The clever & cheeky Barry of Cinematic Catharsis has summoned this great and powerful idea for a Summer Blogathon! Whether it’s the weather, or giant mutant bugs, blood hungry sharks, large animals run amok, or the elements gone awry–Nature’s Fury can be seen in so many fascinating and awe inspiring feature films and those lovable B movie trends that showcase the natural world in chaos. I immediately thought of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds as it is a film that has stayed burned in my mind since I first saw it as a child. Certain scenes will never lose their power to terrify.
And in celebration of this event, I’ve actually written a song and made a film/music mash up to tribute Tippi Hedren in The Birds, with a montage from the film featuring my song Calling Palundra…
“The Birds expresses nature and what it can do, and the dangers of nature. Because there’s no doubt that if the birds did decide, you know, with the millions that they are, to go for everybody’s eyes, then we’d have H.G.Wells Kingdom of the Blind on our hands.”-Alfred Hitchcock
“Why are they doing this? They said when you got here, the whole thing started. Who are you? What are You? Where did you come from? I think you’re the cause of all this… I think you’re evil EVIL!”–Actress Doreen Lang playing the hysterical mother in the diner!
This tribute video features my special song written just for this blogathon…. Here’s Melanie Daniels & the birds– with my piano vocal accompaniment, ‘Calling Palundra’
The children’s song “Risseldy Rosseldy” heard at the school when the crows began to unite as a gang is the Americanization of an old Scottish folk song called “Wee Cooper O’Fife”
On it’s face The Birds can be taken literally as a cautionary tale about the natural world fighting back against the insensitivity & downright barbaric treatment of nature’s children and the environment at the hands of humankind. Is it a tale of simple unmitigated revenge against the town for the killing of a pigeon? Or is there something more nefarious & psycho-sexual at work? Once you peel back the top layer of the visual narrative there are multi metaphors at work.
From Dark Romance: SEXUALITY IN THE HORROR FILM by David J. Hogan- “Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) is probably the ultimate expression of this sort of nameless dread. It is a film that cheerfully defies description: it is horror, it is science fiction, it is black comedy, it is a scathing look at our mores and manners. It is a highly sexual film, but in a perversely negativistic way.”
Before the release of The Birds in 1963, Tippi Hedren made the cover of Look Magazine with the heading “Hitchcock’s new Grace Kelly.”
As with Hitchcock’s other, worldly beautiful blonde subject — the strong-willed socialite Lisa Carol Fremont (Grace Kelly) in Rear Window (1954)The Birds features the stunning Tippi Hedren as the coy, confident, and a bit manipulative Melanie Daniels a San Fransisco socialite who descends upon Bodega Bay with a similar uncompromising will. Stiff, stolid, and cocky Lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) meets Melanie in a pet shop where the two share shallow, faintly romantic barbs and repartee. Mitch is shopping for a pair of love birds for his sister Cathy’s eleventh birthday and Mitch pretends in a condescending manner to mistake her for the clerk. Melanie goes along with the mistaken identity as a way to flirt until his slightly mean-spirited joke backfires when she accidentally lets a canary loose while it lands in an ashtray Mitch throws his hat on it and places it back in its cage smugly saying “Back in your gilded cage Melanie Daniels.”revealing that he not only knew who she was from the very beginning and has quite a snotty preconceived notion about this socialite whom he appears to judge as running with a ‘wild’ crowd and is amoral. He manages to make a bit of a fool out of Melanie. The contrast between the flirty glib and calculating Melanie Daniels and the less interesting, judgemental, and arrogant Mitch Brenner kicks off a chemistry that really isn’t as vital to the story as what the two personalities represent.
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.
The camera frame evolves into a most simplistic line drawing, a chubby caricature of Alfred Hitchcock’s endearing profile which then converges with Charles Gounod’s“Funeral March for a Marionette” as suggested by Bernard Herrmann. Bernard Herrmann had scored so many of Hitch’s feature films, as well as John Williams and Dimitri Tiompkin. Hitchcock appears at first in a shadowy silhouette from the corner of the screen, then stepping prominently into the outline, filling his place as the master of the evening’s suspenseful ceremonies.
Now, I offer a brief snapshot of my oeuvre featuring some of my very favorite episodes of both Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. They never stale, they always tickle and cause that most delicious little shudder, from some of the finest mystery and suspense writers and re-experiencing the delight of seeing how the show had given some of the best acting talents their very first start…right here.
Jim Whitely (William Shatner) and Dorothy (Rosemary Harris) begin cleaning out the apartment of his dead Cousin Julia (Jessica Tandy), Jim comes across a small wooden box that contains a mysterious glass eye and starts to relate the strange and macabre story to his wife of why it remains in Julia’s possession.
The proper, lonely, and romantically repressed Julia had fallen in love with a famous ventriloquist named Max Collodi (Tom Conway)Becoming obsessed with the performer she saw all his performances, sending him letters requesting to meet him. Eventually quitting her meager job, in order to follow his show around Europe, Max agrees to meet Julia, setting forth certain conditions upon their first encounter.
Once she arrives at his hotel room, she finds him sitting in a dimly lit atmosphere of mystery, surrounded by shadows and subterfuge. The darkness envelopes him, and he asks her to keep her distance. He sits at a table with his small dummy George.
Overcome with passion as the two begin to talk, Julia tries to reach out and touch the object of her undying passion -Max Collodi, but it comes along with grave consequences.
Over the course of two weeks, a psychotic maniac is on the prowl, being reported all over the television and radio. The police are baffled by this madman who is preying exclusively on live-in nurses.
Set the stage for a dark and stormy night, where Nurse Stella Crosson (Dana Wynter) and Nurse Betty Ames (T.C. Jones) are held up by the storm at the house of the man they are taking care of (John Kerr) He’s got a bad heart and lives in a creepy old mansion on the outskirts of town.
Suddenly, the women get a phone call from the murderer telling them that he knows they’re alone, and is on his way over to kill them both. Stella goes around the house making sure all the windows and doors are locked tight, but discovers that they overlooked a small window in the basement that is flapping open from the storm. Is he already in the house?
John Cassavetes plays Rusty Connors who tricks his prison cellmate Mike Krause (Rayford Barnes) into telling him every detail about his gorgeous girlfriend Helen Cox (Ann Sothern). On his deathbed, Mike reveals to Rusty that he’s got a stash of $56,000 hidden away with the help of his dead accomplice, Pete Taylor.
Once Rusty is released, he goes in search of the epic Helen and finds her in the small town of Hanesville working as a waitress in a greasy spoon diner slinging hash and, and not quite as divine as Mike had related in his verbal memoirs.
Rusty pretends to be enamored with the voluptuous Helen, in order to enlist her in helping him find the stashed cash from the robbery. The journey leads them to a ramshackle boat house on a lake, inhabited by a sea of hungry rats.
From Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Directed by Alfred Hitchcock himself with teleplay and story by the great darkly humorous British writer Roald Dahl.
Produced by Joan Harrison and associate producer/actor Norman Lloyd.
Barbara Bel Geddes plays the dutiful Mary Maloney, a devoted wife and housekeeper. Husband police chief Patrick Maloney comes home and coldly tells her that there’s another woman he wants to marry and that he wants a divorce. Oh, yeah and Mary’s pregnant with his child, but he’ll let her have the child, they’ll probably be okay.
The usually composed and polite Mary erupts in a moment of rage killing him by way of blunt force trauma to the head with a giant frozen leg of lamb.
She then calmly calls the police, giving them her quick alibi, a story that she’d been out shopping, while the murder occurred. Lieutenant Noonan is the investigating officer on the case. He is bewildered by the lack of a murder weapon missing from the scene of the crime.
Mary being the ultimate hostess and good cook invites the hard-working detective Noonan and the other police officers to stay for dinner. Noonan says while stuffing his face with Mary’s fine meal, “For all we know, it might be right under our very noses.”
From Alfred Hitchcock Presents directed by Stuart Rosenberg, teleplay by Bill S. Ballingerfrom a story by Harold R. Daniels. Produced by Joan Harrison and associate producer/actor Norman Lloyd.
Dynamic character actor Robert Emhardt is deliciously vile as a very selfish and rude traveling trashy and risqué, novelty salesman who willfully forces a truck off the road, making it virtually impossible for the young injured Pine boy to make it to the hospital for medical care. He ultimately dies because of Salesman Fratus’ actions.
The world of academia is occupied by intellectual types, social misfits, and radical thinkers. At one such particular local college, there is a fiend ravaging women while they walk home through the neighboring woods. At a social gathering of faculty, they speculate the motives of the madman, using their knowledge of criminal psychology and floating theories around while drinking cocktails and fawning over the beautiful Daphne. Is Daphne going to be the maniac’s next victim?
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour directed by Arnold Lavin and based on a short story by Davis Grubb.
Peter Fondais Verge Likens a simple, respectable farmer’s boy whose father is murdered by a ruthless politician again perfectly befitting the acting chops of Robert Emhardt as Riley McGrath who thinks he can get away with anything. George ‘Goober’ Lindsay plays D.D. Martin, McGrath’s cutthroat flunky in a role that is quite a contrast from the oafish and good-natured Goober Pyle.
But Verge is smart, patient, and not impetuous when it comes to laying the blueprints for his master plan of revenge.
This is perhaps one of the most disturbing pieces of suspense television, that would quite aptly fit onto the larger screen adaptation as a major motion picture. The cinematography is stunning and Teresa Wright and Bruce Dern’s acting is so distinctively nuanced that it lifts the narrative beyond mere television drama. The theme of isolation, dread, and psychological/physical abuse by Emery and Jesse is stunning and at times nightmarish. Teresa Wrightplays the meek Stella, a woman who has been so beaten down by her obnoxious and domineering cretin of a husband Emery played by Pat Buttram. Stella is a gentle soul, who loves animals, befriending a little squirrel who becomes her only source of joy. Along comes the menacing Bruce Dern as the mysterious Jesse who is willing to work for $5 a day picking peaches, knowing all too well that Emery is exploiting his labor. He proceeds to terrorize Stella, kill her pet squirrel, and turn the ineffectual and spineless Emery against her, as he is unwilling to protect or defend his own wife, being a cowardly quasi-Neanderthal himself.
Dern inhabits one of the most striking performances as a vicious socio-pathic drifter, so transcendent for its day that it’s utterly chilling to watch the narrative come to force. Dern’s Jesse makes his sleazy character Keeg in Cycle Savages1969 pale in comparison.