wiki-
{Hammer reintroduced to audiences by filming them in vivid colour for the first time. Hammer also produced science fiction, thrillers, film noir and comedies, as well as, in later years, television series. During its most successful years, Hammer dominated the horror film market, enjoying worldwide distribution and considerable financial success.}

“Hammer was like a family, a very talented family… with a wonderful atmosphere on the set and a wonderful sense of humour”

“When I first started doing Hammer, all the so-called classic actors looked down on the horror film. All the other things I did, nobody remembers those. But for the horror films, I’m very grateful to them because they built me a fan base, and I’m very touched that people will come and ask for my autograph. If you went to see a [Hammer] film in the cinema, the gasps were interspersed with giggles because people were giggling at themselves for being frightened, they were frightening themselves, and this is what made Hammer very special.”

With her success as a teenage model, she made her minor film debut in Hammer’s motion picture Mantrap in 1952 directed by Terence Fisher and starring Paul Henreid and Lois Maxwell.

Shelley took her screen name from Italian actor Walter Chiari who saw something in the actress and suggested that she use the last name as a tribute to his favorite English romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. She wound up living in Rome for four years and appeared in nine Italian-speaking films.

She returned to the UK in 1957, starring that year for British Lion Film in her first starring role within the horror genre as Leonora Johnson née Brandt in Cat Girl (1957), directed by Alfred Shaughnessy who set out to borrow from Jacques Tourneur’s superior, and innovative Cat People (1942.) Leonora Johnson returns to her ancestral home that is beset with the family curse, that she will be possessed by the spirit of a leopard. The film was a collaboration between American International Pictures and the British Anglo-Amalgamated.

Her first starring vehicle was Cat Girl (1957), Alfred Shaughnessy’s offbeat variation of Jacques Tourneur’s influential Cat People (1942), and A.I.P.’s first co-production with the UK’s Anglo-Amalgamated. The following year she made her first major appearance in a film for Hammer The Camp on Blood Island.

In 1958, she co-starred as a woman in peril at the hands of mad scientist Callistratus (Donald Wolfit). In Blood of the Vampire, Shelley is the picture of fainting beauty chained to the wall, a garish period piece in line with the days of Universal’s classic horrors though scattered with gory scenes satiated by fake blood and understated cleavage.

In 1880 Transylvania Dr. Calistratus is brought back to life by his one-eyed hunchback assistant Carl after he’d been executed as a vampire. At the same time, Dr. John Pierre (Vincent Ball) is on trial for killing one of his patients whom he tried to save with a blood transfusion. He is found guilty and sentenced to life. Barbara Shelley plays fiancee Madeleine, set on finding the truth behind the incriminating letter allegedly proving his guilt, forged by Calistratus.

He is brought to prison for the criminally insane by the mad doctor’s hunchback Carl. John is put in a cell, a menacing place guarded by vicious dogs, where Calastratus experiments and tortures his human subjects. In order to prove John’s innocence Madeleine poses as Calastratus’ housekeeper who winds up chained to a wall and strapped to an operating table!

Shelley was against her body being exploited or appearing in any nude scenes while being menaced by Wolfit. She warded off this endeavor by producers Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman by writing the word “STOP” on her chest. She threatened to sue the studio if it even used a body double.

“I had one or two dissertations on horror sent to me by students, and all the discussion ever seems to be concerned with is exploitation and the licking of blood and a scene of people making love, and it’s not right. It annoys me intensely because my career was not built on exploitation and sex. It was built on working very hard.”

In 1960, she is marvelous in the heartbreaking role of the tragic mother Anthea Zellerby who has given birth to an unfeeling monstrous alien boy who has uncanny dangerous powers along with the rest of the children of Midwich. All the mothers in Midwich have conceived during a strange blackout where they wind up giving birth to a breed of malevolent telepathic sociopaths.

Shelley’s character is earnest in the role of a woman torn between motherhood and sheer terror in director Wolf Rilla’s incredibly unsettling moody classic blend of science fiction and horror-Village of the Damned (1960) based on John Wyndham’s science fiction novel The Midwich Cuckoos. The film co-stars George Sanders as Shelley’s altruistic husband Gordon, who seeks to understand the menacing children with their freaky white hair and piercing eyes and his creepy son David played by Martin Stephans. These dangerous little progeny can get inside people’s minds and make them do anything they want, as in making Shelley’s character stick her hand in a pot of boiling water. The screenplay written by Stirling Sillipant is quite a disturbing potboiler it total.

She went on to star in John Gilling’s turn-of-the-century old dark house mystery Shadow of the Cat (1961)

Some of the outstanding pictures that put her upon the thrown as the reigning Queen of those splendid years of Gothic horror are Dracula: Prince of Darkness 1966, Rasputin the Mad Monk 1966 with Christopher Lee, and The Gorgon 1964 with Peter Cushing. The monstrous Gorgon is portrayed by Prudence Hyman.

“She really was Hammer’s number one leading lady and the Technicolor queen of Hammer.
“On-screen she could be quietly evil. She goes from statuesque beauty to just animalistic wildness… She adored Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing and loved working with them, that was very dear to her.”-Agent, Thomas Bowington

What truly established Barbara Shelley’s esteemed reputation as the First Lady of British horror in the mid-1960s is her collaboration with Terence Fisher. Leaving behind the more exploitative persona of the luscious heroine with inviting bosoms Shelley portrayed the sympathetic character of Carla Hoffman in Fisher’s mood piece The Gorgon. Carla is the assistant to Dr. Namaroff (Peter Cushing), and a tortured soul possessed by an ancient evil spirit with serpents for hair and the ability to turn whoever gazes upon her to stone, and Shelley conveys the bleakness of a woman who is held captive by her monstrous alter ego.

Before Shelley turns into a blood-sucking bride of Dracula, she plays her first woman transformed into a monster in The Gorgon (1964). She told the studio “I wouldn’t need any makeup… just a green face and the headdress of real snakes.” Shelley absolutely let down when she saw what the special effects department conjured up, “They came up with these terrible sorts of rubber snakes dancing around and it just looked awful. It wasn’t frightening at all.” She had said that it was “probably the biggest regret I’ve had in any film I ever made.”

She was absolutely dejected when they chose to substitute Prudence Hyman in the part of the Gorgon, “They came up with these terrible sorts of rubber snakes dancing around, and it just looked awful. It wasn’t frightening at all.” She called it “probably the biggest regret I’ve had in any film I ever made” though she admired the look of the picture, noting that “every shot … resembles a Rembrandt painting.”

In Dracula: Prince of Darkness 1966, Christopher Lee resurrects the count from Horrors of Dracula 1958. Shelley plays Helen the heroine whom we empathize with as she is trapped by her circumstances, when her stubborn husband Alan (who dismisses Helen’s panic) and his brother Charles, both refuse to leave the creepy unwelcoming Castle Dracula after stumbling onto the unattended mausoleum.

They want to stay and partake in a meal laid out for them, but Helen is justifiably spooked by its strange undercurrent. “Everything about this place is evil”.

Once Christopher Lee’s resurrection, Helen goes through a diverging transformation from the archetypal repressed female to an unrestrained raptorial vampiress liberated from her proper English breeding, in high contrast to her tight up swung hair in a provincial hat, was now wide open with unwound flowing hair and unequivocal breastage. Shelley loved how distinct her character’s trajectory was in Dracula: Prince of Darkness. From inhibited, startled gentlewoman to the monstrous feminine as one of Dracula’s brides. When she appears at Karlsbad Castle, telling Suzan Farmer, “nothing’s wrong” through hungry red lips and baring fangs. “Come sister, You don’t need Charles…” she tempts, with inviting arms outstretched to the innocent Suzan Farmer as Diana. Shelley’s virtuous woman who reveals to her Diana that she is now a vampire is lauded by Gilbey in The Guardian as having “traumatized and tantalized” viewers.

Shelley’s scream in Dracula is actually dubbed by fellow actress Suzan Farmer (Die Monster Die! 1965 with Boris Karloff) who appeared with her in Dracula: Prince of Darkness and Rasputin The Mad Monk.

In a terrifying scene perhaps inspiring Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, has Helen tapping on the window in the middle of the night. “Please let me in,” she pleads. “It’s cold out here. So cold. Everything’s all right now.”

She was delighted by one of her most potent scenes -as when she contends with her adversaries – monks who lie her on a table and hammer a stake through her undead heart.

Shelley told Mark Gatiss in his 2010 documentary series A History of Horror, “The scene that I’m most proud of is when she is staked that’s absolute evil when she’s struggling and then suddenly she’s staked and there is tremendous serenity. And I think that is one of my best moments in the film.”

“… and then suddenly she’s staked, and there is tremendous serenity. And I think that is one of my best moments on film.”

“Christopher Lee, who was an eloquent Gothic figure of pure evil in 1958’s first adaptation of Stoker’s vampire, had now evolved into a hissing fiend. But Shelley had this to say about the actor -“He brought dignity and veritas. It’s a difficult thing to bring to a fantasy like a vampire. And that is just Chris’ appearance and his personality. He did all that. He used to walk onto the sent and I’d say to him it’s an extraordinary performance, cause we know each other so well and you could hypnotize me. But it was brilliant because he completely dominated the film without a word. Talk about silent movies!”

Shot at the same time was another Hammer horror, Rasputin the Mad Monk with Christopher Lee has dialogue in a more colorful, lurid role, as the mad mesmerist in contrast to his silent, blood-eyed fiend. Shelley falls under the spell of Rasputin. While not willing to do a nude scene in Blood of the Vampire, she was however up to laying bare a seduction scene with Christoper Lee. “That scene was in the script when I read it. The scenes I refused to do was when they would suddenly say to me ‘Oh, you take your clothes off here’ The answer to that was always no” – From an interview with Fangoria Magazine 2010.

One of her beloved roles is her last Hammer feature in Roy Ward Baker’s adaption of writer Nigel Kneale’s (The Quatermass Experiment 1955, First Men in the Moon 1964, The Witches 1966, The Stone Tape 1972 TV movie) Quatermass and the Pit 1967.

In Quatermass and the Pit, Shelley portrays scientist Barbara Judd who along with paleontologist Doctor Roney (James Donald) and a team of scientists discover an ancient alien race whose spacecraft is found buried in the underground station at Hobbs End during an expansion of London’s Underground transport system. Shelley develops a psychic link to the aliens and is taken over by the inhabitants of the alien spacecraft.

She is subjected to images of green gooey decomposing locust-like alien carcasses that in the process of being removed from the tunnels cause her brain to succumb to the electromagnetic influence of the spacecraft, causing her to writhe in pain. She is so totally reasonable as an actress that she brings credibility to her character. Shelly had claimed that director Roy Ward Baker was her favorite of all the filmmakers she worked with.

The way he felt about her goes like this. He told Bizarre Magazine in a 1974 interview that he was ‘mad about her. “Mad in the sense of love,” he said. “We used to waltz about the set together, a great love affair. It puzzles me about her. She should be much bigger than she is, but I don’t think she really cares whether she is a star or not. She can act, God, she can act!”

In The Avengers 1961 image: Studio Canal

Barbara Shelley would eventually do guest appearances on popular television shows including the British television series Doctor Who playing Sorasta in the episode “Planet Of Fire,” starring Peter Davison as the fifth incarnation of Doctor Who. She would also appear on The Saint, The Avengers, The Man From U.N.C.L.E, and Route 66. Later she would play Hester Samuels in “EastEnders.”

Shelley’s final role in horror films was in the old dark house mystery Ghost Story 1974 directed by Stephen Weeks co-starring Marianne Faithful.

Her final role on screen was in the Uncle Silas mini-series in 1989. A sinister character brought to life on screen by Derrick De Marney in 1947 with Jean Simmons in the role of Caroline.

Although Shelley ultimately felt framed in within the horror genre by the late 1960s, retiring two decades later, she always embraced her devoted fanbase and left behind a substantial legacy. “I realized that my work had been appreciated and that I had – through those horror films – actually reached a far bigger audience than I would ever have done if I’d stuck to the theater.”

The actress was modest about her achievements but happy with her legacy, as she conveyed with typical aplomb to Marcus Hearn: “There’s a lovely saying – we’re given memories so we can have roses in winter. When I look back over my various rose gardens, I’m only sorry I didn’t enjoy them more”.

“No one told me I was beautiful. They said I was photogenic but no one said I was beautiful. If they had I would have had a lot more fun!”

In an interview with the Express newspaper in 2009, she said she was told at a convention by female fans that they loved her for her strong roles. “Which I thought was a brilliant thing to have said about one. I never thought of it in that way. The fact that I’m still getting mail from my horror fan base really touches me.”

TRIVIA

While making the 1961 TV film, A Story of David, she met Hollywood star Jeff Chandler and they began a relationship. Chandler died suddenly the following year. Shelley is later reported to have said that he had been the love of her life

So convincing was Shelley’s violently realistic struggle against the stake, she swallowed one of her stuck-on fangs.

With no spares at the ready and a tight shooting schedule, it is reported that she kept drinking salt water until she puked it up.

After the scene in Dracula: Prince of Darkness where she struggles with the monks at the end with her demise, it was so physically demanding on Shelley, that she suffered from chronic back pain.

Barbara Shelley would recall how she and Lee, prided themselves on being “un-corpseable”, and would compete to make one another laugh during takes.

Cat Girl 1957, Blood of the Vampire 1958, VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED 1960 THE GORGON 1964,  DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS 1966, RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK 1966, QUATERMASS AND THE PIT 1967

Continue reading “BRIDES OF HORROR – Scream Queens of the 1960s! 🎃 Part 1”

Chapter 2 – Queers and Dykes in the Dark: Classic, Noir & Horror Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters:

THE LAND OF MORAL AMBIGUITY: HOLLYWOOD & THE HAYS CODE

“Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex Relationships are the accepted or common thing…”

Prior to the Production Code, LGBT characters were somewhat prevalent, if heavily stereotyped and exploited, in a number of major films. The 1920s especially were a time of shifting societal norms and expanding artistic experimentation. As women rode the first wave of feminism and prohibition was increasingly challenged, filmmakers began to expand their boundaries and feature more controversial plotlines. – Sophie Cleghorn

Pre-Code was a brief period in the American film industry between the dawn of talking pictures in 1929 and the formal enforcement in 1934 of the Motion Picture Production Code (MPPC) familiarly known as the Hays Code. Pre-Code was a glorious time in the history of cinema. It was during the Depression Era, before the cultural politics of Clergy and reformer organizations came in and initiated the need for moral governance over the film industry. Their interference evolved into the Hays Code created to oversee silent and talking pictures.

In the late 1920s before the Hays Code, films began to speak becoming audible and more realistic as Hollywood recognized that many Americans knew all about sex. In the early era of talkies during the gutsy cinema of the Depression era, there was nothing stopping the studios from producing daring films. Hollywood movies weren’t afraid to show gay characters or reference their experiences. Ironically, queers were pretty visible onscreen at this time in American cinema. These characters left an impression on trade papers like Variety that called this phenomenon – “queer flashes.”

Also in the early twenties, there were notorious scandals on and off screen. Hollywood’s moral ambiguity was literally in the clutches of the Hays Code which the MPPDA used to wage a moral battle against Hollywood that they perceived would eventually lead to cultural ruination. The priggish William Hays was a deacon in the Presbyterian church, a former chair of the Republican party, and post master general before he was picked to lead the war on decadence in the movie industry. William Hays was appointed chairman of the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association (MPPDA) from the year it was established in 1922 to 1945, but the Hays Code was not overturned until 1968. Hays and his code regulated film content for nearly forty years. The little worm.

W.C.Fields and Franklin Pangborn- Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941)

The Hays Code became a series of self-imposed, perceived-to-be-moral guidelines that told filmmakers and the major studios what was permissible to do in their movies. The Code was established in 1930, and the MPPC set forth censorship guidelines that weren’t yet strictly enforced. And states had their own censorship boards and so their individual standards varied. Hays tried to contain his guidelines without the intrusion of government censorship, so he created his own Production Code that was for all intents and purposes optional for studios.

They felt that the liberal themes of films in the 1920s were contributing to the supposed debauchery infiltrating society. They championed government censorship as the solution to return society to its traditional moral standards (Mondello).

In June 1927, Hays publicized a list of cautionary rules. A construct of ‘Don’ts and Be Carefuls’. The document and empowering legislation spelled out guidelines for propriety on screen in classic Hollywood that became known as the Production Code. It was co-authored in 1929 by Martin J. Quigley, prominent Catholic layman, editor of the journal Motion Picture Herald and Reverend Daniel A. Lord, a Jesuit Priest. Their collaboration reflected a ‘Victorianism’ that would tint the freedom of Hollywood’s creative license. “The Production Code was a template for a theological takeover of American cinema.” “No picture should lower the moral standards of those who see it.”

“Just Ten of the Thous Shalt Nots”

Homosexuality

While the Code did not explicitly state that depictions of homosexuality were against the Code, the Code barred the depiction of any kind of sexual perversion or deviance, which homosexuality fell under at the time. -Wikipedia

The convict

“The courts of the land should not be presented as unjust…”

Prostitution and fallen women

“Brothels and houses of ill-fame are not proper locations for drama. They suggest to the average person at once sex sin, or they excite an unwholesome and morbid curiosity in the minds of youth…”

Bad girls

“Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing…”

Musicals

“Dancing costumes cut to permit indecent actions or movements are wrong… Dances suggesting or representing sexual actions or indecent passion are forbidden…”

Adultery and the sanctity of marriage

“Adultery as a subject should be avoided… It is never a fit subject for comedy. Thru comedy of this sort, ridicule is thrown on the essential relationships of home and family and marriage, and illicit relationships are made to seem permissible, and either delightful or daring.”

NOT TO MENTION: GOD COMPLEXES-

Boris Karloff as Dr. Henry Frankenstein’s creation. Make-up by Jack Pierce.

By the time the sequel Bride of Frankenstein was released in 1935, enforcement of the code was in full effect and the Dr. Henry Frankenstein’s overt God complex was forbidden. In the first picture however, when the creature was born, his mad scientist creator was free to proclaim “Now I know what it feels like to be a God.”

‘Don’ts’ included “profanity,” “sex hygiene,” “miscegenation,” and “ridicule of the clergy.” There was a much longer list of ‘Be carefuls’ which indicated it was offensive to “show sympathy for criminals,” “arson,” “surgical operations,” and “excessive or lustful kissing” and of course “HOMOSEXUALITY.”

Hays appointed Colonel Jason S. Joy to be in charge of the supervisory agency, the Studio Relations Committee. Once the first talky The Jazz Singer (1927) starring Al Jolson was released a newly fired up rebel cry was heard from the hoity-toity do-gooders who raised objections against Hollywood’s immorality. What was once suggestive in silent pictures was now committed to sound, with all it’s risque humor and wicked context.

In 1934 censorship was tightening its strangle hold. Under pressure from the Catholic Church and other religious groups the Motion Picture Production Code made it so that any marginal gay characters became masked in innuendo, relying on queer symbolism instead. Several grassroots organizations were founded in order to pressure the film industry, the most influential of all was the Catholic Legion of Decency.

So, between the Code and state censorship boards, one might expect that films produced after 1930 would be exemplars of wholesomeness and purity. In practice, the men who enforced the Code on behalf of the MPPDA (Jason Joy and James Wingate) were wholly ineffectual, primarily due to the very small staffs they were allotted to keep up with the work of reviewing scripts, treatments and finished films while battling studios that weren’t especially thrilled by the bottleneck caused by the whole operation. The combination of bureaucratic sclerosis and the economic, political and cultural crisis brought about by the Great Depression ushered in a vibrant era of filmmaking and the introduction of many stars whose personas would forever be rooted in their pre-Code films.- Mike Mashon

The Code set in place since 1930 was a turning point in the history of self-regulation. With the strict enforcement of the Production Code, they attempted to influence the discourse in American film without coming out and definitively stating which contexts were strictly forbidden. Instead they issued phrases like “should be avoided” and “should not suggest.” Though a variety of controversial topics weren’t vigorously banned by the Production Code, gay characters WERE strictly prohibited. 

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) directed by Alfred Hitchcock- Peter Lorre

When the Hays Code was adopted in 1930, they articulated that, “though regarding motion pictures primarily as entertainment without any explicit purpose of teaching or propaganda, they know that the motion picture within its own field of entertainment may be directly responsible for spiritual or moral progress, for higher types of social life, and for much correct thinking.”

When the MPPDA formally ratified The Code, they demanded that it be followed to the letter but it “lacked an effective enforcement mechanism” – and the studio heads openly defied it’s frame of mind and it’s puritanical spirit.

The movie studios had other pressing issues of concern. It was the Great Depression, and studios were barely making it, on the brink of ruin due to low ticket sales. They were quite ready to fight with states over censorship because sex and violence sells. They wanted to draw in audiences that would be titillated by gangsters, vamps, and racy subject matter. Popular musicals could entertain with disparaging racial clichés and glamorous, intoxicating imagery, with hints of queerness. You could also watch languid prostitutes on screen — everyone seems to long for Shanghai Lil, in the film that has it all, Footlight Parade (1933)

Filmmakers tried to switch around controversial subject matter that would not only push the boundaries but would promote ticket sales, with films that would attract a more sophisticated audience. Breen perceived these films to be less ‘dangerous’ a word he often used. They focused on the ‘gangster’ film with it’s violent content, and when they put their foot on that genre’s neck, Hollywood rolled out the ‘fallen woman‘ films. They tried very hard to get around the scrutiny and so they delved into making horror pictures, and racy comedies. These fare better as they fell under the heading of being ‘unrealistic’ which rendered them as innocuous material to the censors.

During the Great Depression, movies were an escape for audiences in dire need of distraction. The morally-charged stranglehold that was beginning to challenge filmmakers forced them to experiment with movies that were audacious and candid in different ways. Pre-Code actually challenged audiences to watch real life issues on screen. Pre-Code cinema offered some titillating truths coming out of the dream factory. Depression-era cinema exhibited gay characters, but generally in small parts and often used for comic purposes that managed to cue audiences in, with roles that were codified and readable as queer. ‘Queerness’ was railed against because it subverted traditional masculinity which was under attack by the new socioeconomic crisis in the country. Yet somehow, Hollywood found it to be a viable trigger for ideological gossip.

These films illustrated narratives that were thought provoking, worldly, and subversive. Movies dealt frankly or were suggestive of sexual innuendo, sexual relationships between races, mild profanity, drug use, promiscuity, prostitution, infidelity, abortion, intense violence, and of course, homosexuality.

William Wellman’s Safe in Hell (1931) starring Dorothy Mackaill as a call girl in hiding. Prostitution is a no no!

Filmmakers took risks delivering a portrait of America with a punishing realism, and a creative freedom to portray taboo themes like crime (gangs and guns, violence), social dilemma’s (drug abuse, poverty and political unrest). And sexual relationships (adultery, promiscuity, deviance = homosexuality). In the 1930s filmmakers also sought to stir up controversy by screening queer characters, in order to shock audiences and drive up their ticket sales. The result, movies became more lewd, ruthless and vicious between 1930 and 1934. And Hollywood was it’s MOST queer from 1932-1934.

Yet during the silent era to the mid thirties, gay characters were illustrated as stereotypes showcasing the popular tropes established by conventional hetero-normative gender bias. These archetypes were styled to be gender non-conformists. Queer men were fussy, effeminate and flamboyant. With high-pitched voices, the air under their feet and waving hands. Essentially, ‘fairies’ who were deployed as comic relief on the periphery of the drama. Real-life queers of the Depression era and later periods were exposed to cinematic images, the vast majority being caricatures in which gays and lesbians were often presented as targets of ridicule and contempt for their divine decadence. ‘Entertainers play with gender ambiguity in Broadway thru a Keyhole (1933).‘ (Lugowski)

Lesbians were at the other end of the spectrum. They were ‘masculine,’ demonstrating deep voices, cross-dressing in male attire, and were installed in male-dominated professions. They were often invalidated by the straight male characters, and were either played for the uncomfortable humor or shown as baffling to men. The PCA in it’s Hollywood’s Movie Commandments specified that there could be no comic characters “introduced into a screen play pantomiming a pervert.” (Lugowski)

Gender Reversals, Queerness, and a Nation in Crisis.–

In Michael Curtiz’s The Strange Love of Molly Louvain (1932) Suddenly, queer imagery in film, typically in the form of comical representations of gay men, lesbians, and ambiguous sexuality, did not seem so funny any-more, least of all to those charged with applying Hollywood’s Production Code to film content. By “queer” imagery, I am focusing particularly on situations, lines of dialogue, and characters that represent behavior coded, according to widely accepted stereotypes, as cross-gendered in nature. As played by such prominent and well-established supporting comedy character actors as Franklin Pangborn, Edward Everett Horton, Grady Sutton, Erik Rhodes, Eric Blore, and Ernest Truex, queer men tended to appear as one of two types.

The queer in his more subdued form appears as the dithering, asexual “sissy,” sometimes befuddled, incompetent,and, if married, very henpecked (Horton), and sometimes fussy and officious (Pangborn). Pangborn, however, was one of the actors who (along with the unsung likes of Tyrell Davis and Tyler Brooke) also played or suggested the other type, the more outrageous “pansy,” an extremely effeminate boulevardier-type sporting lip-stick, rouge, a trim mustache and hairstyle, and an equally trim suit, incomplete without a boutonniere. Although a number of actors played or were even typecast in such roles, one generally doesn’t find a circle of prominent supporting actresses whose personas seemed designed to connote lesbianism (the closest, perhaps, is Cecil Cunningham) lesbian representation occurs frequently as well, and in perhaps a greater range of gradations. At her most overt, the lesbian was clad in a mannishly tailored suit (often a tuxedo), her hair slicked back or cut in a short bob. She sometimes sported a monocle and cigarette holder (or cigar!) and invariably possessed a deep alto voice and a haughty, aggressive attitude toward men, work, or any business at hand. Objections arose because she seemed to usurp male privilege; perhaps the pansy seemed to give it up. -David M.Lugowski: Queering the (New) Deal-Lesbian and Gay Representation and the Depression-Era Cultural Politics of Hollywood’s Production Code

Filmmakers were encouraged not to promote lifestyles of a ‘morally questionable’ nature, so queers remained as humorous detours away from the central story. It was a subtle defiance that filmmakers were determined to feature queer characters in their films in spite of the ban. Because of the threat of boycotts, this created some maneuvering around the scrutiny. Queer identities were not portrayed with depth or realism, this marginalized group was relegated to one-dimensional stereotypes. They were never shown to be in romantic relationships and filmmakers relied on visual cues to signal the character’s identity.

Censors at the PCA, for example, were very worried about the three female characters in William Dieterle’s Dr. Monica (1934) starring Kay Francis. The film is the story of three women, an alcoholic, a nymphomaniac and a lesbian. In October 1935, Joseph Breen wrote a letter to RKO’s head B.B. Kahane concerned about Follow the Fleet (1936) starring Fred Astaire who gives a dance lesson to all male sailors. “We are assuming of course that you will exercise your usual good taste in this scene of the sailors learning to dance. There will be no attempt to inject any ‘pansy’ humor into the scene.”

Due to a new, stricter Motion Picture Production Code, gays were being swept under the rug in movies. In the late 1930s and 1940s the only way to circumvent the Code was by painting homosexuals as cold-hearted villains (The Celluloid Closet). Now it appeared that gays were committing terrible crimes because of their sexual orientation, implying that homosexuality leads to insanity. In a society where being homosexual was synonymous with being sinful, it is no surprise that Hollywood made the leap to correlating a homosexual orientation with malicious crimes and wicked urges (Weir).

Alfred Hitchcock is a visual magician who rolls out the answers gradually while deconstructing what is explicit to the narrative. He is one of the most measured auteurs, whose eye for detail links each scene together like a skillful puzzle. He has been studied, tributed, and –in my opinion–unsuccessfully imitated. Rigid to conform, he danced around the Hays Code like a cunning acrobat indulging his vision while deflecting the lax regulations. There are arguments that Hitchcock insinuated homophobic messages in some of his films. The queer characters were all deviants and psychopathic predators, who were the ones responsible for some of the most heinous murders on screen. For example, in his film Rope (1948) the two Nietzschian murderers are intellectual companions who get off on trying to perpetrate the perfect murder. They exhibit a romantic friendship with no sexual contact on screen. Yet there are cues that they are sexually aroused by each other’s mutual pleasure at killing a young boy. The Hays Code inhibited the depiction of a queer couple so Hitchcock had to subtly suggest their sexual relationship by dropping metaphors and visual clues. Though, it might be interpreted through a homophobic lens, and their homosexuality might be at the core of their cruel and immoral nature.

According to David Greven, Hitchcock’s homophelia ‘was through a larger conflict that Hitchcock’s cinema that filmmakers conducted their investigation of American masculinity, one that focused on fissures and failures. Homosexuality emerged as representative of these and also as potential new direction for American masculinity to take, not without serious risk but also treated with surprising, fascinated interest… Hitchcock’s radical de-centering of heterosexual male dominance, devising contemporary narratives of heterosexual male ambivalence that allowed for, at times depended on, an investment in same-sex desire as well as an awareness of its dangerous, pernicious seductions. Homophobia in both Hitchcock and the New Hollywood’s informed by an attendant fascination with the homoerotic that emerges from scenes of gender crisis and disorganization that are rife in both the Cold War and New Hollywood eras. 

Any illicit sexual behavior on screen considered as perverse would be demonized and exploited as immoral. Queers were shown as villainous, dangerous deviants who were fated for ruination and/or death.

There were several broad categories the Code was not vague about. Any movies depicting criminality had to essentially illustrate that there would be consequences. The message was clear, any flagrant criminal behavior is abhorrent and audiences should NOT feel sympathy, primarily through the implicit edict of “compensating moral values.”

Authority figures had to be treated with respect, and the clergy could not be portrayed as comic characters or villains. Under some circumstances, politicians, police officers, and judges could be villains, as long as it was clear that those individuals portrayed as villains were the exceptions to the rule.

Clearly there were some productive strategies of circumventing the Motion Picture Production Code. They enabled characters that performed behind the veil, under the radar of social acceptability, while dancing a step closer to the fringe. It allowed for ‘queering the screen’. I find it feasible to consider how Alexander Doty points out that ‘queering’ something implies that you are taking a thing that is straight and doing something to it. Rather it should be considered that it’s less about co-opting or subverting films – making things queer, and more about how something might be understood as queer.

It might be easy to read Zasu Pitt’s and Thelma Todd’s relationship, the brilliantly paired comedy twosome, as lovers. While they perform humorous heterosexual man hunting, they sure seem to be mostly interested in each other and sure look adorable in their pajamas! I wonder, as Big Daddy says, if there’s ‘something missing here’. Below, they are in the film short directed by Hal Roach – On The Loose 1931, with bobbed hair, leaning into each other in bed together, looking awfully intimate.

To be ‘queer’ is also to deconstruct existing norms and ‘destabilize’ them, making it harder to define, so that it is a clear picture of non-normative straight masculinity/femininity.

What was perceptible to those ‘in the life’ were expressions, gestures, of the term often used by the Hays Code, ‘deviancy.’ One of the things that the Code banned was in Clause 6 Section 2 on “Sex” was that “sex perversion or any inference to it is forbidden.”

Not that films during the reign of the Code were ripe with queer love stories, of course. There were none to be found beyond the foreign offerings of Oswald’s Different From the Others and Mädchen in Uniform. The most prevalent allusion to being gay was the flamboyant man who was the ambiguous bachelor or fussy asexual husband. If there was anything close to a butch woman, she could be an earthy farmer’s wife, a Marjorie Main or Patsy Kelly type (Both lesbians in real life). A tough as nails prison matron, a tyrannical madame or a risque night club owner. Perhaps shes an embittered heavy drinker or just one of the guys who is a faithful friend to the female lead. Maybe she never gets the guy or hasn’t met the right man. Perhaps she was married to a no good bum and is off men for good!.. And just sometimes, sometimes it’s because… well some of us would know why!

Thelma Todd joined up with Patsy Kelly in comedy series. Here’s a lobby card for their Babes in the Goods. The two became very good friends during their collaboration.

Patsy Kelly had started in Vaudeville and appeared in Wonder Bar 1931 centered around a Parisian club. Kelly played Elektra Pivonaka and sang two lively songs.

She is known for her ballsy, straight-forward, no nonsense persona, be it her tough as nails nurse Mac in Sam Fuller’s The Naked Kiss (1964) or as Laura-Louise, attending to Rosemary (Mia Farrow) in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968). Kelly played very non-feminine roles, injecting a bit of her ‘in the life’ energy into the characters in every one of her roles. More often that not she had an unglamorous reputation as a funny spunky, brassy, wise cracking gal who played a lot of maids. She was outspoken about being an uncloseted lesbian, which hurt her movie career in the 1940s. But she had been a very successful actress on Broadway, returning to the stage in 1971 winning a Tony Award for No, No Nanette and Irene.

In director/screenwriter Sam Fuller’s sensationalist The Naked Kiss (1964), Patsy Kelly plays Mac the nurse, a hard-edged pussy cat. A no nonsense nurse who lives for helping children with disabilities, but there is no visible sign that she has the slightest interest in men, aside from a smart alecky comment about Grant bringing her back a man from Europe. Kelly might have wanted her role as an independent woman with a more offbeat way of stating that she is a tough dyke and expected Fuller to write her into the script that way. Knowing Kelly that’s a good assumption. The film is audacious in it’s scope for dealing with more than one theme, as taboo as prostitution, abortion and pedophilia.

The Catholic Legion of Decency used their influence to label gays as ‘sexual deviants’, not be depicted on screen. ‘Deviancy’ was used to refer to any behavior deviating from what was perceived to be normal in terms of romance, sex, and gender. Hays even ordered all ‘nance’ characters to be removed from screenplays.

The Federation of Women’s Clubs and the Hays Code tried to make symbolic gestures to maintain decency in films. The Legion of Decency were getting pressure from the Catholic Church. So in 1934 came up with A-acceptable B-Morally Objectionable and C-Condemned. Hollywood promised to observe the rules. Of the various subject matter that was restricted on screen-open mouth kissing, lustful embraces, sex-perversion, seduction, rape, abortion, prostitution, white slavery, nudity, obscenity, profanity.

But all this unsolicited attention caused the studios to be watchful of their off-screen personnel, and they also had to be certain that the Los Angeles Police Department received payoffs to keep their mouths shut. Though lurid and shocking subject matter was no longer tolerated on screen, the studios tried to continue to release their films without the intrusion of the Hays Office, even though from a commercial standpoint, sex sells.

Warner Bros.’ lack of cooperation with the Code until the bitter end and how Paramount, which was cooperative under B. P. Schulberg, decided to be “as daring as possible” under Emmanuel Cohen in 1932 and 1933. At MGM, Irving Thalberg’s resistance only really ended with his heart attack and journey abroad to recover in 1933. As James Wingate, Breen’s SRC predecessor, put things that same year: (Lugowski)

In 1934 Jack Warner ignored Breen’s letter and phone calls about a scene in Wonder Bar (1934) that explicitly demonstrates homoerotic desire. In it, one man cuts in to dance with another man, interrupting a woman who is dancing with her male partner. “May I cut in?”  she responds, “Why certainly,” as the man suitor grabs her chaperone to dance instead. The films stars Al Jolson who exclaims, “Boys will be boys!” Breen would later write, “It is quite evident that the gentleman [Warner] is giving me the runaround. He evidently thinks that this is the smart thing to do.” Wonder Bar  may have added a flash of queer diversion as part of the entertainment, but it is an incredibly offensive and racist film using a cast who are in Black face.

During the ongoing Depression era, sissy and lesbian characters of the period continued to be screened as effeminate and mannish with one change. They became progressively sexualized between 1933-34. As the Depression moved forward, the Code needed to establish a “suitable” masculinity in film that would satisfy the morality police. They wanted this accepted masculinity to mirror the public art imagery that was now being federally funded by the New Deal in the mid-and late 1930s.

Before 1934 the studios were able to ignore the Code’s denouncement and endeavor to censor the movie industry but Hollywood filmmakers could no longer disregard the regulations issued by the Hays Code. The Legion of Decency forced the MPPDA to assert itself with the Production Code and formed a new agency , the Production Code Administration (PCA). The Hays Code was formed in 1930 but it only began to have a profound impact on Hollywood when the Production Code Administration (PCA) began strictly enforcing it in 1934. The crusade to save America’s purity and squash the filth mongers began a cultural war.

It was a system of moral oversight, conservatives lobbied to enforce, using the PCA to compel the industry to drastically adhere to it. PCA is strongest in explaining how the Code tried to at once repress and enable discourse to appeal to the broadest possible spectrum of viewers and to offend the fewest. (Lugowski)

And in 1937, the Production Code Administration (PCA), handed down Hollywood’s Movie Commandments that decried “No hint of sex perversion may be introduced into a screen story. The characterization of a man as effeminate, or a woman as grossly masculine would be absolutely forbidden for screen portrayal.”

The Code was detailed in two parts that reflected the foundation of Catholic principles. The moral vision and “particular applications a precise listing of forbidden material.”

The code was divided into two parts. The first was a set of “general principles” which prohibited a picture from “lowering the moral standards of those who see it”, so as not to wrongly influence a specific audience of views including, women, children, lower-class, and those of “susceptible” minds, called for depictions of the “correct standards of life”, and lastly forbade a picture to show any sort of ridicule towards a law or “creating sympathy for its violation.

The second part of the Code was a set of “particular applications”, which was an exacting list of items that could not be depicted. Some restrictions, such as the ban on homosexuality or on the use of specific curse words, were never directly mentioned, but were assumed to be understood without clear demarcation. Homosexuals were de facto included under the proscription of sex perversion.” — Wikipedia

The second part of the Code was a ban on homosexuality. Though it was not specifically spelled out, queers were the subject under review of ‘sex perversion.’ Though the Hays office would not stand for “more than a dash of lavender” as long as the representation (especially a non desirable depiction of homosexuality) was fleeting and incidental. Thus, “Pansy comedy” was tolerable in Pre-Code Hollywood. “Despite the watchful eyes of the Hays Office, the trade paper Variety remarked that Hollywood continued what were called “queer flashes” and “mauve characters” who sashayed through Cavalcade 1933, Our Betters 1932 and Sailor’s Luck 1932.

The industry moguls and business offices finally had to follow the rules, clean up the ‘sinful’ screen and adopt a symbol of moral righteousness, that came along with a seal. The Code would be certified by a Code Seal printed on the lobby cards of each Hollywood film. And the seal would be an emblem that would appear on the motion pictures themselves. Any film without a Code Seal would be fined $25,000.

After some revisions, they agreed to the stipulations of the Code. … negotiated cuts from films and there were definite—albeit loose—constraints, a significant … against homosexuals, all in clear violation of the Hollywood Production Code.

Any sexual act considered perverted, including any suggestion of same sex relationships, sex, or romance, was ruled out.

Thus, during the Golden Age of Hollywood, the PCA scrutinized and censored, everything coming out of Hollywood and put it’s seal on each movie released. The Hollywood executives preferred to call it “self-regulation” and feared that censorship by the PCA would be even worse if they tampered with the creative ‘source’ of their product. Because of the studios’ defiance, Roman Catholics formed the National Legion of Decency, which became an influential group who would put Hollywood’s transgressions through the ordeal, of boycotts, picketing theaters, urging Catholics not to patronize these immoral movies or fall “under the pain of sin”, being met by hoards of angry protestors at the gates of the studio. Now religious groups and other moral traditionalists began a warlike campaign for the government to regulate what was shown on the screen.

Mae West: She Done Him Wrong 1933

Also government officials were bent on making gay people invisible from cinematic narratives and the United States Supreme Court handed down the ruling that filmmakers were not protected by the First Amendment in the matter of free speech. They considered Hollywood to be a powerful mechanism that to exploit ‘sinful’ behavior on the screen and influence American audiences. This laid the ground work for local governments that could weigh in and ban films from their theaters, if they considered them immoral. Hollywood could not afford to lose money at the box office from governmental authorities, by negative publicity, or from the threatening boycotts by rabid church groups.

Motion pictures could be regulated and run out of town by cities, states, and by ominous extension, the federal government.

“After all, censorship had been a fact of creative and commercial life for motion picture producers from the very birth of the medium, when even the modest osculations of the middle-aged lovebirds in Thomas Edison’s The Kiss (1896) scandalized cadres of (literally) Victorian ministers, matrons, and other variants of a sour-faced species known as the “bluenose.” By common consent, the artistically vital and culturally disruptive spectacle of the motion picture – an entertainment accessible to all levels of society and degrees of moral temperament, including unassimilated immigrants,impressionable juveniles, and other menacing types – required editorial supervision from more mature, pious, and usually Protestant sensibilities” -from Archives Unbound

Hollywood was in the grip of the Code that saw the ‘dream factory’ movie machine as a Hollywood Babylon. While the powers that be were busy policing the murmuration of taboos, Pre-Code was a brief moment in history, a fruitful period between 1929 to 1934. Hays then appointed someone who could intercede between studio moguls and anti-Hollywood groups, Joseph I. Breen. “The vulgar, the cheap, and the tawdry is out!”

The PCA had been known as the Hays Office but to those in Hollywood, once the oversight became an operation with teeth, it became known as the Breen Office. Breen came in to take over the weak Studio Relations Committee (SRC). The Code had consisted of thirty-six rules that informed Hollywood filmmakers to limit representation of, or normalization of subject matter considered by religious groups to be “unsavory or morally corrupt.” The SRC and the PCA were the inner mechanism within the film industry, shaping the content of the film and heading off any ethical problems the film might encounter before they reached the local censors.

Dorothy Mackaill Safe in Hell (1931)

Many scenarios disappeared from the movies by mid 1934: for example, audiences would no longer see women’s navels, couples laying in bed together, murderers going unpunished, any illustration of a bedroom that isn’t merely recognized as a bed chamber. The normalization of drug use, the glamourization of criminal behavior, or not following the law, and of course any overtly revealed gay or lesbian character. After 1934, women would not be sporting short haircuts and tailored suits, confidently smoking cigars. Men toned down the gushy gestures that would be interpreted as flamboyant. Gay men and women were transformed into dowdy spinsters and high-strung bachelors.

What we started to see was an ambiguity, a narrative uncertainty that took the burden of responsibility off of the filmmakers and dropped the perception of the content into the laps of the audience. Since the Code asserted that no picture should lower the moral standards of those who saw it, it was a law that bound Hollywood’s accountability for their plots. Ruth Vasey calls the antithesis of this “the principle of deniability” which refers to the ambiguity of the textual vaguery that shifted the message to the individual spectator. Lugowski cites Lea Jacobs, “under the Code ‘offensive ideas could survive at the price of an instability of meaning… There was constant negotiation about how explicit films could be and by what means (through the image, sound, language) offensive ideas could find representation.” The studios would have to come up with a structure of ‘representational conventions’, that could be understood by a more sophisticated audience yet would fly over the heads of more inexperienced spectatorship. Though producers felt the sharp sting of the Code as a mechanism of restraint, in terms of ‘queerness’ on screen, film studios could use the leverage of deniability to argue about the interpretation of certain scenes.

Once the limits of explicit “sophistication” had been established, the production industry had to find ways of appealing to both “innocent” and “sophisticated” sensibilities in the same object without transgressing the boundaries of public acceptability. This involved devising systems and codes of representation in which “innocence” was inscribed into the text while “sophisticated” viewers were able to “read into” movies whatever meanings they were pleased to find, so long as producers could use the Production Code to deny that they had put them there. Much of the work of self-regulation lay in the maintenance of this system of conventions, and as such, it operated, however perversely, as an enabling mechanism at the same time that it was a repressive one.-(Documents from the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, Inc., 1922 – 1939)

… by assuming that the social crisis over cinematic representation in the early 1930s was caused by the content of motion pictures. The institution of censorship in Hollywood was not primarily about controlling the content of movies at the level of forbidden words or actions or inhibiting the freedom of expression of individual producers. Rather, it was about the cultural function of entertainment and the possession of cultural power. (Tino Balio: Grand Design Hollywood as a Modern Business Enterprise 1930-1939)

Geoff Shurlock was appointed as acting director of the Production Code in the 1940s and as permanent director in 1954. Over the years, Shurlock would straddle the conflict, appeasing both movie producers, and morality mongers trying to persuade the Association Board that introducing more liberal thinking could protect the PCA from fading away. There were attempts to ease up on the Code, in 1954 he introduced an amendment that would eliminate various taboos, for instance, miscegenation, liquor, and some profane words, but producers felt that there weren’t enough considerations to the amendment and the Catholic Legion of Decency felt that even that much went too far. Shurlock had a tough time making everyone happy.

The 1950s witnessed a weakening of the Production Code to restrict specific representations such as adultery, prostitution, and miscegenation. By the beginning of the 1960s, the only specific restriction left was homosexuality = “sex perversion.”

In the 1960s, filmmakers pressured the Production Code Administration. In the fall of 1961, two films went into production that would deal with homosexual subject matter. William Wyler, who had initially directed Miriam Hopkins and Merle Oberon in These Three (1936), revealed that he was working on a more faithful treatment of Lillian Hellman’s play The Children’s Hour; that dealt overtly with the love that dare not speak it’s name. Around the same time director Otto Preminger began to adapt Allen Drury’s political novel Advise and Consent 1962, which delves into the lives of Senatorial candidates that uncovers controversial secret, including Don Murray’s homosexual encounter.

Throughout Preminger’s career he challenged the restrictions of the Code, and eventually influenced their decision to allow homosexuality to be shown on screen. Also fighting to change the stifling rules was Arthur Krim, president of United Artists, who threatened to ignore the Code and release the film without the mandatory “seal of approval” forcing them to amended its ideological strangle hold.

On October 3, 1961, the Production Code Administration backed off: “In keeping with the culture, the mores and values of our time, homosexuality and other sexual aberrations may now be treated with care, discretion and restraint.”

In order to maintain control of the Administration’s power at least in terms of how homosexual’s were portrayed on film, they insisted that the subject be infused with medical overtones, to show it as an ‘illness’. Sympathy or illness in psychological terms, were two key factors. The Code’s changed the use of the word “sex perversion” and replaced it with “homosexuality.”

Don Murray –gay bar scene in Advise and Consent 1962

Another interesting shift was that they owned up to the fact that “mores and values of our time” were changing whether they liked it or not, people were become more in touch with the freedom to express their sexuality, society was becoming more permissive, the love generation was upon them and sexual representation was a fearless exploration reflected by a new generation of film goers.

Otto Preminger was the only major producer able to successfully release films without the Production Code’s Seal of Approval. He defied the Code (Hadleigh) with movies like Advise and Consent (1961) The Man with Golden Arm (1955) Anatomy of a Murder (1959) Wendell Mayes said “Look at the record–you’ll discover that many of the changes in the Code were a result of Otto Preminger breaking the rules”

Though the Code had been revised in 1961 to open up the door for portrayals of gays on screen, the sissy effete and predatory dyke took on a more sinister role. Because they had been hidden in plain sight using symbology that hinted at either failed masculinity or women performing masculinity. When the MPPA ratings system was established in 1968 gays on screen were starting to kick the doors open but what was awaiting them was an even crueler denouement than during the reign of the Code. Queers were now portrayed as suicidal, predatory or homicidal maniacs. And much like the coded gay characters under the Production Code, things moved very slowly in terms of progress for positive representations of being ‘queer.’

DIrk Bogarde and Dennis Price in Basil Dearden’s brave film Victim (1961)

Between January and June 1962, five films were released that dealt with homosexuality, almost as many as in the previous three decades. One did not receive a seal of approval from the Production Code Administration, but was released nonetheless. Even without the seal of approval, British director, Basil Dearden’s Victim (1961) was reviewed in all the publications being considered. The liberal Catholic magazine Commonweal even disagreed with the Production Code Administration’s claim that the film made pleas ‘for social acceptance of the homosexual.’ “63 Still, the consensus among reviewers was that of the Production Code Administration and society at large: films should not and, for the most part, did not condone homosexuality. (Noriega)

This ban applied to all characters attracted to the same gender or characters who differed in their gender presentation or identity. While nudity and violence were quickly reintegrated into film canon following the abandonment of the Production Code, LGBT characters remained taboo. For decades after LGBT characters were allowed to appear in films, their sexuality and gender was shrouded in thinly-veiled innuendos and visual cues. If a character was to be openly same-gender attracted or transgender, they would be gruesomely killed or presented as morally corrupted. (Cleghorn)

Like the Code’s authors, film critics tend to examine the film itself, and not the discursive acts that surround a film and play a sometimes central role shaping its meaning(s). Contemporary gay and lesbian film criticism of Production Code era films operates on the same principle, with the added limitations that historical evidence and homosexual “images” censored. Thus, in order to ensure “the survival of subcultural identity within an oppressive society,” gay and lesbian film critics have employed a wide range of interpretive strategies to recuperate a history of homosexual images from the censored screen. The emphasis, therefore, has been on “subtexting” censored films from a singular presentist perspective. (Sophie Cleghorn)

Sources:

*Mike Mashon & James Bell for Pre-Code Hollywood Before the Censors-BFI  Sight & Sound Magazine (April 2019)

*Archives Unbound (1http://gdc.gale.com/archivesunbound/)

*Sophie Cleghorn: The Hollywood Production Code of 1930 and LGBT Characters.

*Wikipedia-Pre-Code

*David Lugowski-Queering the (New) Deal)

*Chon Noriega

During the period of Pre-Code, queer humor appeared in films such as Just Imagine (1930) and the The Warrior’s Husband (1933). The male characters were feminized because of their affinity for writing poetry. This asserted that they must be queer.

The Warrior’s Husband directed by Walter Lang, is a film primarily cast with women. Yet the air of queerness permeates throughout because the women, featuring a butch Queen, are Amazons. Gender is inverted and several other female rulers cross-dress and exude a lesbian vibe. It is inhabited by independent women and swishy men who camped it up as ‘queens’ amusing themselves by flirting with all the good-looking men.

The Warrior’s Husband image courtesy Peplums Blogspot.com

Like so much self deemed culturally aberrant, the homosexual appears with greater frequency and readier acceptance in Pre-Code Hollywood cinema “The thirties was surprisingly full of fruity character comedians and gravel-voice bulldyke character comediennes” film critic Andrew Sarris observed in his touchstone study The American Cinema “but it was always played so straight that when ((character actors) Franklin Pangborn or Cecil Cunningham went into their routines, it was possible to laugh without being too sophisticated.” Maybe in the later thirties the homosexual was played straight but in the Pre-Code era, he and she was playing queer. No sophistication was needed to read the same sex orientations as gender disorientations.- Pre-Code Hollywood; Sex, Immorality and Insurrection in American Cinema 1930-1934 by Thomas Doherty.

Miriam Hopkins got the part of free-spirited Gilda in Ernst Lubitsch’s Design for Living 1933. This original Noël Coward play actually featured a Ménage à Trois between the three Bohemian lovebirds in Paris of the decadent thirties. The film also starred Gary Cooper as artist George Cooper, and Fredric March as playwright Tom Chambers. The liberated Gilda becomes the girl both men fall in love with. They three make a pact to keep their mutual attractions platonic, but that doesn’t last too long, and they each begin a sexual relationship. When George comes back from a trip to Nice, he finds that Tom has taken up with Gilda. “I can’t believe I loved you both.”

Ben Hecht’s screenplay didn’t have a trace of any Coward’s romantic relationship between George and Tom. Ernst Lubitsch, known for his sophisticated style, directed memorable witty interactions between all four players. Edward Everett Horton as Max Plunkett plays Miriam’s bland suitor. Horton is, as usual, a whimsical idiosyncratic delight to watch. And Franklin Pangborn Mr. Douglas, Theatrical Producer is a perfect theatrical queen who is thoroughly annoyed when Gilda approaches him in the restaurant about Tom’s (Fredric March) play “Good Night Bassington”, as she leaves him with this thought, “There, read it, I’m sure you’ll adore it, it’s a woman’s play…”

Al Jolson “Boys will be boys” Wonder Bar (1934)

Any portrayal of on-screen “sex perversion” or homosexuality, even those connected with various tropes of ‘deviant’ sexual behavior were restricted after the enforcement of the Production Code in 1934.

Lending the Code moral authority even within the limits of pure love, asserted the Code delicately certain facts have been universally regarded by lawmakers as outside the limits of safe presentation Father Lord and Mr. Quigley saw no need to defile the document by typesetting long lists of “pointed profanity” or “vulgar expressions” Likewise, the prohibition against homosexuality dared not speak the name, but it didn’t need to spell it out. “Impure Love” the love which society has always regarded as wrong and which has been named by divine law… must not be presented as attractive or beautiful.”-Pre-Code Hollywood; Sex, Immorality and Insurrection in American Cinema 1930-1934 by Thomas Doherty.

Different From the Others (1919) Conrad Veidt and Fritz Schulz two musicians in love — during the period of Pre-Code.

But, outside of the United States, films were a little more adventurous. Austrian director Richard Oswald’s film bravely shows two men in love. The “third sex” was eventually mocked. One of the earliest films to feature two men in love was the 1919 silent film from Germany,  Different From the Others. Director Richard Oswald’s story of two male musicians in love had a typical unhappy ending, but it depicted gay people in a positive light. The film condemned the German law known as Paragraph 175, which outlawed gay behavior. Different Than the Others was censored soon after it was released. Starring Conrad Veidt it is considered the first pro-gay film.

Joseph Breen viewed any meaningful treatment of queer cinema as perverted. Conrad Veidt also gave an emotionally evocative role in The Man Who Laughs 1928, playing a violinist who falls for his student and is then blackmailed for it. The risking Nazi party in Germany attempted to erase these films from the screen, and this made Oswald to flee to the America.

But, the Hays Code made certain that no films of this type would be seen in the United States. Even books and plays with gay, lesbian or bisexual narratives were reworked and any content related to the subject was erased in order to meet the social code of the time.

Other non-American films included Dreyer’s Michael (1924) and Mädchen in Uniform (1931) directed by Leontine Sagan and again in (1958) with Lilli Palmer as Fräulein Elisabeth von Bernburg and Romy Schneider as Manuela von Meinhardis. And Viktor Und Viktoria (1933) directed by Reinhold Schünzel.

Mädchen in Uniform (1931) was directed by Leotine Sagan, and starred Dorothea Wieck and Hertha Thiele.

William Dieterle’s Pre-Code German film Sex in Chains (1928) stars the director as Franz Sommer a man sent to prison for manslaughter who, though longing for his wife, develops a close relationship with his cell mate. A fellow inmate informs Franz that he’s “lived to see someone unman himself, just so he could finally sleep.”

In 1927, during the Pre-Code period, director William Wellman’s Wings won an Academy Award for Best Picture, and it also depicted the first gay kiss between two men in American cinema.

Wings follows two Air Force pilots in World War I, Jack (Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers and Dave (Richard Arlen) who at first rivals for the affections of the beautiful Mary (Clara Bow) before they discover the underlying love they begin to feel for each other. During a boxing match at training camp gets to rough and Jack knocks Dave bloody and silly. Dave gazes up at Jack with an epiphany and the two walk off arm and arm as close ‘buddies’. The relationship is referred to as friendship, but the film paints a picture of two men falling in love.

Dave is mortally wounded in combat at the end of the picture, Jack embraces his dying ‘friend’ with a tender yet impassioned kiss while Mary looks on, framed with her on the outside looking in. Wellman humanizes the men’s close relationship in this scene when Jack leans into Dave to embrace him as he dies. He lets him know that nothing has meant more to him than their relationship. The moment feels sympathetic instead of exploitative, yet as he mourns Dave’s death. And though it is tinged with homoerotic elements, the case can always be made that it is a story about war, which brought two men closer together.

The Knocking Knees dance. Horton’s homosexuality – comedic, subtle and acceptable in The Gay Divorcee (1934)

In The Gay Divorcee (1934) crossing the threshold is the archetypal ‘Sissy’, Edward Everett Horton. Marginalized audiences were looking to the movies for any indication of the familiar, any little crumbs left as a trail to be picked up. For instance there is a moment in Johnny Guitar, the fiercely burning with sensual brawn, Joan Crawford. Bigger than life up on that screen, androgynous in her black cowboy shirt, strides down the stairs, gun in her holster waiting to confront coded dyke, Mercedes McCambridge. Many women’s chests, mine included, heaved a little with delight. That flutter of excitement hit us again when Doris Day sings the sentimental “Secret Love” in Calamity Jane (1953).

In Myrt and Marge (1934) Ray Hedges plays the flaming stage hand Clarence Tiffingtuffer he’s told “Here put this in the trunk and don’t wear it” speaking about one of the show girls costumes. In his boldly effete manner “If we got the runs on the show, the way the girls got in their stockings, I could put the 2nd down payment on my Kimono.”

Clara Bow, Willard Robertson and Estelle Taylor in Call Her Savage (1932)

From Call Her Savage 1932 purportedly the first on screen gay bar.

In director William Wyler’s These Three (1936) the relationship between Miriam Hopkin’s Martha and Merle Oberon’s Karen was delicately subtle and though to mainstream audiences might be seemingly obvious to interpret as two women attracted to the male lead, Joel McCrea. It revised Hellman’s play that centered around Martha’s love that dare not speak it’s name, for Karen. Sam Goldwyn bought the rights to Lillian Hellman’s play The Children’s Hour, a story depicting the supposed ‘carryings-on’ of two female teachers at a private school for girls. Though, These Three on it’s face is the story of a love triangle between two women and a man, it could read as Martha being more uncomfortable with the presence of Dr. Cardin (McCrea) because he is intruding on her closed relationship with Karen. The later screenplay adapted to film, The Children’s Hour (1961) directed by William Wyler, was boldly more explicit and revealed the true nature of Martha’s predicament and her struggling with her love for Karen.

These Three (1936) Merle Oberon and Miriam Hopkins

The Children’s Hour (1961) Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn

Coded characters in film were on the screen relaying messages and signaling to those of us who understand and who are “in the life: that movies can reflect the existence of a queer reality. These representations were not necessarily a positive, but films showed evidence that we exist. You would see it in a revealing gesture, or an air of difference about them, though it would be inconspicuous to audiences that were unaware of the cues.

Continue reading “Chapter 2 – Queers and Dykes in the Dark: Classic, Noir & Horror Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters:”

A Trailer a Day Keeps the Boogeyman Away! What can’t be explained, must be explored: Watcher in the Woods (1980) & Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

WATCHER IN THE WOODS 1980

It was just an innocent game… until a young girl vanished for thirty years

Once upon a time in the 70s Disney took guardianship of some pretty dark films. The Watcher in the Woods is one such film. Directed by John Hough (Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry 1974, Escape to Witch Mountain 1975, Return from Witch Mountain 1978, The Incubus 1982).

The film works as a teenage adventure/fantasy meets Modern Gothic story based on the novel by Florence Engell Randall with contributions to the screenplay by Brian Clemens.

An American couple Helen and Paul Curtis, played by two distinctly charismatic actors David McCallum and Carroll Baker, and their two daughters Lynn Holly Johnson and Kyle Richards as Jan and Ellie Curtis, travel to an isolated house in rural England. Bette Davis commands the screen with less blaze and more secretive self-control as Mrs. Aylwood, a strange widow who befriends the girls and whose daughter went missing 30 years ago. The two young women investigate the mysterious happenings at the manor house and stumble onto the truth behind Karen Aylwood’s disappearance. I will not spoil the reveal of this film, in fact the DVD has alternative endings due to extensive cuts as well as additions of scenes added under the un-credited supervision of Vincent McEveety. — I can say that prefer John Kenneth Muir’s interpretation of one considered outcome as Karen leaving and returning as a “kind of Orphean Underworld story.” For those of you who might not like just one explanation, I’ll leave it as an enticement to watch Watcher through to the end/ends!

While some critics found Watcher in the Woods abysmal there are enough fans who remain devoted to the film as a cult classic. Setting some whiny moments, a few meandering plot potholes, Watcher in the Woods maintains a certain atmospheric bubble that surrounds the the story, and adds nice touches of Gothic motifs, like the abandoned church, as John Kenneth Muir says in Horror Films of the 1980s the crumbling church “representing decay.” 

I see it also as how the old waits quietly for youth to return…

SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES 1983

After he fulfills your deepest, lifelong dream…he’ll tell you the price you have to pay… Never whisper your dreams, for someone might be listening…

Both novel and screenplay for Something Wicked This Way Comes was penned by the prolific fantasist/dreamer Ray Bradbury.

Directed by one of the most interesting directors Jack Clayton, a man who summons uncomfortable images and mind frames around dysfunction in the so called conventional family structure, and even more diffuse in his work he personifies the children, those innocent little souls with a will that can not only be menacing but truly threatening and evil. Clayton has painted landscapes of chilling psychological horror and Something Wicked This Way Comes embraces his haunting perceptions in perfect sync with Bradbury’s malevolent story equal parts fantasy equal parts horror. Bradbury retained the nightmarish poeticism that his novel possessed in the screenplay then adapted to the screen.

Bradbury’s fantastic tale began as a short story entitles “Black Ferris” which was originally published in Weird Tales Magazine in 1948. Then he adapted it to his screenplay for use by Gene Kelly who unfortunately was not able to get the funding for the project. Then success found Bradbury’s story when he released it as a novel in 1962 which found it’s way yet back once again into a screenplay in the 1970s where an interesting collection of directors were approached– from Sam Peckinpah, Mark Rydell, and even Steven Spielberg. By the time 1982 came around it was Jack Clayton (The Queen of Spades 1949, The Story of Esther Costello 1957, Room at the Top 1959, The Innocents 1961, The Pumpkin Eater 1964, Our Mother’s House 1967), who was tapped to directed the film, perhaps Spielberg might have added a great commercial veneer to the picture, but the dark dreams that Jack Clayton is capable of envisioning, I think, is the right kind of poison (And I mean that in a good way). The atmosphere of the sleepy little Green Town, Illinois, circa 1920 needed to wash off that mainstream Rockwell Painting style veneer and lay bare the secretive and dreadful things that suppurate in a small old fashioned and quite often repressed Americana town.

For into this quaint and picturesque Midwestern town comes a dark & arcane carnival led by the mysterious Mr. Dark played exquisitely by Jonathan Pryce. And unlike the lyrical circus of The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao starring the wonderful Tony Randall, this carnival is pure evil.

The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao starring Tony Randall

As enigmatic as Pryce is in this role, equally mesmerizing is Pam Grier who inhabits the sensuous yet deadly Dust Witch! The otherworldly train that is veiled in fog and spirit lights brings “the Autumn People”  who march through the town slowly like a funeral dirge preparing their secret ceremonies that will summon the darkness to coax and bedevil the unsuspecting yet desperate people of Green Town who are hungry for magic to change their lives.

The carnival seems to tap into the desires of many of the townspeople providing them with wish-fulfillment, to make their every dream come true. Many of the town folk like Mr. Crosetti played by Richard Davalos out of their loneliness seek companionship or Ed the Bartender played by James Stacy who lost a leg and an arm in the war would love to be that football hero again.

What ultimately happens after these unsuspecting but naive town folk should have realized that they have sold their souls and are damned for an eternity to suffer the irony of their wishes. And in the end it is a lesson in what we desire weighed against what we regret.

As one of the vehicles for Mr. Dark’s malevolent magical conduits, he employs a menacing merry-go-round which can make the rider can grow either younger or older depending on which direction it turns.

Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade are boyhood buddies–Will sees his father struggle with feeling like an old man, while Jim waits hopelessly in vain for his father to return.

Jim buys a lighting rod from Tom Fury (Royal Dano) who warns of the storm that is coming. That night the boys sneak out into the woods and watch as the train pull in with no one aboard. They do however learn that it is bringing Mr. Dark’s Pandemonium Carnival to their boring little town.

At the centerpiece of the story comes Jason Robards an aging father and local librarian Charles Halloway who feels he’s failed his son Vidal Peterson as Will Halloway. In the end it is up to the two to fight off Mr. Dark who would like nothing better than take most of the town along board the malefic train to the next destination, collecting souls along the way.

With music by James Horner, and co-starring Royal Dano who sells much needed lightning rods, Diane Ladd plays Jim Nightshades mother, Mary Grace Canfield plays Miss Foley who has lost her youth and beauty, and narrated by Arthur Hill as an older Will. The special effects of the 80s creates a moody, fantastical little carnival nightmare that moves like a beautiful & maudlin ballet.

YOUR EVER LOVIN’ MONSTERGIRL SAYIN’ ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE IF YOU BELIEVE IT SO!

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

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

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

Faster Pussycat
Tura Satana, Haji, and Lori Williams in Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! 1965
Cul-de-Sac
Françoise Dorléac and Donald Pleasence in Roman Polanski’s Cul-de-sac 1966
the Naked kiss
Constance Towers kicks the crap out of her pimp for shaving off her hair in Sam Fuller’s provocative The Naked Kiss 1964
Shock Corridor
Peter Breck plays a journalist hungry for a story and gets more than a jolt of reality when he goes undercover in a Mental Institution in Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor 1963
CapturFiles_3 copy
Bobby Darin is a psychotic racist in Hubert Cornfield and Stanley Kramer’s explosive Pressure Point 1962 starring Sidney Poitier and Peter Falk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glen or Glenda
Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda 1953

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT DOES PSYCHOTRONIC MEAN?

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

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

FILM NOIR HAD AN INEVITABLE TRAJECTORY…

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

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

weird-noir
There’s even this dvd that points to the connection between the two genres – Here it’s labeled WEIRD. I like transgressive… They all sort of have a whiff of noir.
Grayson Hall Satan in High Heels
Grayson Hall -Satan in High Heels 1962
mimi3
Gerd Oswald adapts Fredrick Brown’s titillating novel — bringing to the screen the gorgeous Anita Ekberg, Phillip Carey and Gypsy Rose Lee and Harry Townes in the sensational, obscure and psycho-sexual thriller Screaming Mimi 1958
The Strangler 1964 Victor Buono
Victor Buono is a deranged mama’s boy in Burt Topper’s fabulous The Strangler 1964
Repulsion
Catherine Deneuve is extraordinary as the unhinged nymph in Roman Polanski’s psycho-sexual tale of growing madness in Repulsion 1965

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

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

A Few More Neglected Characters from Classic Film.

Henry Jones
Henry Jones as the slimy, snoopy and salacious Leroy in Mervyn LeRoy’s The Bad Seed 1956

henry jones

Agnes in Hush Hush
Agnes Moorehead as Charlotte’s fierce protector Velma in Aldrich’s Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte 1964

Agnes Moorhead Hush Hush

Jack Warden …And Justice for All
Jack Warden as Judge Francis Rayford in Norman Jewison’s… And Justice for All (1979)

Jack Warden

Maidie Norman as Elvira in Baby Jane
Maidie Norman as the righteously concerned, Elvira Stitt in Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

Maidie Norman Elvia

Miriam Hopkins in The Childrens Hour
Miriam Hopkins as Mrs. Lily Mortar in Lillian Hellman’s in The Children’s Hour 1961 directed by William Wyler
William Wyler and Miriam Hopkins on the set of The Children's Hour
William Wyler and Miriam Hopkins on the set of The Children’s Hour (1961)
Aunt Rose Comfort Baby Doll- Mildred Dunnock
Mildred Dunnock as Aunt Rose Comfort in Elia Kazan’s Baby Doll (1956) with the screenplay by Tennessee Williams

Mildred Dunnock as Aunt Rose in Baby Doll

CapturFiles
Michael Pate as Detective Chris Gillespie in The Killer is Loose 1956

Michael Pate in The Killer is Loose

Michael J Pollard Bonnie and Clyde
Michael J. Pollard as C.W. Moss in Bonnie and Clyde 1967

Michael J Pollard