Quote of the Day! The Big Combo (1955) Mr. Brown: I’m gonna give you a break. I’m gonna fix it, so you don’t hear the bullets.

THE BIG COMBO (1955)

released Feb 5, 1955 by Allied Artists

Directed by Joseph H. Lewis (Gun Crazy 1950, My Name is Julia Ross 1945 , So Dark the Night 1946) Screenplay by Philip Jordan, Director of photography John Alton who’s haunting chiaroscuro and noir figures in silhouette fill out the landscape of entrapment, corruption and decadence.

From Film Noir: Reflections in a Dark Mirror by Bruce Crowthers

In The Big Combo (1955)“Alton’s dazzling black and white photography starkly counterpoints the film’s perverse sexuality which constantly strains against the limitations of the Hollywood code. Whether exploring the sado-masochistic violence of the hoodlums, two of whom, Fante and Mingo are clearly homosexual or the psycho-sexual domination wielded by gang boss, Brown over the young woman from the right side of the tracks, the scripts and the director’s needs are continually and effectively fulfilled by Alton’s camera.”

Stars Cornel Wilde as Leonard Diamond, Jean Wallace (Jigsaw 1949, The Man on the Eiffel Tower 1950, Storm Fear 1955) as Susan Lowell, Brian Donlevy (The Glass Key 1942, Impact 1949, The Quatermass Xperiment 1955, A Cry in the Night 1956) as McClure, Richard Conte (The Blue Gardenia 1943, Cry of the City 1948, Thieves’ Highway 1949, Whirlpool 1949, Oceans 11 (1960), Tony Rome 1967, Lady in Cement 1968) as Mr. Brown, Lee Van Cleef as Fante and Earl Holliman as Mingo, Robert Middleton as Peterson, Helen Walker as Alicia, Jay Adler as Sam Hill, John Hoyt as Dreyer, Ted De Corsia as Bettini, Helene Stanton as Rita

Joseph H. Lewis   from Film Noir and the Cinema of Paranoia by Wheeler Winston Dixon-
Lewis abandoned westerns and began a “frenzied round of freelancing that took him from Poverty Row to the majors, with such films as the disquieting horror Universal film The Mad Doctor of Market Street (1942) and the astonishing Secrets of a Coed aka The Silent Witness 1942 for PRC.”

The Big Combo is considered a ‘syndicate’ film noir, where a mob organization is running the urban landscape, in which the organization is ‘all’ but with a difference. According to writer/historian Wheeler Winston Dixon, director Lewis was an “eccentric and he depicts a universe that is as out of kilter as his often imbalanced camera set-ups; the camera sweeps in on the protagonists in their most intimate moments, frames them as silhouettes in wide shots that effectively use fog and a few shadows to disguise the fact that seem to entrap his characters in even tighter compositions.”

Brown- “I’m gonna break him so fast he won’t have time to change his pants.Tell him the next time I see him, he’ll be in the lobby of the hotel, crying like a baby and asking for a ten dollar loan. Tell him that. And tell him I don’t break my word. Diamond –“You must have done something pretty fine to get as high as you are, Mr. Brown. I’m looking into that. I’m gonna open you up, and I’m gonna operate. I hate to think of what I’ll find.

At the police station, booked on a phony charge just to harass Brown. Joe McClure-“Mr. Brown is a very reasonable man. You don’t know him.” Leonard Diamond “Oh, is he? Well I’m not. I intend to make life very difficult for you Mr. Brown.”

Joe McClure-“You shouldn’t talk like that, Lieutenant. You’re overstepping your authority.” Mr. Brown-“Joe, the man has reason to hate me. His salary is $96.50 a week. The busboys in my hotel make better money than that. Don’t you see, Joe? He’s a righteous man.”

From FILM NOIR: THE DARK SIDE OF THE SCREEN BY FOSTER HIRSCH

“One of the eroding factors in the fifties thrillers surfaced in such films as the Big Combo and The Phenix City Story where crime no longer springs from the aberrant individual but is instead a corporate enterprise, run like a business. (Or like Murder Inc.) This view of crime is widespread, almost communal undertaking, counters the traditional noir interest in the isolated criminal whose actions are controlled not by an impersonal conglomerate but by a complex interweaving of character and fate.” Hirsch also points out that it represents another level of decadence.

From The Lost World of Film Noir by Eddie Muller-“This gray area between old-school hoodlum and the new “organization man” was fertile turf for noir fables…)… in The Big Combo the gangster picture is distilled into a sexual battle between the saturnine, sensual Mr. Brown (Richard Conte) and dogged but frustrated flatfoot Leonard Diamond (Cornel Wilde) Both men covet the appetizing Susan Lowell (Jean Wallace), whom Diamond has been stalking for months as part of his investigation of Brown’s illegal Combination.”

I have read that chiaroscuro is director Lewis’ domain and that he also liked to use icy blondes the way Alfred Hitchcock did. In Gun Crazy (1950) Lewis had Peggy Cummins, and in The Big Combo it is Jean Wallace, yet Lewis’ women are more overtly ‘sex-kittenish than high class blonde.- From Film Noir: An Encyclopedia Reference to the American Style by Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward

Cornel Wilde does a blunt job playing a righteous cop, Leonard Diamond who will do anything to take down Mr. Brown who represents everything he detests in the world.

“I know his name. The name of a man who will pick up a phone and call Chicago and New Orleans and say “Hey Bill, Joe is coming down for the weekend. Advance him fifty thousand,” and he hangs up the phone and the money’s advanced, protection money. A new all night bar opens, with gambling outside city limits. A bunch of high school kids come in for a good time. They get loaded, they get irresponsible, they lose their shirts. Then they get a gun, cause they’re worried, they want to make up their losses. And a filling station attendant is dead with a bullet in his liver. I have to see four kids on trial for first degree murder. Look at it. First degree murder, because a certain Mr. Brown picked up a phone.”

Robert Middleton who happens to be one of my favorite underrated character actors plays Diamond’s boss, Police Lt.Peterson, who’s trying to convince Diamond not to pursue Brown through his girlfriend Susan Lowell and realizes that after tailing her for months, Diamond might have developed feelings for her. “You’re a cop, Leonard. There’s 17,000 laws on the books to be enforced. You haven’t got time to reform wayward girls. She’s been with Brown three and a half years. That’s a lot of days… and nights.”

Richard Conte is particularly more brutal as Mr. Brown than in some of his other portrayals of the embodiment of the crime aesthetic, possessing the essential flair of the well heeled mobster. The Big Combo is one of the most bleak and perverse of all the mid 1950s film noirs. The pace of the film leaves us hanging in a world of perpetual threat and vexation.

Richard Conte infuses the role of Mr. Brown with an unusual intensity even for the enduring tough-guy Conte as he plays a ruthless mob boss who practically holding a society girl Susan Lowell (Jean Wallace) hostage by their odd attraction for each other. Susan has left a budding career as a pianist to be a trophy in Brown’s collections, seduced by his control, and the money he lavishes on her, yet ambivalent about her self-loathing and her attraction to his perverse power over her body and their sexual relationship. In a potent scene he takes Susan in a secret room in her apartment filled with a hidden stash of money and ammunition. Brown to Susan- “This is my bank… we don’t take checks, we deal strictly in cash. There isn’t anybody I’d trust with so much temptation–except myself. Or maybe you.”

Mr. Brown- “Where’d you get that outfit?”  Susan Lowell “What’s wrong with it?”  Mr. Brown-“I like you better in white. You’ve got a dozen white dresses. Why don’t you wear them? “ Susan Lowell-“White doesn’t please me anymore.” Mr. Brown –“A woman dresses for a man. You dress for me. Go put on something white!”

Brown employs his two exploitable goons Fante (Lee Van Cleef) and Mingo (Earl Holliman) to stay close to Susan and watch her every move, acting as unwanted bodyguards.

Brown’s far-flung organization is under attack by the overzealous hard-boiled detective Leonard Diamond (Cornel Wilde) who is determined to bring Brown to justice. All of Mr. Brown’s associates are figures marginalized by society in some way, all defined by their ‘difference.’ Brown gets his kicks pointing out what everyone else around him lacks while he pats himself on the back like a sadistic narcissist.

The film opens with Susan fleeing a boxing match, pursued by Mr. Brown’s two hired muscle heads, through dark alleys until she is finally caught by Brown, which only symbolizes his sexual dominance over her.

“It was for her I began to work my way up. All I had was guts. I traded them for money and influence. I get respect from everybody but her…”- Mr. Brown

Brown is so fixated on displays of dominance and strength that he fires his boxer after he loses his bout. First he uses the opportunity to belittle his deputy McClure (Brian Donlevy) in front of the young boxer then he smacks Benny across his swollen bloody face waiting for his retaliation, but when it’s obvious the boy won’t hit him back, he cuts him loose.

Brown talking to Benny after the bout- “So you lost. Next time you’ll win. I’ll show you how. Take a look at Joe McClure here. He used to be my boss, now I’m his. What’s the difference between me and him? We breathe the same air, sleep in the same hotel. He used to own it!”

[yelling into McClure’s sound magnifier that is in his ear]

“We eat the same steak, drink the same bourbon. Look–same manicure, cuff-links. But we don’t get the same girls. Why? Because women know the difference. They got instinct. First is first and second is nobody…  Now, Benny, who runs the world? Do you have any idea?” Bennie Smith “Not me, Mr. Brown.” Mr. Brown “That’s right, not you, but a funny thing, they’re not so much different from you, but they’ve got something. They’ve got it, and they use it. I’ve got it; [pointing to McClure] he hasn’t. What is it, Benny? What makes the difference…? Hate! Hate is the word, Benny! Hate the man that tries to beat you. Kill ’em, Benny! Kill ’em! Hate him till you see red, and you’ll come out winning the big money, and the girls will come tumblin’ after. You’ll have to shut off the phone and lock the door to get a night’s rest.”

Brown lectures Benny- “You should have hit me back. You haven’t got the hate. Tear up Benny’s contract. He’s no good to me anymore.” 

Brown cuts his fighter-Benny loose, telling him he just doesn’t have the killer instinct he needs. Brown is a narcissistic bully whose smooth philosophical meanderings taunt the people who work for him, women and even the cop who is right on his heels.

Brown’s two brawny side-kicks Fante and Mingo are obviously homosexual lovers, who thrive on violence as an enhancement to their sexual arousal like foreplay. Brown’s former boss, the weakened and inadequate McClure must rely on a clunky portable radio sized hearing aid in order to keep up with the gang’s activities.

Lt. Diamond goes after the psychotic megalomaniac Mr. Brown trying to shut down his crime organization. There is conflict already within the organization as Brown is demeaning to McClure and verbally bates him constantly with put downs, to try and get a rise out of him. McClure wants to get rid of Brown all together and take over as head of the mob once again, but in the end he is too impotent, to smack down Brown’s power.

Brown has a prized possession —his beautiful blonde girlfriend Susan who is watched over every minute of the day by his two thugs Fante and Mingo. When Susan finally has a breakdown and overdoses on sleeping pills as a way out, she finally asks Diamond for help.

Susan eventually attempts suicide by taking an overdose of pills, which puts her in Diamond’s path. Diamond himself is attracted to Susan. Believing that the only escape from her amoral relationship with Brown is to die, Diamond tries to pull her away from his control.

First Diamond wants to expose Brown’s criminal organization and secondly it would give him great satisfaction to take Susan away from Brown, as he also has developed feelings for her.

When Diamond harasses Brown by arresting him on false charges just to bring him into the station –he goes on a mission to persecute Brown, who retaliates as his credo is “First is first and second is nobody” Brown puts a contract out on Diamond, who is then kidnapped by his two vicious flunky’s Fante and Mingo who are in a surreptitious relationship, with each other Mingo showing his sexual attraction and love for Fante in a rather covert yet palpable way. Though toward the end, while they’re hiding out, he does make mention that he’s sick of Salami. A thought, make of it what you will!

In a shocking scene Fante and Mingo torture Diamond, it is particularly brutal and vicious as they use McClure’s hearing aid turned up to full volume amplifying sound to the point it could blow his ear drums out. The pain on Diamond’s face is tangible. Then they begin pouring alcohol down his throat poisoning him, leaving him to appear as if he’s been off on a bender, thank god his boss Peterson (Robert Middleton) is there to help Diamond recover.

Mr. Brown-“I think Mr. Diamond needs a drink. Got any liquor?” Fante-” How about some paint thinner?” Mr. Brown-“No, that’ll kill him. Anything else?” Fante- “Hair tonic, 40% alcohol.” Mr.Brown-“Fine.”

Once he recovers from his torture, Diamond is even more determined to bring Brown down. Diamond starts to put the pieces together and find clues that point to Brown’s involvement in the murder of a racket boss who disappeared a while ago, and whose place he took over in the organization. He discovers some of Brown’s old associates, Dreyer (John Hoyt) an Austrian who runs an antique and import business and Bettini (Ted De Corsia)a nice Italian man who owned a pizza parlor in the city and is now hiding out, fearing for his life.

Fante and Mingo go to Diamond’s hotel room intending to kill him, and wind up murdering his sometime lover night club singer Rita who went there to surprise him with a date, but becomes an unfortunate casualty being at the right place at the wrong time she is caught in the fray. Even Rita had laid things out for Diamond about the reasons why Susan would stay with a creep like Brown- “Women don’t care how a man makes his living, only how he makes love.”

After Diamond finds Rita’s body gunned down in his apartment- “She came to see me in her best shoes!” I treated her like a pair of gloves. I was cold… I called her up.”

Brown tries to school Diamond in the ways of the world, “You’d like to be me… You’d like to have my organization, my influence, my fix. You think it’s the money. It’s not–it’s personality. You haven’t got it. You’re a cop. Slow. Steady. Intelligent. With a bad temper and a gun under your arm. With a big yen for a girl you can’t have. First is first and second is nobody. 

Brown- “You’re a little man with a soft job and good pay. Stop thinking about what might have been and who knows–you may live to die in bed.”

Brown starts to get paranoid and panicky, getting rid of McClure who is a weak link in the mob, and then his two henchmen who know too much about his double dealings and can be linked to McClure’s murder. Adding to Brown’s worries, his ex-wife Alicia (Helen Walker) comes back into the picture after hiding out in a sanitarium aiding Diamond in Brown’s capture. Ultimately leading to a showdown at an airplane hangar where Diamond corners Brown. Alicia “I’d rather be insane and alive, than sane… and dead.”

When McClure tries to double-cross Brown by using his own thugs against him, Fante and Mingo pretend to go along and wind up turning their machine guns on him instead, while Brown sardonically watches grinning like the sadist he is. With a flair of evil embellishment Brown walks over to McClure who has two machine guns trained on him, and takes out his hearing aid. Brown-“I‘m gonna give you a break. I’m gonna fix it, so you don’t hear the bullets.” It is a stunning scene we are watching from McClure’s perspective the flashing lights and smokey tendrils from the gun fire happen at us, but it is all done in eerie quiet and darkness. We are experiencing the frightening moment when he is shot to death. We become McClure at that moment.

Later Brown wants to dispose of his two thugs so there is no evidence of murder, he hands them a package while they are hiding out in an old building in the basement that used to be a speakeasy, They think the package is filled with food, guns and their share of the money they heisted from the bank, but it’s filled with dynamite. As the two men are blown up, leaving Mingo alive for a brief moment just enough to give a death bed confession to exact revenge for his lover’s death and point the finger at Brown.

Richard Conte is icily ruthless as the film’s antagonist, Mr. Brown who is not known by any other name, signifying an enigmatic symbolism for abject violence and immorality. As Dickos states “his imaginative brutality, Lewis bridges violence to the audience’s darker, vicarious desire to see pain inflicted on the screen”

There is a sense of noir fatalism and an underlying current of deviant and provocative sexual appetite within The Big Combo. Much of the violence is influence by a strong element of sadism. The relationship between Susan and Brown is structured by fatalism, as she is sullen and submissive to his neurotic controlling fixation, while she wants to escape she shows no strength or determination other than to give in to it. Brown is obsessed with Susan as an object, preoccupied with her body. This is illustrated in one scene where he devours her with studied kisses, he worships her ,objectifies her with salacious flattery in a way that perversely brings her to ecstasy. It might be this odd sexual attraction to Brown that keeps her passive to his controlling behavior toward her.

From Film Noir Encyclopedia: Edited by Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward
“The Homosexuality of Mingo and Fante is smothered in an atmosphere of murder and sadistic torture , as they refine the conventions of violence into a sexual ritual. Joseph H. Lewis’s direction strongly points to a crude sexual bias throughout the film. Even Diamond appears to be sexually frustrated and compensating for impotence. Much in the same way as Lewis’s classic Gun Crazy, there is an affinity between sex and violence.; and the exploration of futility presents an ambience strangely reminiscent of an earlier period of noir films, such as Scarlet Street and Woman in the Window. These attitude combine with John Alton’s photography to create a wholly defined film noir, as striking contrasts between the black and white photography and Lewis’s sexual overtones isolate The Big Combo’s characters in a dark, insular universe of unspoken repression and graphic violence.” -Carl Macek

From Street With No Name by Andrew Dickos

“The Homoerotic violence in the Mingo-Fante relationship, unencumbered by misguided sociological sentiments, is still stereotyped psycho-sexuality —offensive enough on another score—but it is raw and consistent with the noir world. The privilege of noir cinema, as distinguished from other genres, lies in the latitude these films were permitted in exploring sexual power and its ambiguity, and the reason is apparent; as the cautionary cinema of the great negation of a “healthy’ puritanical American vision, the film noir almost mandates a depiction, however perverse, of those repressed impulses reigning hand-in hand with the anarchy that drives its protagonists to violence and paranoia. Unrepressed sexuality alongside these characteristics is far too messy to contain, so it must be vanquished. When it is particularly threatening, one may be sure that there is a woman involved.”

Lewis’s The Big Combo- “where it becomes almost pornographic to see Susan Lowell hopelessly submit to what is surely suggested to be an act of oral sex performed by her crime-lord boyfriend, Mr. Brown. But Lewis is no pornographer, he is a sensualist in the most serious way. No other works in American film until the 1960s broached the acknowledgment of these carnal hungers as a life-enhancing dimension of dangerous living—indeed, in living a short, intense life unto quick death.”

Both Lewis’ film noir masterpieces Gun Crazy and The Big Combo are sexually defined by the discursive violence of the external world—so much a corollary for the violence of passion that Lewis and screenwriter Philip Jordan can barely mask the story of The Big Combo as merely another sensational example of the extend to which organized crime corrupted postwar American Life.

Your EverLovin’ Joey saying there’s an underlying current of shadows and light here at The Last Drive In, but no worries, you got what it takes to stick around -no need to turn up the volume for you to hear how much I appreciate you all!

Gargoyles (1972) CBS Movie of the Week! A DEVILS FACE OF FRIGHTFUL BEAUTY

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I was thrilled to be invited by Rick to join in the terror-ific festivities for this Halloween season with the TERROR TV BLOGATHON hosted by Classic TV Blog Association.

I also couldn’t resist picking a film that has remained a very special little nostalgic gem that shines in my brain, as it’s left a kind of strange impression on me as a kid growing up in the early 70s. With made for TV movies on both ABC and CBS, we had a slew of fright films and chillers to choose from, and I’ll be doing a special Halloween tribute to The ‘CBS Movie of the Week year in fright is 1973′ with 10 incredibly memorable picks,

For now, the topic is GARGOYLES (1972) and it’s lasting impression on the imagination, the mind and the senses.

It aired on CBS on 11/21/1972 with a teleplay by Stephen and Elinor Karpf (Terror in the Sky 1971, Devil Dog:The Hound of Hell 1978, The Jayne Mansfield Story 1980)

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From TV Horror: Investigating the Dark Side of the Small Screen by Lorna Jowett and Stacey Abbott-“The made-for TV movie, or single play, is a production mode that saw its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s. In the USA it developed with ABC’s Movie of the Week, while in Britain it developed much earlier with ITV’s Armchair Theatre in 1956. In both cases, by the mid 1980s the made-for-TV movie was no longer a major television format, replace according to Creeber, by more tele-visual forms… The popularity of the TV movie in the 1970s, however led to the rise of the made-for-TV horror movie which experience its own golden age, with over 100 made-for-television horror movies… premiered on prime time [American] network television since 1968′ (Waller 1987) These films include adaptations of gothic novels such as Count Dracula (1977), Frankenstein (1973) and The Turn of the Screw (1974), or original contemporary horror such as Fear No Evil (1969), Duel (1971) and Gargoyles (1972) John Kenneth Muir argues that in this period television became increasingly graphic and that the ‘turn toward darkness’ in TV horror represented as with cinematic horror ‘a shift in national mood due, at least in part, to the shocking and graphic news footage coming back from the Vietnam War. It was as if for the first time American’s were aware of a darker worlds, and television reflected that shift in perspective… the tv format mimicking it’s cinematic counterpart.”

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Gargoyles 1972 is directed by Bill Norton who also directed Baby, Secret of the Lost Legend 1985, Three for the Road 1987, Angel of Death 1990 tv movie, Deadly Whispers 1995 tv movie, Gone in the Night & Vows of Deception 1996 tv movies, A Deadly Vision, Bad to the Bone, Our Mother’s Murder 1997 tv movies, and episodes of Angel and Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Medium, Ghost Whisperer, The Unit.

The cinematography was shot by Earl Rath who also wasn’t a stranger to television productions, for instance Go Ask Alice 1973, The Horror at 37,000 Feet 1973, Can Ellen Be Saved? 1974, and Columbo’s A Deadly State of Mind 1975. The film was shot with one single camera which is why it has that comfortable Verité look amidst the mythological narrative.

I’m already a fan of the busy television & film composer Robert Prince (You’re a Big Boy Now 1966, tv shows, The Wild Wild West 1968-69, Mannix, The Bold Ones 1969-71, Land of the Giants 1970, Night Gallery 1970-71,The Name of the Game 1971, Alias Smith and Jones, Mission: Impossible, The Streets of San Francisco 1972, The Sixth Sense 1972, Circle of Fear 1972-1973, Columbo – episode The Bye-Bye Sky High I.Q. Murder Case (1977), The Bionic Woman, Wonder Woman, ABC Movie of the Week– A Little Game 1971, Scream Pretty Peggy 1973, The Strange and Deadly Occurrence 1974, Where Have all the People Gone? (1974), The Dead Don’t Die 1975, Snowbeast 1977, The Violation of Sarah McDavid 1981 starring the incredible Patty Duke, who we lost recently, and one of my favorite 70s feature horror films-the highly underrated Squirm 1976, and then there’s the blaxploitation horror – J.D’s Revenge 1976.

Robert Prince is responsible for the eerie and melodic soundtracks to so many favorites, and his musical contribution to Gargoyles is a slick job with its atmospheric odd brew of ancient Gothicism and modern outlaw culture. The special effects are by Milt Rice (Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956, Queen of Outer Space 1958, Damnation Alley 1977, Nightwing 1979 and George Peckham.

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The Cast: Cornel Wilde (Leave Her to Heaven 1945) plays a professor of anthropology who writes literature debunking supernatural legends, demons and ancient mythology Dr. Mercer Boley, Jennifer Salt (Who has produced American Horror Story from 2011-2015, and starred in Midnight Cowboy 1969, Sisters 1972) as his halter top wearing daughter Diana (Di-Ana) she will come to hear her name called in a sensuous yet menacing tone by the Patriarch of the Gargoyles (Bernie Casey)- Brian’s Song 1971, Cleopatra Jones 1973. Fans of Grayson Hall (Dark Shadows Dr. Julia Hoffman 1966-1971, as Pepe in Satan In High Heels 1962, The Night of the Iguana 1964) will love her portrayal of motel owner and full time drunk Mrs. Parks. It was fine actress Grayson Hall who actually thought of her character always having a drink in her hand in every scene she appears.

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James Reeger: [Scott Glenn] “So you and your old man, you’re not afraid of them gar-things, huh?”

Diana Boley: “Gargoyles are a scientific fact. And they’re no more dangerous than a high school drop-out on a motorcycle.”

Scott Glenn plays bad boy dirt biker James Reeger, William Stevens plays the sheriff, Woody Chambliss (The Devil’s Rain 1975) plays Old Uncle Willie, who is not selling butter and eggs this time around (see The Andy Griffith Show’s Aunt Bea’s Invisible Beau).

Part of the charm and interesting vibe of the film is Bernie Casey’s charismatic portrayal of this incubus that dwells in the caves,(shot once again at Carlsbad Caverns) leading his clan of Gargoyles til their eggs have hatched before they migrate away from the desert, so they can reign another 500 years. I remember being mesmerized by Casey’s costume and make-up by Emmy Award winner Stan Winston and Ellis Burman Jr, his piercing eyes showing through, his broad jaw and high cheekbones, and the tone of his commanding voice.

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From The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters-edited by Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock’ Gargoyles is the first work to present gargoyles as a species as opposed to solitary creatures. A race of reptilian creatures created by Satan to harry mankind at centuries-long intervals hunts for a gargoyle skull found by an anthropologist in a roadside exhibit; gargoyle statues, the film explains, are folk memories and warnings. That same year the short story “Bleeding Stones” by Harlan Ellison depicted the gargoyles on St Patrick’s Cathedral suddenly brought to life by industrial pollution; they rapidly massacre New York City and fly east toward Rome. Less apocalyptically gargoyles appear as a species in the earliest 1974 Dungeons & Dragons rule-books. These cunning, reptilian, horned fanged monsters can only be hit with magic weapons. A similar rule obtains in Jim Wynorski’s film Gargoyle (2004): a face of demonic creatures driven almost to extinction in medieval times.”

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The word Gargoyle in the classical art and literature sense is based on the French word ‘gargouille’ meaning ‘throat’ or “water-throat’ or water spouts, which were like wall fountains— the gaping mouths allowing the run off from the rain on the roofs. These spouts were constructive as they were decorative ornamental fixtures of grotesquely featured characters that were prevalent along the ornate façades, the flying buttress or have what is called tracery; rose windows, towers, spires and pinnacle all part of the ‘Flamboyant style’ of 14th century Classical Gothic cathedrals in the late medieval period seen in Italy and France. The Gargoyle can also be seen as nocturnal guardians over the cathedrals they ornamented, coming to life at night and then back into their stone visages by day. Which flies in the face of the idea that they were Satans’s minions wreaking havoc among humankind —if they were placed there to indeed  guard the churches.

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The film opens up with narration by Vic Perrin who I have a huge soft spot as he is the Control Voice for the 1963-65 anthology sci-fi/fantasy television show The Outer Limits. He also narrated each episode’s thought provoking prologue with a tranquil tone and ended by signing off with some philosophical epilogue that touched the heart and reached inside us dreamers and thinkers. Perrin also worked on a few episodes of Star Trek just to mention a few of the shows he lent his wonderful voice to. In Gargoyles he enlightens us in a Miltonesque lead in about the fall from grace by the angel Satan and a montage of classical images of demons and gargoyles from medieval gargoyles from Gothic Cathedrals, plus demonic images by vintage film images & painters–images from director Benjamin Christensen Häxan (1922) appear as well as artists William Blake, Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel.

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We are told that these demons have managed to continue to survive in our culture over the centuries. Perrin also dubbed his voice for Bernie Casey’s sage winged dark horned/horny prince with the aquiline nose and burning eyes, he loves to be read to! and Casey’s manifestation of the lead Gargoyle with the use of audio electronics to create a metallic effect on his voice create the outré creepy style and provocative nature that transcends all the latex.

The winged leader of the gargoyles (Bernie Casey) makes it quite clear to Dr. Boley (Cornel Wilde) that the extinction of humanity is their ultimate goal. In a similar latex looking mask, John Anderson played the Ebonite Interrogator in suitably scary prosthetic makeup in the The Outer Limits episode entitled: Nightmare which aired December 2nd 1963, with make up work by Fred B. Phillips who also worked on House of Usher 1960 and Star Trek.

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The prologue opens with it’s exquisite arresting soundtrack of percussive, harpsichord atonality and electronic sparks by composer Robert Prince contributes to the atmosphere right from the edge to set up the basis of the story as boldly recounted by the voice of Vic Perrin—That the battle between good and evil has existed for eons. That this battle continues and man’s own pride, curiosity and aggression will also bring him upon the devil’s minions, those fallen angels, the gargoyles who wish to conquer the lord’s favored human-kind. Begin the Milton prose from Paradise Lost.

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“The devil was once the most favored of the host of angels serving the lord. But pride welled in his breast. He thought it unseemly for him to serve. The devil and his band of followers who likewise suffered the sin of pride were defeated in battle by the lord and his host, and were banished to the outer most depths of Hell, never to know the presence of the lord or look on heaven again. Smarting with his wounds but all the more swollen with pride the devil cried out from the depths, ‘it is better to rule in hell then serve in heaven.’ The devil proclaimed what was lost in heaven, would be gained on earth. He said, ‘my offspring, the gargoyles will one day rule the lord’s works, earth and man.’ And so it came to pass that while man ruled on earth the gargoyles waited, lurking hidden from the light. Reborn every 600 years in man’s reckoning of time the gargoyles joined battle against man to gain dominion over the earth. In each coming the gargoyles were nearly destroyed by men who flourished in greater numbers. Now it has been hundreds of so many years that it seems the ancient statues and paintings of gargoyles are just products of man’s imagination. In this year with man’s thoughts turned toward the many ills he has brought upon himself. Man has forgotten his most ancient adversary… the gargoyles.!”

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Every 500 to 600 years laying dormant the Gargoyle’s eggs hatch and the Gargoyle patriarch intimates in the heat of verbal sparring with Prof. Boley that they will rise up and wage war on the human race. The war between humans and Gargoyles in the film speaks more of self-preservation than ruthless pugnacity. They want to act before human kind tries to wipe them out and make their kind extinct… People have never understood says the lead gargoyle. The gargoyles here come out as the sympathetic anti-heroes. 

After the formidably dark opening narration by Vic Perrin, the credits roll -Professor Mercer Boley (Cornel Wilde) an anthropologist  is driving through the desert of New Mexico on his way to Mexico to finish his new coffee table book on demonology. Along for the journey is his daughter Diana (Jennifer Salt) who’s riding side saddle with her dad tracking down interesting stories and finding artifacts in his little creepy tourist trap to support his scientific research.As Diana gets off the plane and brings her dad a statue of a beast called Callamudre (no such demon in the list of demonology) who will complete his collection of demons. A harp plucks and wavers and pan pipes effervesce, it is the ethereal calm before the storm… the two get into the wonderful yellow 70s station wagon.

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Diana “I saw you on that talk show”
Professor Mercer Boley- “I’m glad kind of hoped you were watching. What do you think of that self styled witch they had on?”
Diana –“You were as always the cool intellectual. She got pretty upset when you started telling her she was just being superstitious about the devil… Do you really think the world of evil is just fantasy? “
Professor Mercer Boley- “Who knows it sells my books You should have read some of the letters I got at the University after that one.”

Boley’s book –5000 years of Demonology will trace man’s conception of evil down through the ages. Boley-“More monsters for fun and profit… something colorful and expensive for the coffee tables of America.”

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Diana-“Sure would hate to get stuck out here in the dark.”

He tells Diana he before they head to Mexico has to ‘check out this old guy’ referring to Old Uncle Willie. “I don’t know he’s got some wild story, maybe it’s nothing, but it’s only a bit out of our way.” As they stop along the open expanse of the alienating desert landscape figuring out that they are lost, a large winged shadow watches them from atop a cliff. Diana says “sure would hate to get stuck out here in the dark.” Suddenly there’s the sound of giant wings flapping and another hint of a winged shadow moves over that delicious vintage yellow station wagon. It’s a very chilling moment as are many of the scenes in this made for tv movie. The soft colors of the 70s create a dream like atmosphere or maybe I’m just sentimental.

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Boley and his daughter Diana joke about what they will see at Uncle Willies Desert Museum, they see a myriad of signs promising two headed lizards and desert fish… Boley wonders which strange item Willie will try to sell him, he’s only enthusiastic about the sign he saw about cold beer.

Uncle Willie: “I saw yuh on that television talk show, perfesser, and yuh impressed me with yer knowledge and yer know-how.”

The two are shown a grotesque skeleton by this desert rat side, a side show peddler of oddities Uncle Willie, who wants money and credit for his discovery. Uncle Willy wants to co-write a book with Boley, calling it Uncle Willie’s Tale of the Desert featuring stories about the devil monsters and the 2 headed calf and a Siamese twin chicken. ‘I pull them in off the road.” 

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Willie “I gotta make sure you’re not out here to steal my discovery… now wait I’ll show it to ya it’s in the shack over there.

Diana asks her skeptical dad-“Cant we just take a look.”

Professor Boley-“Bones, I smell old bones”
Willie- “I knew I picked a smart one”
Diana “Sure is lonely out here”
Willie- “Oh I like it like that… I own this place now out right. Pass my time thinking about a book I’m going to write. You just wouldn’t believe the things I know. Things I never told nobody. Just been saving up for the right moment. You’ll see, You’ll see you’ll be glad you came to see Old Willie.”
Diana “What is it?”
Willie- “I just got it put back together again.”
Professor Boley- “What do you mean put back together again. That never was together… hahaha. You assembled that out of a pile of old junk bones.”
Willie- “ No! I found it whole over in the canyon. Carted it back in my pickup. You can’t imagine how difficult it is to match them bones.”
Professor Boley- “Oh come on Uncle Willie (He laughs) This is excellent work but it’s a concoction of unrelated bones. Some animal some human. If I had more time I’d ask you how you managed the joints for the wings. That took real imagination. Coming up with wings.”
Willie- “No… this is not a trick. This is not for them tourists. This is the REAL thing. (pauses) You don’t believe me.”

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Boley laughs again- “Willie your talent is wasted out here.”
Willie “no wait Dr. Boley. I never showed this to nobody. I thought you’d be the one smart enough to understand. Listen to me. The Indians named this place DEVILS CROSSING in their own language, back when they had a camp here. They lived here for hundreds and hundreds of years. The Indians told all about these devils, these spirits. They were real. I’ve got all the stories.”
Professor Boley- “I’m sorry Willie.”
Willie “Dr Boley, them devils used to live up there in the rocks. Came all of a sudden like. Just played hell with the tribes. Then they chased them off with their sacrifices and their offerings. An old Indian told me. It was his tribes main legend for hundreds of years. Now ain’t that worth a book?… ain’t it!!!”

Diana snaps a photo and Willie gets riled “no free pictures! Now either you make a deal with me to write this book 50/50 with my picture on the cover or you just get out, get out!”
Professor Boley tells him, “Alright Willie you’re on… let’s hear the story”

Willie bolts the door and Boley starts the tape recorder. “I always bolt all the doors when the suns goes down.”

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Professor –“Can you remember what the Indian word was for the devils in the legends?”
Willie – (drinking a pint of whisky) Nak—nakatekachinko,. That’s it. This great chief saw the ‘nocitichincos in the desert and he had the tribe make costumes for all the elders, like the noci-tocichincos for the ritual of manhood called, “nonataya, “nonataya.”
Professor Boley- “Uh what about, can you recall the ritual itself?”


Willie “Let me think, uh

Willie is interrupted by the flapping of giant wings and the sound of a great desert wind.

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But Uncle Willie should not have challenged the nesting Gargoyles by threatening their existence with exposure and taking their skeleton that was a sacred object. -The music and sound track is fabulous before the gargoyles strike it’s like electronic whirring and clanging with the sound of echoing crickets and chorus frogs They attack, the night Willie takes Dr. Boley and his daughter into his back shack where he keeps all the special goodies he finds, in particular the skeleton of a creature he found out in the desert that the Indians referred to as Devil’s Crossing.

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Continue reading “Gargoyles (1972) CBS Movie of the Week! A DEVILS FACE OF FRIGHTFUL BEAUTY”