Chapter 3 – Queers and Dykes in the Dark: Classic, Noir & Horror Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters:

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 night club 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, he appears to have no use for women at all.

At 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 to be 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)

Gay Coding in Hitchcock films

Article by Scott Badman & Connie Russell Hosier

“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 imbued his work from the point of view of 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 within 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 manor.

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 he 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)

WARNING SPOILERS:

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 instillation’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 cutting 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 uses 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 of his boss, Phillip Vandamm, seems to be bubbling with a refined sensibility, romantically fixated Vandamm (James Mason), a communist spy being hunted by the CIA. For a 1950s film, Leonard’s immaculate fashion sense and his fastidious swagger is 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. 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 direction shows a “progressive perspective for its time but so brief that it doesn’t fully register with most viewers. Much later, Laundau acknowledged that he played Leonard as a homosexual, albeit subtly.”

From the opening of Strangers on a Train (1951), Hitchcock frames the entrance way to the story with a close shot on 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 his tie that his mother gave him. It is a garish accoutrement 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 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 pick up. 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 over her son. As Bruno tells his mother, he wants his nails to look right.

The 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 point 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’s 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 in 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 Compulsion directed 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 stand 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 perpetuates the notion that homosexuality leads to violence.

Psycho (1960)

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 of 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.’ Therefor the Bates house itself with it’s 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, 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 his 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 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 the vision from the perspective of a heternormative lens. Psycho takes 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. Danver’s ( 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 love sick sapphic with an unnourished desire for her dead mistress, Rebecca. Manderley itself is like a hollow mistress that consumes those inside it’s 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 story telling, all the attentions she used to lavish on her beloved mistress, running her bath, brushing her hair, admiring the finery of her monogrammed pillow cases. 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 (Naugthon 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 positive 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 we’re not interested. When they follow the maid to her cramped room, Charter’s 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 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.

Continue reading “Chapter 3 – Queers and Dykes in the Dark: Classic, Noir & Horror Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters:”

🚀 Keep Watching the Skies! Science Fiction Cinema of the 1950s: The Year is 1954

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Find previous editions of Keep Watching the Skies! Science Fiction Cinema of the 1950s here: 1950, 1951, 1952,1953

A GILL MAN , A DEVIL GIRL , ROCKET MEN , KILLERS FROM SPACE and JULES VERNE…!

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

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A visual masterpiece directed by Richard Fleischer (Soylent Green 1971) and a screenplay by Earl Felton, who chose to weed out the extremely detailed and descriptive novel by Jules Verne and create a fast paced visual fantasy that became this fabulous adventure. The film is scored by Paul J. Smith (The Parent Trap 1961) whose splendid music creates a world of majesty surrounding the sets with wonderfully colorful and inventive art direction by John Meehan, (The Strange Love of Martha Ivers 1946, The Heiress 1949, Sunset Blvd 1950, Studio 57 1955-58, M Squad 1957 -58 Boris Karloff’s THRILLER-ep.A Wig for Miss Devore 1962), production design & un-credited art direction by Harper Goff (Fantastic Voyage 1966, Willy Wonker & The Chocolate Factory 1971 also un-credited set design on A Midsummer’s Night Dream 1935,The Life of Emile Zola 1937, Sergeant York 1941, Casablanca 1942) and set direction by Emile Kuri (It’s a Wonderful Life 1946, The Paradine Case 1947, Rope 1948, The Heiress 1949, Dark City 1950, A Place in the Sun 1951, Detective Story 1951, War of the Worlds 1953, The Actress 1953, Shane 1953) brought the enigmatic ship to life as almost creature-like, flaunting interiors that are lavish with gadgets that flirt with scientific-industrious designs of the future!

The film stars Kirk Douglas as Ned Land and James Mason as Captain Nemo. Co-stars Paul Lukas as Prof. Pierre Aronnax, Peter Lorre as Conseil, Robert J. Wilke as first Mate of the Nautilus, Ted de Corsia as Capt. Farragut, Carlton Young as John Howard, J.M Kerrigan as Old Billy, and Percy Helton as the coach driver. 20,000 Leagues helped Peter Lorre step out of his sinister-mystery roles and add great comedic versatility as a character actor to his full career.

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“20000 Leagues Under the Sea”
Kirk Douglas
1954 Walt Disney Productions

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Walt Disney began to depart from the expensive endeavor of producing animated features, and started to experiment with live action films. Disney became aware of George Pal’s desire to persuade Paramount to allow him to produce Verne’s beloved novel initially utilizing a screenplay by Kurt Neumann. Disney got George Pal to relinquish the rights and took over the project, hiring Richard Fleischer (Follow Me Quietly 1949, The Narrow Margin 1952, Compulsion 1959, Fantastic Voyage 1966, The Boston Strangler 1968, Tora! Tora! Tora! 1970, 10 Rillington Place 1971, See No Evil 1971, The New Centurions 1972, Soylent Green 1973), to direct, and Neumann’s script was out.  It’s no wonder Fleischer was tapped to do more fantasy science fiction films, though his psychological thrillers/documentary style crime films are outstanding contributions.

Adapted from Jules Verne’s fabulous adventure the action takes place in the 19th century – where sailors told tall tales of giant sea creatures that wrecked and devoured sailing ships and the oceans held deep unknowing secrets as unfathomable as the heavens above. The legend of a strange horned sea monster has been wreaking havoc with sailing vessels in the South Pacific. Professor Pierre Arronax (Paul Lukas) and his side kick Conseil (Peter Lorre) join an American expedition that includes crooning whale hunter Ned Land (Kirk Douglas) in search of this calamitous sea creature. The trio are confronted by the beast and are swept overboard then taken prisoner by the mysterious Captain Nemo (James Mason) whose drill ornamented submarine ‘the Nautilus’ turns out to be the sea monster of legend.

Nemo turns out to be a fanatic who’s dark mission is total destruction of all the warships responsible for the evils of mankind. There’s a memorable underwater hand to tentacle fight with a giant squid!

Capt. Nemo: Think of it. On the surface there is hunger and fear. Men still exercise unjust laws. They fight, tear one another to pieces. A mere few feet beneath the waves their reign ceases, their evil drowns. Here on the ocean floor is the only independence. Here I am free! Imagine what would happen if they controlled machines such as this submarine boat. Far better that they think there’s a monster and hunt me with harpoons.

Captain Nemo: “The natives over there are cannibals. They eat liars with the same enthusiasm as they eat honest men.”

Ned Land: There’s one thing you ought to know, Professor: Nemo’s cracked. I’ve yet to see the day you can make a deal with a mad dog. So while you’re feeding him sugar, I’ll be figuring a plan to muzzle him.

IMDb Trivia: Actors portraying the cannibals chasing Ned Land painted humorous messages on their foreheads (not legible on-screen). In particular, one actor wrote “Eat at Joe’s” while another actor behind him wrote “I ate Joe”.

The climactic squid battle on the Nautilus was originally shot with a serene sunset and a calm sea. Director Richard Fleischer was troubled by the look of it because the cams and gears that operated the squid could easily be seen, making it look obviously fake. Walt Disney visited the set one day and Fleischer told him about the problem. Disney came up with the idea of having the squid battle take place during a fierce storm (another story is that it was actually screenwriter Earl Felton who came up with the idea). The scene was reshot that way and is considered by many to be the highlight of the film.

One of the models of the Nautilus created by Harper Goff was a “squeezed” version which could be filmed with a standard lens and still look normal when projected in Cinemascope.

Creature from the Black Lagoon

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Clawing Monster From A Lost Age strikes from the Amazon’s forbidden depths!–Creature from a million years ago!… every man his mortal enemy… and a woman’s beauty his prey!–From the Amazon’s forbidden depths came the Creature from the Black Lagoon

Julia and the Gill Man

Creature From the Black Lagoon showcases Universal’s iconic Gill Man directed by science fiction & noir icon Jack Arnold. (The Glass Web 1953, It Came from Outer Space 1953, Tarantula 1955, The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957, Man in the Shadow 1957, The Tattered Dress 1957) Stars Richard Carlson as Dr. David Reed, Julie Adams as Kay Lawrence, Richard Denning as Mark Williams, Antonio Moreno as Carl Maia, Nestor Paiva as Lucas, Whit Bissell as Dr. Edwin Thompson.

The Creature or Gill Man is one of the most famous monsters that has endured, and perhaps one of the most emblematic figures of 1950s science fiction. His suit designed by Bud Westmore and team of uncredited designers. As Tom Weaver points out the creature suit “is so logical in design that designers of other underwater monsters have to be very careful not too obviously to imitate the monster they are imitating”  Visionary Master Guillermo del Toro’s team of designers and special effects artists did an outrageous job of paying homage to the Gil Man while still maintaining an original, and arresting modern edge to the Amphibian Man in The Shape of Water (2017) The Gill Man still remains the most iconic monster of the 1950s

Creature From The Black Lagoon was also adapted to be shown in 3D! It was after Universal had a hit with Jack Arnold’s It Came From Outer Space 1953 that they saw the potential for box office success with a science fiction film especially one they could easily adapt to 3D format.

Producer William Alland –(according to writer/historian Tom Weaver)– had heard of a legendary half -man half-fish creature who lived in the upper regions of the Amazon. The Creature suit was extremely form fitting, too tight to be worn over aquatic breathing equipment. The swimmer would have to hold his breath for extended periods of time. Ben Chapman played the part out of the water wearing ‘the land suit’ modeled with paint (a dark silvery green and red highlights) by Millicent Patrick– Chapman not being a good enough swimmer.Ricou Browning wore the underwater suit which was lighter is color in order to make it stand out in the darker underwater scenes. Because he was able to hold his breath for five minutes, Browning was responsible for the stunning underwater scenes.

“Jack Arnold, started adding fins and gills to a sketch of the Motion Picture Academy’s Oscar statuette, and arrived at the basic look of the new monster. Arnold and Alland did play their originating the design , but actress and artist Millicent Patrick was chiefly responsible for the look of the Gill-Man. At the make up shop, Chris Mueller developed a bust of the Creature using one of Ann Sheridan as the basis. Also contributing to the design were Jack Kevan and Westmore himself, head of the make up division.”

Both Browning and Chapman had full body molds made, so that suit would fit their bodies perfectly. “The result is a remarkably convincing monster, which looks like a suit almost solely because it has to be a suit (…) a tendency fir the suits to look a little rubbery around the joints, The Gill Man is life-like, enough so as to engender a happy suspension of disbelief by most viewers, as the film proved enormously popular.”

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Lucas:-There are many strange legends in the Amazon. Even I, Lucas, have heard the legend of a man-fish.”

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We can sympathize with monsters, like Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s undead creation, & The Gill Man from Creature From the Black Lagoon. We can find our involvement (at least I can), as one viewed with empathy toward the monster’s predicament. Embedded in the narrative is a simultaneous pathos, that permits these monsters to express human desires, and then make sure that those desires are thwarted, frustrated and ultimately destroyed.

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Richard Carlson Julie Adams Richard Denning and Whit Bissell as Dr. Edward Thompson study the fossil of an amphibian man found near the Amazon.
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The crew catches something in their net… and whatever it was… has ripped a giant Gill Man size hole in it leaving behind a claw!

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Mr. ‘It’s mine all mine” and Kay and Mr. “But think of the contribution to science!” looking at the poor trapped Gill Man-a lonely prisoner of scientific hubris and egocentric men.
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The creature trapped in a bamboo cage… floats, quietly thinking deep thoughts–while the three look on pondering what to do with him..

‘The Outsider Narrative” of 1950s science fiction can be seen so clearly in Jack Arnold’s horror/sci-fi hybrid Creature From The Black Lagoon. Film monsters like The Gill Man form vivid memories for us, as they become icons laying the groundwork for the classic experience of good horror, sci-fi and fantasy with memorable story telling and anti-heroes that we ‘outliers’ grew to identify with and feel a fondness for.

As David Skal points out in The Monster Show, he poses that films like Creature From the Black Lagoon …are the “most vivid formative memories of a large section of the {American} population…{…} and that for so many of these narratives they seem to function as “mass cultural rituals.”

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Continue reading “🚀 Keep Watching the Skies! Science Fiction Cinema of the 1950s: The Year is 1954”

4 Outstanding Actresses: It’s 1964 and there’s cognitive commotion!

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Anne Bancroft as a lady who lunches and listens to gossip in The Pumpkin Eater – being held hostage by the intensely neurotic Yootha Joyce a lonely housewife sitting next to her while trapped under the hair dryer of life…
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Woman at hair dressers-“It’s like I told you, my life is an empty place!” Jo-“Well what do you want me to do about it?”

“The question isn’t who’s going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.” – Ayn Rand

Cognition–ˌkägˈniSHən|
(noun)
the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.
• a result of this; a perception, sensation, notion, or intuition.

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These 4 particular films seem to be part of a trend of films that deal with either women’s brewing emotional turmoil or in the case of Jean Seberg’s Lilith- a creeping organic madness, perhaps from childhood trauma that is not delved into. 

Let’s consider women either in distress or the oft used “hysterical’ trademark that summons every neurotic ill associated with women. With these 4 films it’s the same root problem: Why should society determine what counts as an emotional problem? This is especially true for women, as if she was the engendering source of a specific kind of female mayhem, the creator of the tumult itself… Capable of giving birth, does she also give birth to a certain kind of madness directed inwardly or aimed outward at society and it’s unyielding ethical questions?

It’s not that I think Barbara Barrie is troubled because she falls in love with a black man. It’s that the world is troubled by her decision. Because of her choice -a society inherently cruel punishes her by taking away the one thing she had personal power over, to remove her child from her life. Although, she has a wonderful relationship with Frank both are being judged and condemned.

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The judge who awards custody of her little girl to the biological father even though he is not the better parent. Not too long ago, women could be hospitalized just for being menopausal, based on what their husbands say.

Women were at the mercy of white male society’s judgment. So if a white woman loves and marries a black man in the volatile climate of the civil rights 60s it would absolutely cause turmoil and quite the commotion.

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All these women experience cognitive commotion, but are not necessarily crazy. One Potato Two Potato is about the societal impositions forced upon an inter-racial couple and the strain of a child custody battle forcing her to qualify herself as a good mother. The sentiments of the time, the courts and society in general are dis-empowering Julie through her motherhood.
This inflicts an agonizing torture on Barbara Barrie’s character Julie. Barrie’s performance as well as Bernie Hamilton as a man whose own masculinity is tested, tears me up inside…
A white woman, Julie Cullen falls in love with Frank Richards, a black man, against the will of everyone around them, including his parents who think he should stick with his own kind. Eventually Franks mother and father come around and embrace Julie, and her daughter who considers Martha and William her grandparents.
Julie has a son with Frank…and suddenly is being faced with a white judge deciding on who will gain custody of her little girl from a previous marriage to a man Joe Cullen who abandoned them years ago. Not til he finds out that she is being raised by a black man does he rise to take action and gain custody of his daughter.
This is a courageous story to relate in 1964. Barrie’s anguish is one that is not self inflicted, there is no mental disorder, or neurotic dilemma yet it would challenge anyone who dares to be truthful and follow their heart in a world where many people must hide who they are. A beautiful love story that becomes tainted by the stain of ingrained hatred and ignorance. And causes ruination to a happy family.
Barbara Barrie’s performance as Julie Cullen Richards is nothing short of intuitively astounding.
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Just for funzies I wanted to paint some contrast into the mix, therefore pointing to films that truly deal with women and mental illness. More than cognitive commotion, they’re unstable, non compos mentis, deranged, knife wielding, murderous femmes, traumatized, delusional dames… or all out CRAZY NUTS!!!!!!!!!
And…
I’ll probably write about all these films mentioned–the women on the verge of a nervous breakdown or already on the shoulder of the weary road of life with all four tires flat at some point. I’ll Consider Charles Vidor’s Ladies in Retirement 1941 where Ida Lupino has to take care of her two dotty sisters Elsa Lanchester and Edith Barrett as the Creed sisters… They’re wonderfully Cukoo!!! I did a little piece on this gem a while back…
Robert Siodmak’s The Dark Mirror 1946 with Olivia de Havilland playing twins Terry & Ruth Collins, Gene Tierney gorgeous yet cunningly homicidal in Leave her To Heaven 1945, Laraine Day is totally unhinged in The Locket 1946, Joan Crawford as Louise Howell has a nightmare filled flashback in Curtis Burnhardt’s Possessed 1947.
“she is shown as alienated and stricken with psychological torture”– {source Marlisa Santos The Dark Mirror; Psychiatry and Film Noir 
Then again in Anatole Litvak’s story actually set in a mental institution with Olivia de Havilland stuck in The Snake Pit 1948, Vivien Leigh is the consummate delusional Blanche Dubois in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire 1951Marilyn Monroe gives a riveting performance as the deranged babysitter–(oh god kid just be quiet for Nell) in Roy Ward Baker’s Don’t Bother to Knock 1952, Joanne Woodward is in emotional conflict with three different personalities all herself…in The Three Faces of Eve 1957.
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Eleanor Parker gives a stunning portrayal of multiple personality disorder in Hugo Haas’ Lizzie 1957, I’ve written about Liz Taylor almost getting her frontal lobe sucked out at the request of her domineering Aunt -(Katherine Hepburn) just to hide her son’s sordid secret life in Suddenly, Last Summer 1959, Jean Simmons tries to find happiness in a loveless marriage that isn’t her fault in the engrossing Home Before Dark 1958, Ingmar Bergman’s Striking minimalist piece about mental turmoil in his beautifully photographed Through a Glass Darkly 1961, William Castle’s groundbreaking gender bending Homicidal 1961.
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Woodward in The Three Faces of Eve 1957
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Joan Marshall is Homicidal 1961 in William Castle’s answer to Psycho
Carroll Baker is a traumatized rape survivor in Something Wild 1961 and what I found to be a misogynist romp wasting several wonderful actresses who were offered these humiliating roles in The Chapman Report. In particular Clare Bloom who deserved better with her talent -as a nymphomaniac struggling with her sexual desires until she ultimately commits suicide in The Chapman Report 1962 and good old William Castle’s once again with his Strait-Jacket 1964 starring one of the ultimate Grande Dames Joan Crawford this time wielding an axe in addition to her nightmarish flashbacks.

Now… none of the 4 women I am covering here are homicidal or dangerous, all these women are experiencing a psychic struggle with issues that speak from their place in the world as women… who are defining somehow in their own way, what their identity means to them… Well, perhaps Lilith is a bit more volatile in terms of how she wields her sexuality and influences men & women both! But she is a divine innocent albeit-nymphomaniac living in a dreamy world of her own –not a homicidal vamp who devours men and spits them out… She is an innocent without malice. The men do the damage to themselves…

“And her eye has become accustomed to obvious ‘truths’ that actually hide what she is seeking. It is the very shadow of her gaze that must be explored”--Luce Irigaray

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Max von Sydow,, Harriet Andersson and Gunnar Bjormstrand in -(1961)-Through the Glass Darkly directed by Ingmar Bergman
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Gene Tierney as the murderously deranged Ellen Berent Harland in Leave Her to Heaven 1945

Seance on a wet afternoon 1964 previous post HERE

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Kim Stanley gives an unnerving performance as a delusional and dangerous woman who plots to kidnap a child so she can claim her psychic powers then located her…

And of course the two titans of Grande Dame Guignol fêtes courtesy of Robert Aldrich…

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? 1962 & Hush… Hush Sweet Charlotte 1964

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Roman Polanski’s very post-modern almost Brechtian/Picassoesque ode to insanity starring Catherine Deneuve in his Repulsion 1965 –
There’s always Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964) showcasing an unstable female in distress brought on by childhood trauma. Considering Hitch’s lavish colors, and overt psychological embellishments that have created a pulpy romanticized landscape, that at times obfuscates the mental turbulence rather than letting it surface on it’s own. I chose to set this film aside and instead include the more off the beaten path of psychological leaning-‘women’s pictures.’ 1964 seemed to be one hell of a  year for Women in Distress by virtue of the female psychological crisis, once again to reiterate -not the ‘hysteria’ kind, mind you.”
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Tippie Hedren and Louise Latham in Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964)
“From the socially conservative 1950s to the permissive 1970s, this project explores the ways in which insanity in women has been linked to their femininity and the expression or repression of their sexuality. An analysis of films from Hollywood’s post-classical period (The Three Faces of Eve (1957), Lizzie (1957), Lilith (1964), Repulsion (1965),Images (1972) and 3 Women (1977)) demonstrates the societal tendency to label a woman’s behavior as mad when it does not fit within the patriarchal mold of how a woman should behave. In addition to discussing the social changes and diagnostic trends in the mental health
profession that define “appropriate” female behavior, each chapter also traces how the decline of the studio system and rise of the individual filmmaker impacted the films’ ideologies with regard to mental illness and femininity.”

— from FRAMING FEMININITY AS INSANITY: RE PRESENTATIONS OF MENTAL ILLNESS IN WOMEN IN POST-CLASSICAL HOLLYWOOD by Kelly Kretschmar

WOMEN ON THE VERGE… OF A BREAKTHROUGH!

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Curt Jurgens carries Samantha Eggar after she has fallen off her horse. There is more going on that Patricia Neal’s blind eye can see

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Patricia Neal and Sammantha Eggar in Psyche 59
Patricia Neal and Samantha Eggar in Psyche 59 (1964)

The Pumpkin Eater 1964

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Ann Bancroft and Peter Finch are a married couple in crisis. Having perpetually popped out a myriad of children she is yet again pregnant. Will this keep him home this time…? The Pumpkin Eater (1964)

One Potato Two Potato 1964

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Barbara Barrie falls in love and marries Bernie Hamilton. Once her ex-husband realizes that his child is being brought up by a black man, times get even tougher for the couple

Lilith 1964

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THE WOMEN!!!

Barbara Barrie

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Patricia Neal

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Anne Bancroft

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Jean Seberg

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LET’S BEGIN WITH…!

Alison Crawford (Patricia Neal)“Love has to stop somewhere along the line otherwise it’s almost like… like committing suicide “

PSYCHE 59 (1964) Alexander Singer (A Cold Wind in August 1961 with Lola Albright and Scott Marlowe) directs the remarkable Patricia Neal as Alison Crawford, a woman struck down with a form of psychosomatic or hysterical blindness. Alison is aware that the affliction is all in her mind since the doctors can’t find anything organically wrong with her sight. Her ‘hysterical blindness’ and memory loss of the events leading up to her accident follows a fall down the stairs while she is pregnant. When she awakens she is unable to see.

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Alison “My Brain won’t accept the images that my eyes make.”

What is happening for Alison is that she is subconsciously blocking out the truth about her husband and her younger, coquettish sister Robin.

She is now living a very quaint life with her husband played by the austere Curd Jürgens (I love him as the devilishly urbane concert pianist Duncan Mowbray Ely in The Mephisto Waltz 1971).

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Aside from her intense husband Eric, Alison’s very sexually charged sister Robin (Samantha Eggar) has now come to live with the couple after a divorce. Robin hovers very close to Eric like a carrion bird waiting to pick the bones of Alison’s troubled marriage. While Alison doesn’t have any cognitive memory of what led up to her fall, it’s obvious to us that she can sense the strong attraction between her husband and younger sister. At one time, her younger sister Robin and Eric and been involved before Alison caught and married him. Robin hasn’t stopped lusting after him. Slowly Alison’s memory comes back as the flashes and images of what she experienced right before she lost her sight literally comes into view.

Singer builds the tension in the air slowly, methodically until it all comes to a head set against the skillfully contained cinematography by Walter Lassally (The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner 1962, Zorba the Greek 1964, To Kill a Clown 1972).

IMDb tidbit-Patricia Neal was offered the lead in The Pumpkin Eater, but it was not 100% confirmed she would get the role. She then opted, to her later regret, to make Psyche 59 (1964) instead, since it was an official offer.

Neal gives a restrained yet powerful performance of a woman who is trapped in self imposed darkness by her fear of the truth…

There is very subtle theme of self-brutality that exists for each of the characters, Alison’s self imposed sightlessness, Eric’s indignant stoicism is palpable as he walks through the story like a trapped stray dog, He is agitated by Robin’s presence, because he can not resist her.

Robin, her younger sister who must have been quite young at the time of her relationship with Eric begs the question of appropriate behavior on his part. Robin is constantly asserting a seductive influence on Eric right in front of the disadvantaged Alison.

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She is both a hyper-sexual narcissist and a bit self-destructive at the same time, either way she gets off on playing the seductress torturing Eric, right in front of her sister, dark sunglasses and delicate pout. Although Alison suffers from blindness, she maintains a certain dignity that although as all three characters seem like she is, one of the trapped animals in a psycho-melodramatic forest, we get a sense that she will one day regain her freedom and spread her wings and fly away from it all truth in hand.

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Alison “We must be near the marshes” Robin “We just passed it … Coming to the old windmill soon…its still turning.. nothing’s changed” Alison “There’s a factory there now, Don’t protect me Robby. Don’t make up windmills.”

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Based on the novel by Françoise des Ligneris, with a screenplay by Julian Zimet (who wrote Horror Express 1972 and one of the best atmospheric little horror obscurities The Death Wheelers 1973 formally called Psychomania about a group of British motor cycle thugs and their pretty birds who dabble in the occult. Beryl Reid and George Sanders being one of their relatives, they learn the secret of immortality. But you have to die first to obtain it.)

Psyche 59 is an interesting psychological mood piece, almost post modernly impressionistic with it’s stark and polished black and white photo work. And Patricia Neal who had just won an Oscar for her role as Alma Brown in Hud 1963 and gave a command performance in 1957 as Marcia Jeffries in A Face in the Crowd is just exceptional as Alison who is trying to navigate the dark world surrounding her.

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The film is strange and at times subtly cruel yet Neal’s character relies on our visual journey which becomes quite painful at times yet beautiful as she begins to emerge. In the film Patricia Neal’s relationship with Curd Jürgens has an eerie parallel to real life marriage to writer/spy Roald Dahl, but I don’t want to get into the sensationalized tidbits of public people’s wreckage.

The Film also stars Ian Bannen as Robin’s poor befuddled boyfriend , Elspeth March and Beatrix Lehmann plays Alison’s staunch and science fiction reading grandmother-wish I had one of those!

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Continue reading “4 Outstanding Actresses: It’s 1964 and there’s cognitive commotion!”

From The Vault: Caught (1949)

“The story of a desperate girl”

CAUGHT 1949

Director Max Ophüls ( Letter From An Unknown Woman 1948, The Reckless Moment 1949) offers a gritty and volatile film noir starring James Mason, Barbara Bel Geddes and the imposing figure of Robert Ryan. With an uncredited assistant directorship by Robert Aldrich. Based on the book Wild Calendar by Libbie Block

Written by Arthur Laurents (The Snake Pit 1948,West Side Story 1961, The Way We Were 1973)

Interesting question: If Howard Hughes gained control of RKO in 1949, was Robert Ryan’s characterization of Smith Ohlrig truly based on Hughs?

A young Howard Hughes…Ryan was perfect for the part of Smith Ohlrig

Also stars Frank Ferguson (regular on Andy Griffith Show) as Quinada’s partner Dr. Hoffman, Art Smith as Ohlrig’s psychiatrist who knows Ohlrig is a walking powder keg, Natalie Schafer as Dorothy Dale and Curt Bois as Ohlrig’s personal assistant, and like many a good Film Noir delivers, the snarky gay cipher – Franzi Kartos, who’s incessantly calling Leonora DARLING… that if subtitled would read ‘you bourgeois cow…’

One of the staples of the Noir catalog, Caught is a brutish and self contained story about an egomaniac, hungry for power and consumed by a nasty possessiveness that borders on the psychotic.

Paging Dr. Freud… a classic case of over compensation and oh yes… this man is a ticking time bomb

Robert Ryan is chilling as the neanderthal bigwig worth millions of dollars, with an explosive rage that rests on simmer until something sets him off when it doesn’t go his way. Oh, and Ohlrig also suffers from panic attacks, which he believes is truly a heart condition and not a nervous disorder.

Barbara Bel Geddes is the naive Leonora Eames, who has child like fancies of marrying a wealthy man and live a life of luxury. Invited to a party on a boat one night, she meets Smith Ohlrig outside on the pier, near his yacht. Although Ohlrig could have any woman he chooses, something about Leonora sparks to him. From the very first encounter we can see that it’s not a romantic chemistry that stirs Ohlrig, but something more forbidding and sinister.

Once he sets his sights on her,taking her for a ride in his car, he decides there and then, to marry this plain girl, whom he doesn’t love, but knows he can possess easily.

Leonora soon realizes that her dream has become a nightmare and that Smith is a menacing character who treats her like part of the furniture and is not quite right in the head.

Ohlrig refuses to give Leonora a divorce, so she decides to leave her opulent home on Long Island, and take a job as a receptionist in the city working for a doctor who runs a free clinic in a very poor neighborhood.

Perhaps this is Leonora’s way of cleansing her soul for making the mistake of marrying for money and not for love.

James Mason is Dr. Larry Quinada the absolute antithesis of Smith Ohlrig. He’s genteel and compassionate, and soon the two fall in love, though Leonora is held captive by her dominating husband.

Leonora Eames: Look at me! Look at what you bought!

Complicating matters is the fact that Leonora becomes pregnant by the sadistic Ohlrig who would rather see her a prisoner in the sterile palace that is her home rather than let her go free… Is the threat of financial security and the welfare of their unborn child that which will chain her to him forever…?

Smith Ohlrig: Is she coming down?
Franzi Kartos: [Stands silent, knowing that Leonora is not coming down]
Smith Ohlrig: [Getting angrier] Why the devil do you think I sent you up there, you dirty little parasite? Get her down here!
Franzi Kartos: [Long pause] I think I prefer to be a headwaiter again, Mr. Ohlrig.
Franzi Kartos: [Heads for the door, then stops] You know, you’re a big man, but not big enough to destroy that girl. Goodbye.

Franzi Kartos tinkling the ivories…darling

There are thousands of fabulous films in my collection just as thrilling, this is one of them! Don’t you get caught-MonsterGirl