By now with Part 1 and 2 under my belt it’s pretty clear that one theme has emerged. It is my love for three shamefully underrated noir actors that really carry the genre, John Garfield, Victure Mature and Richard Conte! Victor Mature is a swarthy jewel in his darker noirs, The Long Haul, I Wake Up Screaming and Kiss of Death. Even in the western noir masterpiece My Darling Clementine 1946 where he plays the brooding Doc Holliday. Conte possesses a sublime brutality, with the lure of a Minotaur charging. Think of him In The Big Combo, Thieves’ Highway, and Brothers Rico. And Garfield is deeply vulnerable and edgy, giving off an existential sensuality as in He Ran All the Way, Force of Evil, Body and Soul, and They Made Me a Criminal. I think I’ve fallen in love with all three!
The moody black and white photography is by cinematographer Lloyd Ahern Sr. and music by Alfred Newman. Eddie Muller refers to Cry of the City as “Siodmak’s most operatic noir.” It is Siodmak’s most focused work, and the first film noir he shot extensively on location. The film reunited Siodmak with producer Sol Siegel who worked on three Paramount B pictures together after the director settled in Hollywood during the early 1940s. The song ‘Street Scene’, a recurring motif heard in several noirs and written by composer Alfred Newman, plays at the opening of the film. The song can be remembered in I Wake Up Screaming, also starring Mature. It is an urban melody that evokes dreamy nightscapes of the city. Siodmak loves a rain soaked street in his noir films, with it’s themes of fatalism and obsession, and the shocking story of the clash between law and lawlessness. The story borrows from a familiar plot device which sets up an opposition between two characters who come from the same background as children, but wind up clashing in their adult life.
Cry of the City is the most ‘operatic’ (Muller) film noir not just stylistically, but the theme its essential that you not hate Marty Rome’s character. The whole idea is that these are two boyhood friends who come from the same neighborhood and it’s just through circumstance one becomes a criminal and one a lawman, but they’re basically the same guy. That’s the whole point of the film. It’s essential that he play someone with that swagger (Conte) and that criminal intent, but he also has a vulnerability you can see in both of them. You can see the boy in the man. It ends so tragically that it feels operatic…You could see that Siodmak is using the street like this huge stage.”
Cry of the City stars Victor Mature as Lt. Vittorio Candella, and Richard Conte as the ruthless Marty Rome. Fred Clark plays Cadnella’s partner Lt. Jim Collins whose tongue is fast on the trigger. Shelley Winters is Marty’s old flame Brenda Martingale. Brenda is Martin’s loyal ex-gal who spirits the wounded Conte around the city, while an unlicensed doctor works on his bullet wounds in the back seat of her car.
Betty Garde is Nurse Frances Pruett, and Berry Kroeger is the unsavory, amoral lawyer W. A. Niles. Debra Paget plays angelic Teena Riconti. Tommy Cook plays Conte’s cop hating kid brother who worships him, and it’s clear is heading down the same doomed path, as hi older brother Marty.
Garde and Emerson worked together in John Cromwell’s Caged 1950. Garde is Conte’s sympathetic nurse And Hope Emerson as the darkly imposing Rose Given. Emerson, a masseuse and a sadist, is the nefarious Amazon who desperately wants the jewels that Conte has lifted from sleazy lawyer Kroeger. One of the best supporting roles in Cry of the City is Hope Emerson as the ‘monolithic’ (Dinman) Rose Givens who dominates the scenes with Conte.
In Robert Siodmak’s sublime noirCry of the City 1948Emerson plays Madame Rose Given who runs a massage parlor, loves to cook, is a pancake eatin’ -looming ‘heavy’… who loves jewels and just wants a little place in the country where she can cook, eat pancakes and fresh eggs… ‘yeah that’s livin’. From her brawny swagger to her grumbling yet leisurely voice, Emerson’s delicsiouly diabolical performance is the highlight of the film!
The subtle gay gangster films of the early 1930s – Little Caesar 1931, The Public Enemy 1931 and Scarface 1932
“Criminals should not be made heroes… The flaunting of weapons by gangsters will not be allowed…”
“… the fashion for romanticizing gangsters” must be denounced.
The three films also evenhandedly parcel out social pathology and sexual aberration: homosexuality in Little Caesar. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy from the novel by W.R. Burnett Little Caesar was first out of the gate and an immediate sensation. A diminutive bandit whose single-minded ambition compensates less for his stature than his repressed homosexual desire, Caesar Enrico Bandello is compact, swarthy and tightly wound; his golden boy pal Joe played by the scion of Hollywood royalty Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is tall, patrician and easygoing.
When Joe finds a female dancer and show business success, the jilted Caesar unhinged by a jealousy that dare not speak its name even to himself, makes his first mistakes in judgement. The male triangle is completed by Caesar’s worshipful lapdog Otera (George E. Stone) who gazes up at Rico with a rapturous desire that, unlike Rico, he barely bothers to sublimate. Doubly deviant Rico dies for his social and sexual sins, asking in tight close-up and choked up tones, “mother of Mercy, is this the end of Rico?”The famous last words inspired an incisive remark from Robert Warshow on gangster psychology:” Even to himself he is a creature of the imagination” from FILMIC – From Sissies to Secrecy: The Evolution of the Hays Code Queer by Mikayla Mislak
“This is what I get for likin’ a guy too much,” Rico ‘Caesar’ tells himself after he realizes he’s lost, Joe. Joe, who he has referred to as “soft” and a “sissy.” The very pretty Joe (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) has decided to give up the racket, to be a professional nightclub dancer. Robinson wisecracks, “Dancin’ just ain’t my idea of a man’s game.”
Joe is romantically involved with Olga (Glenda Farrell). ‘Caesar’ is not only jealous of Joe’s relationship with Olga, but he also appears to have no use for women at all.
In the end, there is a telling close-up, a well of tears in his eyes, a subtle quiver in his face. Rico cannot shoot Joe, even though he needs to keep him from squealing. The image of Robinson coming head-on with his feelings reveals his struggle with the repressed love for his dancing pal. The scene is very effective when the camera closes in on Robinson, capturing his dewy, wide-eyed stare. Behind the scenes what helped the intensity of the look of longing turned out to be a serendipitous moment when Robinson had to fire a pistol while looking into the camera, and was unable to keep his eyes open, each time he pulled the trigger. Eventually, they had Robinson’s eyes held open with cellophane tape. The effect worked perfectly.
Another interesting point in Little Caesar that hints at his latent homosexuality is a scene that highlights his clumsy fussiness. Rico is trying on a tuxedo and gazing at himself in the mirror. Posturing gleefully as he swishes at his own reflection. In this scene, Rico also becomes caught in his effete sidekick Otero’s (George E. Stone) gaze, who joyfully watches his boss flit for the mirror.
In The Public Enemy (1931) there is a noteworthy scene when Tom (James Cagney) goes to his tailor to get fitted for a suit. It’s a hilariously fidgety few moments for Cagney while the flamboyant tailor fawns over his arm muscles. When the movie was re-released, the sequence wound up on the cutting room floor.
According to Mislak In Howard Hawk’s Scarface (1932), it could be seen as having a gay subtext, as Antonio ‘Tony’ Camonte (Paul Muni) shows a repressed homosexual desire for his best friend Guino Rinaldo played by George Raft. Hawk’s film doesn’t work on a blatant exhibition of violence, instead, Scarface’s subtlety draws on the subliminal impression of his sexual impulses.
Through my readings, it has been noted that there is a coded gayness inferred from the character of Camonte in Scarface. Rather than the repressed sexual desire for his close friend Guino, I catch more a wind of an incestuous desire for his sister Cesca (Ann Dvorak). Camonte hovers over her with an iron will, not allowing her to have any man touch her. She even alludes to his untoward attentions at one point telling him that he loves her more than just a brother. Camonte (Muni) does focus obsessively over his hair and his wardrobe, which Poppi (Kathy Morely) tells him is ‘sweet’. But there are a few references to Guino being queer. He wears a carnation which is a code for being a gay man in film. Camonte says he’d like a carnation too, takes it out of Guino’s lapel, and tells him “Better no one sees you with this.” He also makes a comment about one of the North Side gang members not being taken seriously because he owns a flower shop! Guino doesn’t show any interest in women until nearly close to the end of the picture, when he submits to Camonte’s sister, Cesca.
“The placement of homosexuality or the real possibility of it in an antisocial context is quite natural. Homosexuality when it is invisible is antisocial. The only condition under which homosexuality has ever been socially acceptable has been on the occasion of its voluntary invisibility, when homosexuality were willing to pass for heterosexuals. Obvious homosexual behavior is reflected onscreen as in real life, only in the ‘twilight world’ of misfit conduct. During the brief period of explicit reference to homosexuals in pre-Code films of the early 1930s. Gay characters were psychologically ghettoized by their routine relegations to a fantasy world or an underworld life….
….in addition to strengthening the Code in 1934, Will Hays reacted to criticism by inserting morals clauses in the contracts of performers and compiling a “doom book’ of 117 names of those deemed “unsafe” because of their personal lives. Homosexuality was denied as assiduously off screen as it was on, a literally unspeakable part of the culture. By 1940 even harmless sex-roles farces such as Hal Roach’s Turnabout were considered perilous in some quarters. The film, about a married couple (Carol Landis and John Hubbard) who switch roles by wishing on an Oriental statue, was described by the Catholic Legion of Decency as dealing with ‘subject matter which may provide references dangerous to morality, wholesome concepts of human relationships and the dignity of man.’ ” –Vito Russo
HITCHCOCK SUBVERTS SUSPENSE!
Hitchcock sensed the ambiguous sexuality in Mrs. Danvers (nicknamed Danny) who embodies the forbidding identity of the coded lesbian in 1940s films. As she strides down the halls of Manderley, there is an element of the angry older woman trope, who is vacant of male companionship by choice, with an added streak of dissatisfied longing. She embodies the sterile matron, showing characteristics of an ‘old maid’ attributed to a repressed lesbian.” Rebecca serves as Fontaine’s idealized mother and that Hitchcock’s films present images of ambiguous sexuality that threaten to destabilize the gender identity of the protagonist.” -(Tania Modleski)
“In typical Hitchcock-ian fashion, the “Master of Suspense” often employed in his films subtle references to gay culture, defying conservative attitudes of the late ’50s.”-Scott Badman & Connie Russell Hosier | February 7, 2017- Editor’s note: The following article, like many of Alfred Hitchcock’s films, includes references to sex and violence.
Did Martin Landau play a homosexual in North by Northwest? Did Alfred Hitchcock really show gay sex on-screen in Rope, albeit in an unusual way? Was the whole plot of Rebecca driven by the twisted jealousy of an evil lesbian? And, most surprisingly, did Hitchcock depict a gay marriage way back in 1938’s The Lady Vanishes?”
Alfred Hitchcock was a complicated man, who put a singular stamp on all his films, infusing them with his droll and macabre sense of humor and imbuing his work from the point of view of a satyr. Hitchcock projects his dark and twisted view of the world as at the end of his films there is sort of a perverted release that he leaves us to contemplate. It also appears that he was playful with the use of his gay-coded characters in many of his films.
Nothing Hitchcock did was unintentional, thereby reinforcing proof that there is a gay subtext to many characters in various films. He was very measured in every detail even before the camera captured the scene. But this method of implying a queer pathology and positing queer elements to the narrative. He was ingenious in the way he veiled his ciphers within the cloak of deniability, in order to slip it by the censors in his cheeky manner.
Though Hitchcock would often imbue his pictures with coded gay characters, among scholars it is still speculative as to which side his view fell on. Given that everything Hitchcock constructed was intentional, it’s easy to see why he would be viewed as homophobic, due to his use of stereotypes that eventually led to queerness possibly being as the source of the crimes. But you have to consider that during the time he reigned, it’s a tribute to Hitchcock that he even embraced the complex issue of homosexuality. It shows me that there was a conscious level of understanding.
In his life, Hitchcock surrounded himself with gay culture be it in England or Hollywood, and he worked with many gay writers and actors. Ivor Novello who starred in two of Hitchcock’s silent pictures was good friends with him and Alma. Hitchcock was also friends with Rope stars John Dall and bisexual Farley Granger who played coded gay characters in the film. Granger also had the lead in Strangers on a Train, co-starring Rober Walker who plays another of Hitchcock’s coded gay characters, Bruno. Anthony Perkins who struggled with his sexuality in real life, plays the ambiguous, stammering, Norman Bates in Psycho. According to Jay Poole, Robert Bloch was interested in ‘abnormal psychology’ and was familiar with Freudian theories on sexual identity. His novel was more suggestive of the taboos, in terms of the incestuous relationship with Norman’s mother and his confused sexual identity.
The assessment of ‘camp’ and queerness can be seen as negative. More contemporary audiences might perceive Psycho as more campy than lurid or scary. Norman’s appearance in the fruit cellar might register with audiences as if he’s a big ugly ridiculous drag queen with a knife. The rest of the film is darkly humorous. (Doty cites Danny Peary)
In contrasting these male characters, one representative of sexually suspect psychosis, the other of gendered and sexual normalcy, Hitchcock blurs the lines between them, creating effects that will inform future depictions of American masculinity… While Lila Crane has been read positively as a lesbian character, and also as Carol Clover’s prototype for the ‘final girl” I demonstrate here that Lila is a more ambiguous figure, tied to social repression and the law. […] (Norman’s voyeurism and Lila’s examination of Norman’s room as pornographic) Infusing these pornographic motifs with addition levels of intensity and dread was the increasingly public threat of homosexuality within the Cold War context in which Hitchcock’s related themes gained a new, ominous visibility. What emerges in Psycho is a tripartite monster-voyeurism-homosexuality-pornography.” — (Scott Badman & Connie Russell Hosier)
Saboteur (1942) producer/writer Joan Harrison wrote the screenplay and collaborated with Hitchcock on many projects for both film and television. In the period of the 1940s to the 1950s, movies often conflated homosexuality with unsavory characters like Nazis, communists, and terrorists.
Saboteur stars Robert Cummings as plane mechanic Barry Kane who is framed for the terrorist bombing of a military installation’s aircraft hanger where they manufacture planes. After he sees his friend die in the explosion, police assume that it was Kane who filled the fire extinguisher with gasoline. Kane goes on the run, to try and find the man he suspects is the saboteur, Frank Fry (Norman Lloyd) who is the real murderer who committed the heinous crime.
Kane stumbles onto a secret group of ‘the firm’, 5th columnists who are plotting to sabotage key targets, military planes, ships, and dams. Kane is dropped into the middle of a cabal of dangerous Americans who have infiltrated positions of power in order to carry out their nefarious plan to disrupt the democratic system and cause chaos. Socialite dowager Mrs. Henrietta Sutton (Alma Kruger) is a New York philanthropist who provides cover for the ‘firm’ run by Otto Kruger as the coldly, sinister Tobin. Kane pretends to go along with the group, and in one scene in a taxi with Alan Baxter who plays Mr. Freeman, there is a queer exchange between the two. Freeman tells Kane about his two little children, one of them is a boy, whom he wishes was a girl. He’s letting his son’s hair grow long and hesitates to cut it. Then he shares his reminiscence about his boyhood when he had glorious long blonde curls. Kane tells him to cut his son’s hair and “save yourself some grief.”
Purely by Hitchcockian fate, Kane is thrown together with Pat (Priscilla Lane) who comes to his aid and at one point tries to distract Fry at the top of the Statue of Liberty. The beautiful Pat flirts with Fry in order to stall him until the police get there, but he isn’t the slightest bit interested in her at all. In fact, he seems annoyed by her presence. He’s a slim effete figure, a swishy loner with a serpent-like grin. Theodore Price, in his book ‘Hitchcock and Homosexuality (1992), has no doubt Fry was gay. (Ken Mogg 2008)
Saboteur climax prefigures that of North by Northwest between Thornhill (Cary Grant) and the sinister Leonard (Martin Landau) who is also a gay Hitchcockian figure.
We first hear a remark spoken by socialite Mrs. Sutton (Alma Kruger) when Barry (Kane) is taken to the saboteurs’ New York lair, as Barry enters the upstairs room. Mrs. Sutton is addressing a couple of her male colleagues, whom she reprimands: ‘I have to hover over you like an old hen.’
This is precisely the line Hitchcock uses in Rebecca to characterize the somewhat de-natured estate manager Frank Crawley (Reginald Denny) – nearly all the men in the film are so afflicted – and will be used again in The Paradine Case to characterize the gay Latour (Louis Jourdan).
Frank Crawley is ‘as fussy as an old mother hen’; Latour, we’re told, had been ‘like an old mother hen’ to his beloved master, the blind Colonel Paradine.- Ken Mogg (2008)
In North by Northwest (1959) Martin Landau’s character Leonard, displays an undercurrent of homosexuality, that is subtly implied. He’s a devoted bodyguard whose gaze on his boss, Phillip Vandamm, seems to be bubbling with a refined sensibility, romantically fixated on Vandamm (James Mason), a communist spy being hunted by the CIA. For a 1950s film, Leonard’s immaculate fashion sense and his fastidious swagger are a cue of his being queer. Nearing the climax of North by Northwest, the telling scene set in a mid-century modern house reveals Leonard’s love for Vandamm. Hitchcock even sets up the motive for Leonard shooting the object of his affection, jealousy, and rejection. In a notable line toward the end of the movie, Leonard remarks, “Call it my woman’s intuition” affirming the effete stereotype of a feminine gay man. Vandamm is genuinely flattered (contrary to homosexual panic) by Leonard’s feelings, which hints at his motivation for killing the thing he loves. Vandamm (Mason) tells him in that coldly sober tone of his, “I think you’re jealous. I mean it, and I’m very touched. Very.” As Scott Badman & Connie Russell Hosier point out, Hitchcock’s direction shows a “progressive perspective for its time but so brief that it doesn’t fully register with most viewers. Much later, Landau acknowledged that he played Leonard as a homosexual, albeit subtly.”
From the opening of Strangers on a Train (1951), Hitchcock frames the entranceway to the story with a close shot of the main character’s shoes walking to catch the train. Bruno wears elaborate wing tips with high heels and Guy wears a more toned-down fashionable pair of shoes, which are in opposition to each other and illustrate the contrast between the two main characters.
Robert Walker’s Bruno is a menacing, creepy guy with flashy ties, who positions himself after a chance meeting on a commuter train, to assert his influence over famous tennis player, Guy Haines (Farley Granger). Bruno begins to flatter Guy and insinuate himself by sharing his knowledge of Guy’s personal life. He is very proud of the tie that his mother gave him. It is a garish accouterment dappled with lobsters. Like his silken smoking robe and another tie with the name, Bruno embroidered on it. Bruno also spouts a lot of ‘ideas’ he has in that ever prompted mind of his, when talking about Guy’s upcoming divorce and bigamy scandal, “I’ve got a wonderful theory about that.”
Bruno insists on Guy having lunch with him, “sent to my compartment… You see you’ll have to lunch with me.” It is obvious, though Hitchcock is very subtle about broadcasting the cues, that Bruno is wooing Guy. Bruno is very effeminate in his demeanor, you could say that he has a ‘flaming’ air about him, always dropping hints about his sexuality. “My father hates me”, insinuating that he is not the kind of man he expects of him. “I’ve got a theory that you should do everything before you die.” He tells Guy amorously, “I like you, I’d do anything for you.”
Bruno Anthony’s plan is for both men to exchange for each other’s murders. There are several scenes that scream Hitchcock’s gay coding. Initially, when the two men meet each other on the train, Bruno is flirtatious, dressed in ‘flamboyant clothes’, which to gay audiences, is seemingly clear to be a gay pickup. Bruno’s not only attracted to the handsome Guy, but he is in fact stalking him as an ‘object’ to fulfill his needs and be his ‘partner’ in his deranged homoerotic plot.
His mother, Mrs. Anthony (the wonderful character actor Marion Lorne) does Bruno’s nails and dotes on her son. As Bruno tells his mother, he wants his nails to look right.
Homosexuality is not explicitly stated, but there is too strong an import for critics and audiences in the know, to ignore. And, considering Hitchcock’s fascination with homosexual subtexts, it’s not a stretch to read into various scenes this way.
There is also the insinuation that Bruno has some serious mother issues, which is one of Hitchcock’s points of reference for his gay coding, such as his use of it with Norman Bates in his film Psycho. Bruno amuses himself by antagonizing his mother (Marion Lorne) who is completely in the dark about the twisted pathology of her homicidal son.
Bruno has set up a visit from Guy who finds himself talking to the sociopath, who’s been waiting for Guy while lying in bed in his silky pajamas. Is this actually arranged as a bedroom seduction?
Another brief sequence takes place at the end which centers around a carousel, a possible symbol of fluid sexuality, and sexual foreplay. The scene shows Bruno and Guy wrestling with each other, the movements could be read as Bruno really achieving what he wanted, to have sex with Guy. Hitchcock even cut different versions of the movie for Britain and the U.S., toning down the implied homosexuality in the American version — proof positive that he was fully aware of the gay implications in his movies. –(Badman and Hosier)
Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) is based on the play by Patrick Hamilton Rope’s End is perhaps one of the more obvious coded gay films with homosexual subtexts in his canon. Arthur Laurents, who eventually came out of the closet and wrote the screenplay, said during a commentary “What was curious to me was that Rope was obviously about homosexuals. The word was never mentioned. Not by Hitch, not by anyone at Warners. It was referred to as ‘it’. They were going to do a picture about ‘it’, and the actors were ‘it’.”The original British stage play was loosely based on the sensational true crime committed by Chicago students Leopold and Loeb in 1924, who killed a fellow student, just to see if they could get away with a motiveless crime. The script was penned by Arthur Laurents in collaboration with Hume Cronyn and Ben Hecht.
Brandon (John Dall) and Philip (Farley Granger) are entitled, affluent snobs, who are self-aggrandizing psychopaths with a Nietzschean superiority. Hitchcock arranges a taut stage play, around a case of Folie à deux. Brandon and Philip are implied coded lovers, who used the crime of murder to stimulate each other as if it were a sex act. The intellectual discourse they have at the beginning of the picture is overshadowed by the sexual banter that precedes what ultimately will become the act of committing a murder. Rope from the beginning of the picture inaugurates a very feverish sexual undercurrent.
In real life, John Dall was gay but died in 1971 without talking openly about his homosexuality. Farley Granger was bisexual when making the movie and then was in a lifelong gay relationship starting in 1963. Alfred Hitchcock was well aware of the sexual orientations of both actors and was reportedly pleased with what is now called the on-screen “chemistry” between the two.
He coded Brandon and Philip as gay by their “sex scene.” It occurs at the very beginning of the movie, which is also the murder scene. Hitchcock is strongly equating murder with sex. The murder-sex occurs behind curtained windows. The death scream corresponds to the orgasm. Now visible, the murderers Brandon and Philip quickly put the body in a cabinet and go into a postcoital exhaustion. Philip doesn’t even want the light turned on. In an inspired touch, Hitchcock has Brandon light a cigarette, a standard Hollywood indicator for “we just had sex.” – (Badman and Hosier)
The unorthodox murderers throw a dinner party with the victim stuffed inside an antique trunk. The film was initially banned in Chicago and other cities, because of its implied homosexual relationship between the two killers. In 1959, the story was revised as Compulsiondirected by Richard Fleischer scripted by Richard Murphy, and based on the novel by Meyer Levin. Compulsion remains closer to the actual true-life crime, and the implicit queer undertones are brought more to the surface, with less of Hitchcock’s cheeky innuendo.
Hitchcock employs many homoerotic symbology and allusions, as the couple reenact the murder, with the director conflating violence and sex. For instance, Brandon gets a bottle of champagne still invigorated by the murder, while Philip the weaker of the murderous pair, is nervous. Brandon fondles the bottle of champagne as the two stands close together very intimately. He grasps the champagne bottle as phallus and flirts with the top of the bottle, yet not releasing the cork. All this is stages as foreplay. Philip finally takes the bottle from Brandon and liberates the cork. They then toast to their victim. Film Critic Robin Wood asserts, in The Murderous Gays: Hitchcock’s Homophobia, that these films could be made as more positive or sensitive to homosexuality rather than “traffic in homophobia” and that it perpetuate the notion that homosexuality leads to violence.
Psycho works as a warped adult fairytale about getting lost and paying for one’s transgressions. Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is a Phoenix secretary who embezzles forty thousand dollars from her employer’s client and goes on the run. Marion is also shown to be a fallen woman, a sexual deviant herself with no morals, not only is she a thief but she is also having an affair with a married man Sam Loomis, (John Gavin). Driving in torrential rain, she pulls into the Bates Motel, an eerie, remote motel off the beaten path. The motel is run by a ‘queer’ sort of young man, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) who lives up in the brooding house on the hill, under the dominant authority of his cruel and elusive mother. As Poole puts it, Norman “remains locked in a disturbed world, and, as the film progresses, becomes murderously mad.”
Norman Bates: “A boy’s best friend is his mother.”
Norman is not a masculine figure, he is a mama’s boy who does his mother’s bidding. He is continually identified with his mother and, according to Freud and his psychological tunnel vision, would probably have evolved into a homosexual because of his Oedipal desires. Hitchcock perverts Freud’s narrow theory, by making sure the narrative shows Norman to be attracted to women, not men. It is when Norman’s arousal by the female body, that he dresses in frumpy dresses to represent his mother, who then takes over and annihilates the object of Norman’s desire. Many viewers assume that Norman is a repressed homosexual because he dressed in women’s clothing when manifesting his mother’s personality. Cross-dressing was stereotypically associated with homosexuality, however, Hitchcock’s film tries to make it clear that Norman is attracted to women from the very beginning with the seductive Marion. The concept of fluid sexuality was not understood in 1960, so conflating cross-dressing with homosexuality was a commonly misleading view.
Another interesting point that Jay Poole (Queering Hitchcock’s Classic) brings out is how the décor of the house is itself, queer. Referring to what he cites Foucault’s theory of ‘We Other Victorians’ which essentially invokes ‘the image of the imperial prude.’ Therefore the Bates house itself with its provincial Victorian style from a queer perspective represents the constraints of Victorian sexual expectations, which is — we do not speak of sex, and any relations are to remain between a heterosexual married couple in the privacy of their own bedroom. Norman is surrounded by this oppressive atmosphere and tries to fight his impulses and his carnal desires. He does this by dwelling in his mother’s house, hoping that she will control the voyeuristic, dirty lustful desire he is having about Marion.
Norman Bates: “People never really run away from anything. The rain didn’t last long, did it? You know what I think? I think that we’re all in our private traps, clamped in them, and none of us can ever get out. We scratch and we claw, but only at the air, only at each other, and for all of it, we never budge an inch.”
Marion Crane: “Sometimes we deliberately step into those traps.”
Norman Bates: “I was born in mine. I don’t mind it anymore.”
Psycho, is the first of Hitchcock’s films to break tradition from his usual cultured mystery/suspense tropes. He decided to present this narrative using a pallet of B&W to set up a different tonality. Without the use of the vivid colors that he often used with cinematographer Robert Burks. Psycho deals with a more graphic, monochromatic, psycho-sexual sickness. A sickness that erupts in unprecedented perversity and violence for the director. Hitchcock also kills off his heroine in the first 20 minutes of the film. Psycho, will forever be known for ‘the shower scene.’
It also brings to the screen one of THE most hauntingly intense scenes that will remain in the collective consciousness, for what it lacks in vivid bloodshed, it possesses an uncomfortable voyeuristic gaze that brings us into Norman’s mind with the twists and turns, it assaults us, because of its deeper brutality, a more queasy feeling of psychic angst and inverts our gaze, as Marion stares back at us with her lifeless eyes.
“It’s not like my mother is a maniac or a raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?”
In the 1950s into 1960 was a time when Americans were seeking out the American ideal, and cultural conformity. It was also a time when many audiences did not explore alternative sexualities and would have conflated homosexuality with a deviant and dangerous personality. Poole suggests “Hitchcock queers the image of sexual purity but reinforces naturalized heterosexuality as the film progresses… Hitchcock utilizes the Freudian explanation of homosexual development in his explanation of Norman’s development as a psychopathic killer despite Norman’s apparent heterosexual orientation.”
Hitchcock believed he made the perfect choice in casting Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, the homicidal misfit who put on a dress and wig to embody his cruel mother. Norman became a serial killer with a fixation on his castrating mother because she dominated his life and turned him into a monster. Perkin’s himself soft-spoken, androgynous, even perhaps a slightly effete actor. Alfred Hitchcock envisioned another gay character whose inherent corrupted humanity stems from their conflict of being queer. By queer, it can refer to the process of shattering normalcy and vision from the perspective of a heternormative lens. Psychotakes the audience into a place of dis-ease, where seemingly ordinary people are capable of monstrous acts. If Hitchcock’s film is subverting the value of 1950s America, and the transgressive content of Psycho breaks from societal norms, then it can be read as a ‘queer’ film.
[voiceover in police custody, as Norman is thinking]” It’s sad, when a mother has to speak the words that condemn her own son. But I couldn’t allow them to believe that I would commit murder. They’ll put him away now, as I should have years ago. He was always bad, and in the end he intended to tell them I killed those girls and that man… as if I could do anything but just sit and stare, like one of his stuffed birds. They know I can’t move a finger, and I won’t. I’ll just sit here and be quiet, just in case they do… suspect me. They’re probably watching me. Well, let them. Let them see what kind of a person I am. I’m not even going to swat that fly. I hope they are watching… they’ll see. They’ll see and they’ll know, and they’ll say, “Why, she wouldn’t even harm a fly…”
As ‘Judith Butler’ Gender scholar, and ‘Hall’ speak of gender as performance, Hitchcock was clear in the way he developed Stephano and Bloch’s central characters in Psycho. In the final scene, the murderer is revealed and his inner monologues keep hidden, the source of a disturbed, untroubled ‘victim’ of faulty psychological development.’ The opening montage sets the scene for the dark thing that takes place inside ordinary towns and inside the minds of ordinary people. (source: Poole)
Psycho was a vehicle that queered what the public had come to expect from Hitchcock films, and,much like its real-life inspiration (Ed Gein), it queered the notion that America was a place where ‘normal,’ was defined as a quiet, safe, small town life, free from the darkness that lurds in modest roadside motels… With Psycho, Hitchcock abetted by Stefano’s script, would shock audiences with sexual innuendo, apparent nudity coupled with a sadistic stabbing scene. Perhaps most shocking of all, he would leave audiences wondering what might lie below the surface of family, friends neighbors and themselves.” (Jay Poole)
Rebecca (1940), was not one of Hitchcock’s favorite films at all. Adapted from the Gothic novel by Daphne du Maurier, the sick soul here is a menacing lesbian. The formidable Mrs. Danvers ( played by the equally formidable Judith Anderson) is the head Matron of Manderley, living in the shadows of the former Mrs. de Winter. She is a lovesick sapphic with an unnourished desire for her dead mistress, Rebecca. Manderley itself is like a hollow mistress that consumes those inside its ominous hallways. ‘Danny’ resents the new Mrs. de Winter and in one revelatory scene taunts her (Joan Fontaine) trying to drive her to suicide through her cruel torments. She parades Rebecca’s lingerie with a lustful smirk on her diabolical face, running her hands under the sheer, delicate fabric as if she were fondling Rebecca herself.
Mrs. Danvers’ jealousy of Maxime de Winters’ new bride is driven by obsession, a lesbian-coded manifestation, one of jealousy and sexual desire. For Joan Fontaine’s character, Danvers reenacts through storytelling, all the attention she used to lavish on her beloved mistress, running her bath, brushing her hair, admiring the finery of her monogrammed pillowcases. Though Rebecca is only seen as the painting of an alluring woman her ghost haunts Manderley and the new Mrs. de Winter.
In Hollywood movies of the 1940s, coded lesbian characters were far less common than coded gay men. Portrayals of lesbians might define them as dangerous and threatening, as is the case with Mrs. Danvers. Mrs. Danvers implies that she had been married. This allowed Hitchcock’s deniability against Judith Anderson’s lesbianism But Mrs. Danver’s eventual demise is brought about by her inability to accept Rebecca’s death or allow anyone to replace her love. And so her desire consumes her literally, in fire.
The Lady Vanishes (1938)
When I first saw Charters (Basil Radford) and Caldicott (Naughton Wayne) in The Lady Vanishes my radar went off like a firehouse siren during the scene where they are both sitting up together in a small bed, one wearing the pajama tops and the other wearing the bottoms, (giving the appearance of both being naked in bed. It was such a marvelous coded moment and I knew they were a loving married gay couple. I found it so refreshing to see the British comedy duo playing a cheeky proper English couple who are cricket fanatics trying to get back to London while the Hitchcockian espionage is happening under their noses.
I enjoyed their farcical vignette about a pair of golfers, the one comedic entry in an otherwise moody collection of ghost stories- Dead of Night (1945) which like The Lady Vanishes, also stars Michael Redgrave.
Hitchcock excelled at getting fine performances from his supporting cast members. They usually are finely honed characterizations portrayed by perfectly cast actors, fascinating and funny, imbued with his dry British humor. Charters and Caldicott are wonderful examples. Played by Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne, two fine stage actors who reprised these characters in subsequent movies and BBC radio programs, Charters and Caldicott follow a long tradition of comedy duos of older men in British Music Hall, vaudeville and stage performances. Most audiences of the time, especially British audiences, would have interpreted their relationship simply as one between eccentric, middle-aged bachelors. (Badman and Hosier)
Though there are so many elements of the duo that is ambiguous, Hitchcock imbues Charters and Caldicott with an affection and closeness that reads like a positively coded gay pairing. The two aren’t played as stereotypically flamboyant or campy. Later in the movie, Charters and Caldicott are heroic in facing down danger, during an onslaught of gunfire by fascist spies.
Charters and Caldicott are stranded at the only hotel in a tiny alpine village. The desk clerk informs them that they must share the maid’s room. When they meet the voluptuous Germanic blonde, they glance at each other with an expression that appears to be saying they’re not interested. When they follow the maid to her cramped room, Charter cracks “It’s a pity they couldn’t have given us one each” which could be interpreted as each having their own woman, to have a bit of a romp with. But Charters clarifies himself by saying he meant two rooms. One for the maid and one for them. A mainstream audience could read their conduct as two heterosexual British gentlemen, but if you read between the lines, it is suggested that they have no interest in women. In another scene when the maid enters their shared room without knocking, both men act startled by the intrusion. Caldicott moves in a way that conjures up the role of a protective mate. Once she leaves, Caldicott locks the door.
A master of queering the screen, Hitchcock plays with sexuality using his skillful methods of innuendo and artful suggestiveness — In an already masterful way of blurring the lines of reality and adeptly flirting with transgression, Hitchcock’s milieus are perfect playgrounds for coded gay characters.
Never settled for less than perfection in her work, though studio head Jack Warner did not consider her a beauty, Davis possessed one of the most striking, sensually expressive and memorable faces of all time. Not least are those mesmerizing eyes of hers, and that classy devil may care, cigarette in hand, she had a style she aged with forever gutsy and graceful.
She fought with integrity and grit against a studio system that held down strong women’s voices, but she persevered regardless. In her private life she remained an eternal romantic though she suffered many failed relationships, yet she forged an image of a strong, independent woman on and off screen– a heroine for the ages.
With performances that didn’t always paint her as ‘attractive’ –an ingenue, a seductress, nor a obviously sympathetic character -she had the bold courage to take on intricate roles that challenged her to prevail as one of the truly great actresses of all time.
An icon she will always remain… I will loveher forever…
Though one of my favorite performances will always be for the beautiful and tragically stoic Charlotte Vale in Now, Voyager 1942 there is of course these Davis gems– Dark Victory 1939, Dangerous 1935, The Petrified Forest 1936, A Stolen Life 1946, Mr. Skeffington 1944, Beyond the Forest 1949, and especially her brilliant performances in– All About Eve, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte and yes, for those of us that enjoy a good Grande Dame Guignol certainly her dual role as twins in Dead Ringer 1964…
The tragic Joyce Heath in Dangerous 1935, Gabrielle Maple in The Petrified Forest 1936,Valerie Purvis in Satan Met a Lady 1936, Julie Marsden in Jezebel 1938, Judith Traherne in Dark Victory 1939, Leslie Crosbie in The Letter 1940, Maggie Patterson in The Great Lie 1941, Regina Giddens in The Little Foxes 1941, the devious Stanley Timberlake in In This Our Life 1942, Charlotte Vale in Now, Voyager 1942, Kit Marlowe in Old Acquaintance 1943, Fanny Trellis Skeffington in Mr. Skeffington 1944, Kate and Patricia Bosworth in A Stolen Life 1946, the ruthless Rosa Moline in Beyond the Forest 1949, the wise and witty stage icon Margo Channing in All About Eve 1950, Joyce Ramsey in Payment on Demand 1951, Janet Frobisher in Another Man’s Poison 1951, Marie Hoke in Phone Call from a Stranger 1952, Aggie Hurley in The Catered Affair 1956, the ethical Alicia Hull in Storm Center 1956, sympathetically tragic anti-heroine Jane Hudson in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?1962, Margaret Delorca/Edith Phillips in Dead Ringer 1964, ravaged by time and renegade Charlotte Hollis in Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte 1964, the twisted Nanny in The Nanny 1965, Mrs. Taggart in The Anniversary 1968, The Widow Fortune in The Dark Secrets of Harvest Home 1978, Mrs. Aylwood in The Watcher in the Woods 1980,Libby Strong in The Whales of August 1987. I can’t think about her short role in Burnt Offerings 1976 ugh...
Elizabeth Rosamond Taylor is a woman possessed of layers upon layers of intricate emotional turmoil and passion. In her later years she had done some pretty challenging and offbeat roles but she always manages to evoke pathos and a strong inner manifesto of an ineffable deity about her. On and off screen. No matter who she is performing, Taylor is a wild fire that will burn up the screen. Elizabeth Taylor is one of the most evocative actresses, who can either bring me to raw agonizing tears or make me clench my body because she’s manages to trigger an emotion that just needed to get out!
One of my particular favorites is her portrayal of the misunderstood Gloria Wandrous in Butterfield 8 (1960) and Catherine Holly who is tormented by her horrid aunt Katherine Hepburn in Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly, Last Summer 1959.
I still believe Taylor is one of the most intensely beautiful women that has ever emerged in this lifetime, and there is a wild and untamed passion in Elizabeth Taylor that I find so compelling, it’s hard for me not to fall in love with her and those violet eyes. Whether she’s Maggie a Cat on a Hot Tin Roof 1958, Leslie Benedict in Giant 1956, Angela Vickers in A Place in the Sun 1951, Susannah Drake Shawnessy in Raintree County 1957, or the emotionally tortured Catherine Holly in Suddenly, Last Summer 1959, as Laura Reynolds in The Sandpiper 1965, or Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ? 1966, Helen in Doctor Faustus 1967, Leonora Penderton married to a closet homosexual (Marlon Brando) in Tennessee Williams’ Reflections in a Golden Eye 1967, as Flora ‘Sissy’ Goforth in Boom! 1968. She still showed her vast array of colors as Leonora a woman who embarks on a strange relationship with an even stranger young woman in Joseph Losey’s odd and disturbing Secret Ceremony 1968 co-starring Mia Farrow and Robert Mitchum. And yes I admit it, I loved her as Zee Blakeley in X, Y and Zee 1972 and consider these others to be additional guilty pleasures, Night Watch and Ash Wednesday 1973
Referred to as Volcanic – Anna Magnani is a bold and beautiful woman who bares her soul on the screen. A fine Italian actress who could command the rain and thunder to appear with just one of her passionate pleas, she has that kind of ascendancy. Anna Magnani has a raw and natural sensual quality that allows her ability to tap into the primal dimensions of emotion. She is truly real when she is on the screen. It’s like the earth moves with her! Of course one of my favorite performances is from Tennessee William’s adaption of The Fugitive Kind 1960 where she plays the poignant Lady Torrance opposite Marlon Brando. I also adored her as Maddalena Cecconi in Bellissima 1951 and as the widow Rose in The Rose Tattoo 1955 with Burt Lancaster as well as her enigmatic role in ...and the Wild Wild Women 1959 and Mamma Roma 1962. She has appeared in the intensely evocative Roma, Open City 1945, as Sister Letizia inThe Awakening 1957 Magnani has appeared as Maddalena Natoli in William Dieterle’s Volcano 1950, in George Cukor’s Wild is the Wind 1957, The Passionate Thief (Risate di Gioia) 1960, The Secret of Santa Vittoria 1969.
Was a thoughtful and evocative, sexy blonde bombshell who wore her heart on her sleeve. She had a unique zest for life that she exudes, from her earliest diverse supporting roles in romantic comedies, noir, melodramas and cult classics Winters wasn’t afraid to delve into the more aggressively quirky and profane performances even as a bloody mama, Ma Barker in Roger Corman’s Bloody Mama 1970, and a few flaming psychopaths scattered around! A sensuous screen actress who was also adorable, lovable, seriously talented and off screen in life was kind, courageously honest and loyal.
From her role as the sympathetic wife to two time loser Robert Ryan in Odds Against Tomorrow 1959, to the love deprive wife Charlotte Haze in Lolitaand as the heartless Rose-Ann D’arcy in Guy Green’s A Patch of Blue 1965. To the doomed Alice Tripp in A Place in the Sun 1951 and equally imperiled Willa Harper in Night of the Hunter 1955.
Winters’ life was filled with a collection of interesting lovers & relationships with some of the most impressive men in Hollywood, and a dear friend to Marilyn Monroe. Though she freely spoke in her memoirs of the midnight dooms she would get, you can ultimately see that Shelley Winters was consuming life for all it’s treasures. She will always be a kind and ebullient goddess to me…
Shelley Winters as Eva Bademan and Paul Douglas as Josiah Walkter Dudley in Executive Suite 1954
With Frank Sinatra in Meet Danny Wilson 1951
With John Garfield in He Ran All the Way 1951
With Jack Palance in I Died a Thousand Times 1955
with Jack Palance in The Big Knife 1955
With Robert Ryan in Odds Against Tomorrow 1959
With James Mason in Lolita 1961
Bloody Mama 1970 here with Robert DeNiro
With Debbie Reynolds in What’s the Matter with Helen? 1971
Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? 1972
Next Stop, Greenwich Village 1976
With Gene Hackman in The Poseidon Adventure 1972
Some of my favorite performances were for Brenda Martindale in Cry of the City 1949, as Faye Lapinski in Next Stop, Greenwich Village 1976 , as Alice Tripp in A Place in the Sun 1951, as Terry Stewart in Johnny Stool Pigeon 1949, as Lola Manners in Winchester ’73 (1950) as Joy Carroll in Meet Danny Wilson 1951, as Fran Davis in Playgirl 1954, as Eva Bardeman in Executive Suite 1954, as Marie Garson in I Died a Thousand Times 1955, Dixie Evans in The Big Knife 1955, as Peg Dobbs in He Ran all the Way 1951, Binky Gay in Phone Call From a Stranger 1952, as Lorry in Odds Against Tomorrow 1959, as Charlotte Haze in Lolita 1961, Rose-Ann D’arcy in A Patch of Blue 1965, Fay Esterbrook in Harper 1966, as the insane Helen Hill/Martin in What’s the Matter with Helen? 1971, as ‘Ma’ Kate Barker in Bloody Mama 1970, as the wonderful Belle Rosen who saves the day in The Poseidon Adventure 1972!
Gene Tierney whom I’ve always attributed such grace and gentility flips that persona and is masterful as the icy & enigmatic Ellen Berent in Leave Her to Heaven… And though she manages to create a perfect 1950s psychopathic villain — Tierney still brings me to tears with her portrayal of widow Lucy Muir in The Ghost & Mrs. Muir 1947.
There is an otherworldly quality to Tierney that makes her seem almost unreal, like there are treasures and journeys happening within those sparkling eyes of hers. Perhaps her eyes transport you to another world, because they are so beguiling and dreamy. Tierney has the ability to make you feel like you must hang onto the dulcet tones of her voice, yet she is also capable of thrusting you into turmoil when she demonstrates that she can invert that angelic face and become almost menacing. Well, only once but what a performance –it lasts a lifetime of re-watching Leave Her to Heaven! But I can’t forget all her other extraordinary performances as Ellie May in Tobacco Road 1941 and as Poppy, also that year in Belle Starr, in The Shanghai Gesture 1941, as Martha in Heaven Can Wait 1943, in Otto Preminger’s noir masterpiece Laura 1944, as Miranda Wells in Dragonwyck 1946, as Isabel Bradley in The Razor’s Edge 1946, Sara Farley in That Wonderful Urge 1948, in three noirs from 1950- Whirlpool, Where the Sidewalk Ends and as the sympathetic Mary Bristol in Night and the City. As Marcia Stoddard The Secret of Convict Lake 1951, as Midge Sheridan in Close to My Heart 1951, as Ann Scotti Scott in The Left Hand of God 1955, as Albertine Prine in Toys in the Attic 1963
It’s Saturday, day One of the Anti-Damsel Blogathon 2015! And Fritzi of Movies Silently who will be taking over on Sunday… and I are SO knocked over by the amazing turn out! We’re glad to see you so raring to go just like those women who kicked down doors, crossed boundaries and forged a wholly unique path for themselves and other women who are empowered and inspiring and unrestrained to be gloriously-themselves.
So I’ll not wasted any further time with ‘cheap sentiment’ as Bette so effectively impresses upon us… and just get on with the show!
Our host Fritzi chooses a ‘new’ kind of women Miss Lulu Bett who as she explains the wonderful Lulu and her story as “throwing off the gloomy shackles of Victorianism and making her own way in the modern world! And Lulu’s not so easy to bully!
Lindsey at The Motion Pictures pays tribute to one of the most versatile mavericks Ida Lupino. Actress, writer, director, producer. An Emmy-nominated actress and as Lindsey points out, the second woman ever to be admitted to Hollywood’s Director’s Guild. To look at her long impressive career & body of work is to behold a legend that took the reigns and made her life in the shape of Ida Lupino!
The mind of Levine comes up with a title that makes me feel all warm inside because she conjures up a bold title that I can grab onto. As of late, I’ve been devouring every film I can on the incredible Carole Lombard, who tragically died in a plane crash. What would she have accomplished in a lifetime if she had survived?
She has a pantheon place here at The Last Drive In. Irreverent, hilarious, gorgeous, sublime, and one step ahead of her male leads. A comedic timing and genius that shook up a studio system that couldn’t handle her verve. Well just read this amazing contribution to the event in Stacy LeVine’s own words… Carole Lombard is forever a legend, and an Anti Damsel if there ever was one!
Nitrate Glow offers us a beautiful gem from 1968… directed by Isao Takahata. Hilda is the little songstress who was way before her time in terms of animation heroines. Nitrate Glow offers an incredibly eloquent and insightful look at a unique film!
Kristina’s offbeat & clever insight =Cobra Woman and it’s a hell of a choice. It’s got the good twin/bad twin paradigm and Maria Montez, a warrior woman in charge! Here’s just a tidbit of Kristina at Speakeasy’s perspicacity!
It is said that “no drug-soaked brain could dream up the horrors of Cobra Island,” ‘but this movie dreamed it up and brought it to vivid life. This is fantastic entertainment and pulpy comic book spectacle bursting at the seams with fantastic things:’
Fantastic things like Maria Montez and Anti Damsel for sure…I know what I’m watching later!
When you think of a woman who is less imperiled you think Jessica Walter as Evelyn Draper or as The Joy & Agony of Movies did, Tuesday Weld is spine-chilling as Sue Ann Stepanek, a pretty sociopath who lets nothing get in her way! She is the epitome of the ‘pretty bad girl’ It’s a great addition to the Anti Damsel Blogathon!
Leave it to Dorian of Tales of the Easily Distracted to offer us a witty and apropos tribute to the Anti Damsel Audrey Hepburn as Regina Lampert in Charade (1963) Just because Hepburn exudes a delicate finery and elegance, she has always manifested a power that strikes out like a lioness! Charade is a wonderful romantic comedy that showcases why the versatile Audrey Hepburn is a legend!
Frieda Inescort plays Lady Jane Ainsely in The Return of the Vampire in 1943. Now it’s no small task to play it empowered alongside Bela Lugosi! Lady Jane Ainsley: “Your eyes look like burning coals. Don’t come any nearer. Don’t touch me.”
Serendipitous Anachronisms pays tribute to the great Kim Hunter and her memorable character as Dr. Zira in Planet of the Apes 1968. It’s a passionate piece about brave and brilliant women who command an entire civilization of men, oops I mean apes with her strong leadership style and wisdom… Couldn’t have an Anti-Damsel Blogathon without her!
The prolific Karen has to say about our lovable Joan “downtrodden Depression-era woman who transforms her existence from bleak oppression to indisputable triumph. Using her wits, her nerve, and her determination” We couldn’t have an Anti Damsel party without inviting one of the most effervescent gals Joan Blondell!
Who better than to pay tribute to an immensely empowered, and I do mean immense! 50 feet worth of empowered woman, than Aurora from Once Upon a Screen. Nancy Fowler Archer will remain indelibly in our secret voyeuristic yearnings to grow tall enough to kick the crap out of the finks who dare betray us!
Old Hollywood Films does this Anti Damsel Blogathon proud to showcase one of the greatest legends, Lillian Gish brings to life one of the strongest, pure hearted gun totin’ characters Rachel Cooper in Charles Laughton’s Masterpiece Night of the Hunter (1955) And says… this is a gif that just keeps giving!!! Thanks, Old Hollywood Films for sharing this fabulist heroine!
Moon in Gemini has also honored this grand bash with yet another legendary figure of empowered women-ness! We can’t neglect Barbara Stanwyck and this post will make all you Stanny fans happy with…
The Furies: The Anti-Damsel with a Daddy Fixation! I would have liked to take one of those Dr. Taylor classes. And as Debbie so aptly puts it- “Is there any character that Barbara Stanwyck played that COULDN’T be classified as an anti-damsel?”
I’d say no! it wasn’t possible for her to be non-empowered or in peril. She didn’t have those strong shoulders and that gritty voice for nothing. Even if Bogie was poisoning her milk, or she was bedridden or stalked by a dream lover or even a witness to a murder, she never quite seemed like a weak woman. Just a strong one in the wrong place at the right time. So dive in now to Moon in Gemini’s brilliant perspective on quite an interesting Stanwyck film!
BNoirDetour showcases the talent of Linda Darnell in this highly charged film of social criticism that explodes on the screen in No Way Out (1950)! As Edie Johnson is caught in the crossfire of racism, she’s got a lot of guts to rise above the chaos and come out kicking!
When CineMaven’s Essays from the Couch writes that her heart skips a beat because of our Anti Damsel-themed Blogathon, I want to return the compliment and say how grateful both Fritzi and I are for the overwhelming response to this tribute to empowered women! And CineMaven, you couldn’t have picked someone better to cause pangs in my heart than the underrated Ella Raines in what I think is one of THE most incredibly intricate psychological film noirs Phantom Lady, with gutsy Carol (Ella) as our heroine!
You’ll never get anything but unique and mind-expanding insight from Goregirl’s Dungeon. I was sooo thrilled to have her join in and offer her take on an Anti Damsel. Read her fascinating overview of Anna Karina in the films of Jean -Luc Godard…
Defiant Success has made this Anti Damsel Blogathon that much better for having covered Deborah Kerr as Karen Holmes a woman who speaks her mind in From Here To Eternity (1953) Kerr is the consummate anti damsel and she always wields that classy composure!
As Virginie from The Wonderful World of Cinema says- “Movie heroines are not always princesses waiting for a prince to rescue them, they are not always victims or damsels in distress. Female movie characters can be strong, they can have guts, determination, and many other wonderful qualities” Shirley Booth had a powerful stamina and warmth that couldn’t be extinguished. We’re so happy to have her as a part of our Anti-Damsel Blogathon!
Carole & Co. devotes a journal to the groundbreaking versatility, beauty, and comedic genius of Carole Lombard. We’re so glad to have her join us for the Anti-Damsel Blogathon! Taken away from us too soon, journey through this insightful post and read about Lombard as a producer!
Karavansara has done the honor of taking up my wish list and paying tribute to one of THE most iconic sexy and strong female role models of the 60s. I am with them. Diana Rigg & Emma Peel both left a huge impression on me growing up. And yes I couldn’t resist having one of my first crushes either… Read this well-written tribute to one of the finest examples of empowerment…!
“Emma Peel, as portrayed by Dame Diana Rigg, is one of the icons of the 1960s, a sex symbol, and one of the earliest strong, empowered female leads in television entertainment.”
Heather Drain of Mondo Heather explores the Uber mod & deviant world of the Cult & Exploitation 60s paying tribute to a pretty formidable Anti-Damsel Big Shim (Marni Castle) sporting a steel bra that could be registered as a lethal weapon. The film includes other divinely demented Anti Damsels’ as Heather writes- “Sweety East (Monique Duval), who is a Texan-fried, butt-crack rocking version of Honey West, things go from nutzoid to putting out fire with gasoline”
PS: You gotta love a reference to Honey West (Anne Francis) that sexy private eye with her groovy house ocelot Bruce!
Naturally, we couldn’t do this empowering bash without spotlighting the great Joan Crawford. And Wolffian Classic Movies Digest does a wonderful job of reminding us why Crawford the Legend and Mildred Pierce the Anti Damsel are so timeless… Here’s a quote from their fabulous piece –“Joan Crawford starting out as the happy housewife breaks free of that mold becoming her own woman as She carries the movie on her Broad shoulders”
Smitten Kitten Vintage did one hell of a bang up job covering not only the incomparable Bette Davis but her iconic portrayal of Margo Channing in All About Eve 1950. The film that put her back on track in Hollywood! Read this insightful piece here. Because no Anti Damsel Blogathon would be complete without the legendary Bette ‘hold onto your seatbelts it’s gonna be a bumpy night’ Davis
Superfluous Film Commentary shares the sublimely bold Gene Tierney as Lucy Muir, a steadfast widow who is fiercely independent and isn’t afraid of ghosts either! A beautiful film and a wonderful contribution to our Anti-Damsel bash! As they so eloquently put it Tierney is “positively radiant Gene Tierney, likewise fits the definition of empowered.”
I’ll think I’ll go get a banana split until we’re back with Fritzi on Sunday for more Empowered Lady Love!- Your everlovin’ MonsterGirl
THE SILENT YEARS: When we started not giving a damn on screen!
In celebration of our upcoming Anti Damsel Blogathon on August 15 & 16, I had this idea to provide a list of bold, brilliant, and beautiful women!
There was to be no indecent exposure of the ankles and no SCHWOOSHING! Not in this Blogathon baby!
From the heyday of Silent film and the advent of talking pictures to the late ‘20s to 1934 Pre-Code Hollywood, films were rife with provocative and suggestive images, where women were kicking up a storm on screen… The end of the code during the early 60s dared to offer social commentary about race, class, gender, and sexuality! That’s our party!
In particular, these bold women and the screen roles they adopted have become legendary. They sparked catchy dialogue, inspired fashion trends, or just plain inspired us… Altogether there are 111 of SOME of the most determined, empowered, and uniquely fortified femmes of classic film…!
First of course I consulted the maven of all things splendid, shimmery, and SILENT for her take on silent film actresses and the parts that made them come alive on the immortal screen…. Fritzi at Movies Silently has summoned up thesefabulous femmes…
Now to unleash the gust of gals from my tornadic mind filled with favorite actresses and the characters that have retained an undying sacred vow to heroine worship… In their private lives, their public persona and the mythological stardom that has & still captivates generations of fans, the roles they brought to life, and the lasting influence that refuses to go away…!
Because they have their own unique rhythm to the way they moved through the world… a certain kind of mesmerizing allure, and/or they just didn’t give a hoot, a damn… nor a flying fig!
“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud”-Coco Chanel
Stars like Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, and Ida Lupino managed to keep re-inventing themselves. They became spirited women with an inner reserve of strength and a passion for following their desires!
The following actresses and their immortal characters are in no particular order…!
IT’S HERE AGAIN… THAT TINGLING ON THE BACK OF YOUR NECK BECAUSE THERE’S FOUL DEEDS AND MURDEROUS MACHINATIONS AFOOT…HOSTED BY SPEAKEASY… SHADOWS & SATIN… AND SILVER SCREENINGS… THE GREAT VILLAIN BLOGATHON OF 2015!
Vincent Price as Nicholas Van Ryn: “I believe in myself, and I am answerable to myself! I will not live according to printed mottoes like the directions on a medicine bottle!”
The chemistry between Price and Tierney is authentic and captivating. When Miranda Wells feels humiliated by the gaggle of high-class snobbish debutantes because she’s from the wrong end of the river, not from the Hudson but The Connecticut River bottom, Nicholas tells her she’s better than all of them and asks her to dance. He seems so gentle and human… but he has a dark and villainous side!
DRAGONWYCK 1946 was Vincent Price’s18th film, after having appeared in The House of the Seven Gables 1940 as Shelby Carpenter opposite Gene Tierney in Laura 1944, Leave Her to Heaven 1945, right after he appeared as the cold-blooded Dr. Richard Cross in Shock 1946.
Produced by Ernst Lubitsch uncredited and overseen by one of my favs– Writer/Director Joseph L Mankiewicz. This Gothic & dark romance is based on the novel by Anya Seton… With cinematography by Arthur C. Miller (The Ox Bow Incident 1943, The Razor’s Edge 1946, Whirlpool 1949, The Prowler 1951), Art Direction by Lyle Wheeler and Russell Spencer, Set Direction by the great Thomas Little. The lighting alone is a mixture of noir chiaroscuro and offers dramatic shadings of the best classical elements of horror. The narrative speaks of familial secrets, and twisted vengefulness, not unlike Lewis Allen’s spooky debut masterpiece The Uninvited 1944.
Added to the moodiness is the eerily haunting score by Alfred Newman with Orchestral arrangements by Edward B Powell. Edited by the keen eyes of Dorothy Spencer (Stagecoach 1939, The House Across the Bay 1940, Lifeboat 1944, The Ghost and Mrs.Muir, The Snake Pit 1948.)
Costumes by Rene Hubert and Makeup by Ben Nye. The film bares shades of Hitchcock/de Maurier’s Rebecca 1940 and Robert Stevenson’s/Charlotte Brontë‘sJane Eyre1943. Even a bit of de Maurier’s tautly suspenseful My Cousin Rachel 1952 directed by Henry Koster and starring Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton. The book is a hell of a good read if you enjoy Gothic melodrama.
Gene Tierney and Vincent Price reunite after having appeared in Otto Premingers‘ memorable film noir masterpiece Laura in 1944.
Here-Gene Tierney plays Miranda Wells, and Walter Huston is her devoutly Christian working-class father-Ephram Wells.
This scene foreshadows the dangerous path Miranda is willing to wander through, as she starts to break free of her puritanical upbringing and reach for a life of being a free spirit. Believing that Nicholas represents that freedom. But there is a hint of evil that her father can sense.
Vincent Price once again manifests a passionate yet conflicted antagonist Nicholas Van Ryn with a magnetism you cannot escape, yet you may despise his cruelty and his self-indulgent murderous arrogance.
Glenn Langan is the handsome yet vanilla Dr Jeff Turner, Anne Revere adds a depth of nurture as Abigail Wells-Miranda’s mother who is weary of her daughter’s intentions to marry such a powerful man.
Spring Byington is one of the maids-Magda. Connie Marshall is the young melancholy Katrina Van Ryn, Henry Morgan is Bleeker one of the farmers who challenges Van Ryn and fights back against the antiquated laws.
Vivienne Osborne plays wife Johanna Van Ryn. Jessica Tandy gives a marvelous performance as Miranda’s maid the feisty Peggy O’Malley. Trudy Marshall is Elizabeth Van Borden. Reinhold Schunzel is Count de Grenier, Jane Nigh is Tabitha. Ruth Ford is Cornelia Van Borden, David Ballard is Obadiah. Scott Elliot is Tom Wells and Boyd Irwin is Tompkins.
DRAGONWYCK is a Gothic suspense melodrama in the grand classical style. It even brushes against the edges of the classic horror film not only because of the way it’s filmed but there are certain disturbing elements to the story. The shadows and darkness that are part of the psychological climate work are almost reminiscent of a Val Lewton piece. There’s even a pale reference to that of a ghost story that is concealed or I should say unrevealed, with the first Mrs.Van Ryn’s spirit playing the harpsichord, and the eerie phantom chords that add to the mystery and gloom that hang over the manor house.
With swells of atmospheric tension and darkly embroidered romance, there’s just the right tinges of shadows and danger. A lush and fervent tale that combines tragic Gothic romantic melodrama with the legitimate themes of social class struggle wrapped within dark secrets and suspense.
As always, Price conveys a tragic pathos even as the story’s villain, he is a man who manifests layers upon layers of feeling. Brooding, charming, sensual, intellectual, menacing, passionate, conflicted, self-loathing, and ego-maniacal all at once.
One of my favorite roles will always be his embodiment of Corman/Poe’s Roderick Usher in House of Usher 1960.
The film also offers us the sublime acting skill and divine beauty of- Gene Tierneyas the heroine or damsel in peril, a simple farm girl living near Greenwich Connecticut, who dreams of the finer things in life, swept up by the allure of a fairy tale existence only to find out that her dream has become a nightmare.
Once Miranda receives a letter inviting her to come and visit Dragonwyck, she is perhaps at once young and naive when she arrives at the austere place to be a companion to Van Ryn’s despondent daughter Katrine, a lonely sort of isolated child. First triangulated by Van Ryn’s over-indulgent wife Johanna, after her death, the two begin a whirlwind romance that leads Miranda to marry the imposing Nicholas Van Ryn.
Almost in the style of a Universal monster movie, the central focus is the mysterious mansion, surrounded by volatile thunderstorms and restless villagers who want to take action against their oppressors. The film works as a period piece seeming to possess an added heaviness due to the provincial settings and underpinnings of class unrest, which lends itself to the bleak mood.
DRAGONWYCK’S villain or very human boogeyman is the inimitable & urbane Vincent Pricewho holds sway over the locals as the patroon–lord of the land, as well as master of all he surveys, and of course his new wife. Driven by his obsession to have a son. He is a brooding dark figure whose dissent into drug addicted madness comes to light like a demon who has escaped from a bottle.
Van Ryn is vain and contemptuous, scornful, condescending, and cruel. Eventually driven by his immense pride, love, and desire… to murder his first wife who is in the way of his ultimate legacy.
DRAGONWYCK is an interesting film that belies any one genre. And as I’ve pointed out, beyond the dark melodramatic suspense elements, it’s every bit a horror film. And it is also the directorial debut of Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
Set during the Nineteenth Century when parts of New York were still founded as feudal Estates. It’s a fascinating portrayal of the history of the 19th century Upstate New York Dutch colonies and their struggles between the rich and poor against the reigning yet dying tradition of aristocratic rule over the small family farms which were overseen by ‘Patroons’ A Patroon is the owner of the large land grants along the Hudson River. They are descendants of the original Dutch patroons… “and they’re terribly rich and elegant.“ -Miranda
Yet as in the case of Nicholas, they can be brutal and self-opportunistic landlords who collected the rent from these hard-working, exploited, and poor farmers.
This is what first impresses Miranda about Nicholas, his power and station in life. Tibby her sister tells her that she’s not anxious to leave home.
Miranda says “That’s not fair, you know that I love you and Pa, all of you and my home it’s just that I try to be like everyone else… and want what I’m supposed to want. But then I start thinking about people I’ve never known and places I’ve never been. Maybe if the letter hadn’t come I’d…. Oh, I don’t know I must be loony.”
Nicholas Van Ryn is a brooding and powerful aristocratic patroon who runs all matters with an iron hand. In the Nineteenth Century, the upstate New York counties were still dealing with a system run by these Patroons. There began a social uprising of the surrounding farmers who wanted more power over their land and a rule that would abolish the aristocracy that was a tribute to a dying past practice. Soon there would be an end to these ruling Estates.
As seen in Van Ryn’s maniacal demonstration of his being seated in an elaborate throne he remains poised while collecting the farmer’s rent. Henry Morgan plays the tough and prideful farmer Klaus who has brought nothing with him. “Not rent– nor tribute.”
When Nicholas’ first wife cannot bare him a son as heir to carry on the Van Ryn name, the wealthy and wicked Nicholas Van Ryn secretly plans to poison her with the help of an Oleander plant. Setting his sights on the younger, more beautiful cousin Miranda.
He then invites Miranda (Gene Tierney just naturally exudes a uniquely dreamy-eyed splendor) to come and visit Dragonwyck. She is an innocent girl fascinated by the urbane Nicholas but by the film’s climax, she becomes entrapped in the foreboding and bleak atmosphere of Dragonwyck, a place of secrets, sadness, and insanity.
Miranda is so taken with the idea of dancing the waltz and how fine a gentleman cousin Nicholas seems. Her father always read passages from the bible, she hungers for adventure. Miranda craves the freedom to experience a better life.
Vincent Price is incredibly handsome as Nicholas. Mysterious, his deep blue eyes crystallize through the stark black and white film. He has a strong jawline, and possesses vitality… at first, he is so charming. Nicholas-“The Breeze must feel wonderful indeed on a face as beautiful as yours I imagine.”
The first meal at Dragonwyck is a grotesque scene in which his wife Johanna (Vivienne Osborne) shows herself to be a lugubrious sow, a glutton, and a spoiled child who now bores and disgusts her husband. He tells Miranda, “To my wife, promptness at meals is the greatest human virtue.”
Nicholas is already starting to reveal his cutting tongue by commenting on how his wife overeats and is not refined. A hint of his cruel nature.
At dinner, Johanna begins to nag him about bringing home the pastries from New York, the Napoleons, she appears to be a glutton, and though very pretty, a most unattractive portrayal of her character is given for the narrative’s purpose of Nicholas justifiably ridding himself of her so that he might pursue Miranda. In contrast to Johanna’s piggishness, Miranda is given a clear bowl of broth for her supper. the scene is set up so we feel a bit of sympathy toward Nicholas.
As Johanna shoves another bonbon into her mouth…
Cinematographer Arthur C. Millerframes the shot as Johanna is placed in between Nicholas and Miranda. His wife Johanna appears like a fairy tale character–the over-exaggerated plump wife who gorges herself on sweets while Nicholas and Miranda talk of love and loss. Miranda is wildly curious. He is withdrawn and pensive.
Nicholas plays the harpsichord. Miranda listens contentedly and then asks who the woman in the painting is. He tells her it’s his grandmother Aziel –“That’s a strange name… she looks like a frightened child.”
Miranda asks him to tell her more about his grandmother. Was it love at first sight?
Nicholas-“No Van Ryn does anything at first sight” Miranda-“Oh but she must have been happy to live here” Miranda smiles, her face a glow. Nicholas adds, “As it turned out it didn’t matter, soon after her son was born she died. She brought this harpsichord with her from her home. She played it always.”
Johanna “If you listen to the servants they’ll have you believe she still does!“she laughs. But Nicholas quickly turns around to look at her, a dark shadow creeps along his brow. His eyes raised.
Nicholas-“Fortunately we don’t listen to either the servants or their superstitions.”
Magda (Spring Byington) tells Miranda about Nicholas’ grandmother from New Orleans, the woman in the portrait. That his grandfather never loved her, he never wanted her at all. he wanted their son. he kept her from him… He forbid her to sing and play. He broke her heart. And drove her….” Magda stops short…. “She prayed for disaster to come to the Van Ryns and she swore that when it came she’d always be here to sing and play… She killed herself in this room.”
Magda asks-“Miss Wells why have you come here? Do you think Katrine is in need of a companion? Miranda answers her, “Well that would be for her father and her mother to decide.”
Magda says, “Don’t you think she’s in need of a father and a mother… that was a silly question wasn’t it?”
The meddling maid pierces Miranda’s innocence with her honesty like venom–causing a bit of shock on Miranda’s face that usually seems as tranquil as a quiet lake of sparkling water.
“You like it here?” Miranda answers–“Of course, I do” Magda comments- “Course you do, you like being waited on, I could see tonight it was the first time. You like peaches out of season. You like the feel of silk sheets against your young body. Then one day, with all your heart you’ll wish you’d never come to Dragonwyck…”
The handsome young Dr. Turner (Glenn Langan) comes to take care of Johanna who has taken sick to her bed.
He and Miranda sit and talk by the fire. He tries to imply that living at Dragonwyck has changed her, he tells her that the last time he met her he felt like they had so much in common. “Frankly right now I doubt you have any idea about the slightest thing to talk to me about.”
Johanna’s illness gets worse, of course, we know Nicholas has poisoned her. Lying in bed she tells him that sometimes she thinks he hates her, but asks if they can go away together once she’s better. He says yes because he knows she’ll never get better. In fact, she will never leave that bed alive.