Life’s Rough: Three Strong Anti-Heroines of 1950 Film Noir
“You see kid, in this cage, you get tough or you get killed. Better wise up before it’s too late!” – Kitty Stark, Caged (1950)
The 1950 films, Caged!, The Damned Don’t Cry, and The File on Thelma Jordon, contain three women performing female masculinity. A common thread these characters possess is ‘metamorphosis.’ They are forged by male institutions and they must adapt to survive. Each woman is thrust into a noir narrative.
In Caged!, Eleanor Parker leaves innocence outside the prison bars and is transformed into a hardened, jaded criminal in order to survive. Joan Crawford, a poverty-stricken mother in The Damned Don’t Cry rises as a high-powered opulent underworld mistress to prevail and support herself. Barbara Stanwyck is predatory, manipulating a weak man to gain access to her Aunt’s fortune in The File on Thelma Jordon — Stanwyck ultimately becomes a fallen figure of remorse and redemption.
Like their noir male counterparts, they become anti-heroines as past actions come back to haunt them.
Film noir of 1950 desired realism, decadence, and transformation. Femme-fatales thrive using sexuality to claim independence from weak, damaged, sexually-obsessed men, unable to resist dangerous influences. These women master patriarchal organizations, taking control of their bodies and identities to avoid gender enslavement in a male hetero-driven society.
In most noir films men are the central figures–isolated from their surroundings, closed in by circumstances beyond control, but married to fatalistic visions with stoic passivity. By flipping this trope on it’s battered head, these women invoke female masculinity driving their characters. As anti-heroines they adopt masculine armor to navigate masculine institutions. They’re placed in situations that impose a definition of what a woman is and should be. They adopt feminine masculinity to survive.
“Female masculinity is framed as the rejected scraps of dominate masculinity in order that male masculinity may appear to be the real thing… Masculinity in this society inevitably conjures up notions of power and legitimacy and privilege; it often symbolically refers to the power of the state and to uneven distributions of wealth.” — Halberstam, Female Masculinity
You don’t know women until you know them without men!
Directed by John Cromwell, Caged! is set in a women’s prison and plays out like a savage dance with “unremitting pessimism” (Crowther) with the women performing masculinity to gain power. It is a “dames in the hoosegow” film (New York Herald Tribune), indicative of socially conscious 1950s noir. The women are demeaned in prison, and to prevail they appropriate masculine primacy.
Caged! boasts an incredible ensemble. Eleanor Parker’s persuasive performance as Marie Allen, a delicate young woman subjected to cruelty by the sadistic degenerate Matron Evelyn Harper (punctuated to the hilt by imposing 6’ 2” Hope Emerson).
Wonderful character actors include Betty Garde as Kitty Stark, Ellen Corby as Emma Barber, Jan Sterling as Jeta Kovsky (aka Smoochie who loves to kite checks, buys pretty shiny things, and can’t stay out of prison), Olive Deering as June Roberts, Gertrude Michael as Georgia, and Lee Patrick as ‘vice queen’ Elvira Powell.
The film opens with the police van door swinging opening —“Pile out, you tramps. This is the end of the line”— to reveal the ‘new fish’ in the fatalistic incarceration cycle. The central figure is a timid, pregnant and nervous 19 year old Marie who gets the book thrown at her for helping her husband commit armed robbery- “For that forty bucks I heisted I certainly got myself an education.” Her role as an accomplice, sitting in the car waiting for the bum, lands her 15 years in prison. With a doe-eyed shocked gaze, she is thrown into a primal world. The intake nurse’s examination reveals she is ‘expecting company’ — with her dead husband’s child. Marie, number 93859, is sweet candy for the cold-blooded, menacing Matron Harper.
Marie doesn’t fall for Harper’s charms, thus she is subjected to dehumanizing torture by Harper, the bon bon-eating, romance novel-reading dyke who enjoys personal comforts and flaunts luxuries (as a grotesque phony femme) to the women prisoners who don’t have any privileges.
Harper brutally beats Marie causing her to lose her baby, thus her motherhood is taken away.
Removing her femininity, her identity, Harper shaves Marie’s hair. When vice queen Elvira distributes lipsticks at Christmas, Harper cruelly takes them away. Harper, embedded in the masculine system, creates an environment where the weakest women must become predatory cons, shedding their femininity.
Sympathetic warden Ruth Benton (Agnes Moorhead) allows them to keep cosmetics as a connection to the outside world. Believing in rehabilitation, Benton bucks bureaucracy, but her altruism blinds her from the vicious brutality.
The mood at the prison heats up and Kitty kills Matron Harper. Marie is worn down by the inhumanity of prison life and disillusioned by Harper’s corrupting influence over inmates. She changes from a shivering innocent to a smart-mouthed hard-bitten con. Her efforts to go straight are sabotaged by the sadistic Harper. Marie learns the hard way how to earn parole, but she’s already stigmatized and changed by the system.
Jan Sterling, Ellen Corby, Marjorie Crossland, Olive Deering, Betty Garde, and Eleanor Parker in Caged (1950)
Through Marie’s eyes we experience the dehumanization and objectification, from the moment she is processed, to her release. Influenced by other miscreants and malcontents Marie evolves into a criminal by the system constructed to rehabilitate. She sheds her victimhood and takes on a powerful masculine approach, but not with ruthlessness of a femme fatale. Marie becomes a criminal. She’s independent, as only a man could be in 1950.
When released at the gates, she gets into a fancy sedan with shady characters. She’s become a prostitute for her butch mentor Elvira who has given up on men completely. “If you stay in here too long, you don’t think about guys at all. You just get out of the habit.” –Elvira
Warden Benton keeps Marie’s file open as she watches out the window “Keep it active, She’ll be back” summarizing the Sisyphean absurdity of prison, hardening and transforming women without any hope.
“Call me CHEAP?” Nothing’s Cheap When You Pay the Price She’s Paying!
Directed by Vincent Sherman, with a screenplay by Harold Medford and Jerome Weidman. Cinematography by Ted D. McCord (The Treasure of the Sierra Madres 1948, Johnny Belinda 1948, I Died a Thousand Times 1955, The Sound of Music 1965) (wardrobe Sheila O’Brien who worked on all of Joan’s pictures, Sudden Fear 1952, Flamingo Road 1945, Female on the Beach 1955)
Stars Joan Crawford as Ethel Whitehead, David Brian as George Castleman, Steve Cochran as Nick Prenta, Kent Smith as Martin Blackford, Hugh Sanders as Grady, Selena Royle as Patricia Longworth, Jacqueline deWitt as Sandra, Morris Ankrum as Jim Whitehead, Edith Evanson as Mrs. Castleman, Richard Egan as Roy.
Joan Crawford is Ethel Whitehead/Lorna Hansen Forbes, a woman from harrowing poverty, who leaves her husband, Roy, after their son Tommy is tragically killed. She starts over in New York City first as a cigar store clerk, and model for a cheap fashion wholesaler. She eventually climbs to the top of the high society/criminal underworld wearing a facade of respectability. While usually men abandon families, Ethel is the one to leave. Crawford perfectly performs the role of power and masculinity.
The Damned Don’t Cry portrays a bleak, dark, corrupt world. The story is told in flashbacks. Directed by Vincent Sherman (All Through the Night 1942, Mr. Skeffington 1944, Nora Prentiss 1947, Affair in Trinidad 1952, The Garment Jungle 1957) The film co-stars Steve Cochran as Nick Prenta, David Brian as George Castleman, and Kent Smith as Martin Blackford, and Jacqueline de Wit as Sandra.
Ethel begins as unsophisticated modest woman, married to an oil field worker, dirt poor, plain looking, and beaten down. An oppressed housewife and mother, judged harshly by her misogynist father, and husband Roy who says “You’ll never do enough for her.” She becomes an elegant ambitious society climber who dismisses suggestions her life is corrupt and immoral. Crawford manifests her signature cunning in the ferocious pragmatic transformation.
Ethel lives with her parents and beloved son Tommy, who wants a bicycle but Roy says it’s too much money. Wanting her son to be happy, she makes a down payment on the bike. Furious, Roy demands it be returned. On his way to the store Tommy rides down the road, and is hit by a truck, and killed. His death ends their marriage, and Ethel leaves.
Roy says he’s “done the best he could.” Ethel answers “Well it ain’t good enough.”
Unlike male protagonists with more choices, in this narrative Ethel can only be a model or prostitute. She performs female masculinity by adopting independence. Ethel creates power to choose her own fate, possessing what Hirsch calls ‘a lonely man’ trope.
Another model, Sandra, introduces Ethel to a new world, convincing her to go out with wealthy businessmen. She becomes the glamorous mistress of gangster George Castleman, showered with riches— fur coats, diamonds, and haute couture. George helps Ethel’s metamorphosis into a wealthy socialite, Lorna Hansen Forbes, and she enters the inner circle of gangsters.
Ethel now known as Lorna, exploits her beauty, relying on rich men to pay for the privilege of her company. She learns she must selfishly grab for herself. Negotiating her body for wealth is a means to an end. Lorna’s selfishness emerges.
Lorna surpasses Sandra’s petty schemes to aim for the brass ring of ultimate luxury.
She befriends mild mannered Martin Blackford, an account who falls for her. Encouraging him to become Castleman’s bookkeeper, she uses him to get ahead. Martin brings a dark brooding presence into Lorna’s life which is visually actualized in a scene where Lorna is sunning herself at the pool, Blackford casts a symbolic dark cloud over her light-hearted sexually care free embodiment. The closeup shows Ethel’s face as the sun’s rays emblematically reflect in her sunglasses. Taking them off, she turns off the sunlight, and is confronted with Blackford’s bitterness.
The jaded Lorna tells the neutered Martin “You’re a nice guy, but the world isn’t for nice guys. You gotta kick and punch and belt your way up cuz nobody’s going to give you a life. You’ve got to do it yourself. Cuz nobody cares about us except ourselves… It’s that stuff you take to the bank, that filthy buck that everybody sneers at but slugs to get.” Martin is afraid he’ll lose self-respect. “Don’t tell me about self-respect!”Ethel snaps. “That’s what you tell yourself when you got nothing else!”
Her glamorous life ultimately comes at a price. Castleman wants to use Lorna to spy on Nick Prenta, as he suspects Prenta of killing one of his men Grady (Hugh Sanders) and making it look like a car accident planting a bottle of alcohol at the scene. Castleman fears Nick Prenta is organizing the men against him. He sends Lorna to insinuate herself with Nick Prenta in order to find out what he is up to and report back to him. Setting him up for a hit. Instead Lorna starts falling in love with the handsome rogue gangster who has a reputation for his womanizing. Lorna winds up defying Castleman by not staying in touch and actually falling for the guy instead.
Martin then shows up telling Lorna, (though he still refers to her as Ethel out of spite) that George Castleman has sent him to check up on her, he hasn’t heard from her in a while. The moment we see Martin’s scruples have eroded is during the pool scene which illustrates Martin’s own transformation from a nice decent guy to one of George’s thugs, with his smug tone and his dark sun glasses. He warns Lorna not to hold out on George. He boasts about how powerful he’s become and that people listen to him. He offers her some ‘sound advice’ “Has he promised you the world too!?” referring to Nick Prenta and sneaking in a good dig at how she used him at one time. “He means nothing to me, except he’s a human being.” “Don’t tell me that disturbs you.” Martin has become so jaded and embittered.
Later Nick Prenta asks Lorna to marry him, she is moved to tears as she embraces him. Lorna asks, “Do I really mean that much to you?” Nick tells her, “Everything, why is that enough?” Lorna –“Then get out of this, Nick, I’m scared about what you’re doing, what you’re planning, what it will lead to, if you don’t give this up.” “If that’s what it takes to get you, you’ve got a deal. I can get out of this inside a year” “No, it’ll be too late then” “But I can’t get out now Lorna, this is a big jump I’ve got to see it through.”
Lorna begs him to give it all up, but he kisses and sends her back to her hotel room where she finds Martin and Castleman waiting for her. Castelman is sitting in the dark, giving off a sense of menace from the shadows. “Hello Lorna” he puffs on his cigar then rises from the couch. “Aren’t you glad to see me?” Suddenly he begins grilling her about Nick Prenta’s meeting, but she tells him that she doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Castleman tightens his fist and smacks Lorna across the face, his paranoia about the meeting and his gang aided by Prenta out to get him is driving him into a frenzy.
In his fury, even Martin gets worried about Castleman’s sudden violent outburst. Then he hits Martin and knocks him down, and begins beating Lorna brutally as she tries to convince him that she’s not in love with Nick Prenta, it’s just that she doesn’t want anyone to get hurt. She tells Castleman that she’s still in love with him. But he growls at her, “You’re lying, you’re so used to lying and cheating and double crossing that you almost make it seem good.”
Castleman throws Lorna into the glass window that shatters. Martin tries to defend her, and calm Castleman down, telling him it’s enough. Castleman says “She’s no good, not even to you” yet Martin thinks fast on his feet, “But she is to you, she can still help, she can still be useful.” Castleman tells Martin looking down at the battered Lorna, “There’s only one thing to do with dirt, sweep it up.” Martin tells him, “Listen to me, you want Nick don’t you? She can get him” Castleman responds, “You got a brain Marty, best kind, the kind you don’t got go out and buy.” As Castleman says this he looks disdainfully at poor Lorna lying in a pile of broken glass all bruised and sobbing.
Martin convinces Lorna to call Nick Prenta and get him over to the hotel room. Prenta shows up already knowing her true identity, he must have heard it from Eddie Hart. She is lost in shadow, beaten down and crying, Prenta sarcastically tells Lorna, “I want to apologize for busting in on you like this Mrs. Forbes, but a friend of yours, Eddie Hart said it would be okay, he said Castleman might not like it, but Ethel Whitehead would go for anything.” But when he sees how badly beaten Lorna is he comes to her side, until he is confronted by Castleman, who emerges out of the shadows and tells him that while Prenta likes to be in the headlines he’s gonna move him over to the obituary column. Prenta turns to Lorna, “You dirty tramp!”
A fight breaks out and Castleman shoots and kills Prenta. In the turmoil, Lorna takes off in her car. Castleman tells Martin that they’ll have to dispose of Prenta first and then “I want her.”
Once Lorna fails to stop Castleman she is transformed once again through resignation and redemption having gone full circle through her own journey of hell.
Martin tries to protect Lorna from Castleman, by telling the police that it was George Castleman who killed Nick Prenta. In the meantime, Castleman wants her dead. And he knows the truth about where Lorna comes from, where she was probably heading and he’s on his way there.
Lorna now home in Bakersfield, arrives at the broken shack with her fur coat and her Ray Foreman coif. Her parents first reject her. The bitter Martin has shed his anger by now, hopelessly in love with Lorna, he shows up to try and protect her from the vicious Castleman. In the films ironic rhythm of fate, she symbolically comes full circle, winding up on the same road where her son died.
Martin tells her that she needs to move on and keep running before Castleman catches up with her, but she’s worried that he’s unfinished business now too, since he’s turned on Castleman. He reminds her “We do what we do– what was it you once said?, because we can’t help ourselves.”
Castleman shows up at Lorna’s home. She quietly walks out of the house, so as not to endanger her mother and father and Martin who are talking in the kitchen.
In the brutal climax Lorna calmly, stoically and courageously confronts the vicious George Castleman.
He asks for Martin but Lorna lies and covers up for him, saying she hasn’t seen him. She boldly with new resolve walks right up to George Castleman. He asks if she’s been waiting for him. “Strangely enough George there was a time when I did wait for you. And no one else. but that’s over now.”
In a struggle to take the gun away from Castleman, Lorna gets shot and wounded, lying in the dirt wearing her fur coat, –hows that for symbolism! Then Martin comes out of the house and shoots Castleman down and his getaway car leaves without him, while he’s lying there dead.
The police and the press show up pushing for all the answers to Lorna (Ethel’s) involvement.
Two cops outside the house start talking about the case. Cop one-“Pretty tough living in a place like this” Cop two–”Tougher to get out” Cop one– “Wouldn’t you?” Cop two shakes his head “Yes!”
Having traveled through her journey performing the code of female masculinity she has reclaimed herself, found her empowerment and emerged as her own woman again. We are left wondering what the future holds for Lorna/Ethel, now not only emancipated, if not redeemed, as the anti-heroine of The Damned Don’t Cry!
Thelma Jordon: “I’m no good for any man for any longer than a kiss!”
Directed by Robert Siodmak, written by Marty Holland with a screenplay by Ketti Frings. Cinematography by George Barnes (Rebecca 1940, Jane Eyre 1943, Spellbound 1945, Mourning Becomes Electra 1947, Force of Evil 1948, War of the Worlds 1953) Costumes designed by Edith head
Starring Barbara Stanwyck as Thelma Jordon, Wendell Corey as Cleve Marshall, Paul Kelly as Miles Scott, Joan Tetzel as Pamela Blackwell Marshall, Stanley Ridges as Kingsly Willes.
Barbara Stanwyck plays Thelma Jordon who uses a gullible attorney to cover up her crimes of murder and larceny, secretly in cahoots with her sleazy husband. As in Double Indemnity,Stanwyck masterfully plays a ‘vice-ridden murderess.’ She performs female masculinity, playing the aggressor— pursing lovers, greed, and power.
Directed by Robert Siodmak, the film opens with Thelma in a small town district attorney’s office reporting burglary attempts at the mansion she shares with her aunt. She begins an affair with DA Cleve Marshall (Wendell Corey), who is in a loveless marriage. Thelma is also married to the sinister Tony Laredo. An icy femme fatale who desires danger, she’s drawn to Tony’s equally nefarious nature and devours Cleve who is weakened by her magnetism. Thelma starts out the femme fatale, her fatal flaw is falling in love with Cleve, feeling remorse, and sacrificing herself to become redeemed in the end.
Thelma’s aunt is murdered in an apparent robbery and her emerald necklace is missing. Fearing Tony will be implicated, she cleans up the evidence, and calls Cleve to help. Thelma is cold and calculating, casting Cleve as her lover and accomplice known only as Mr. X. Cleve tells her to shut the lights and pretend she was asleep when the police arrive. Cleve leaves, making sure to seen but unrecognized by the butler who discovers Aunt Vera’s body.
When Tony’s alibi checks out, Thelma is arrested for murder. While the police try unsuccessfully to prove her guilt, she and Tony plan to leave town. By now Cleve has uncovered Thelma’s checkered past.
He accuses her of duplicity and Thelma admits he was part of the plot. When Cleve confronts her, Tony’s dark presence looms. The camera shows both men juxtaposed in the room, Tony’s dark presence looms— he is too irresistible to let go.. Cleve is too normal and unselfish to be stimulating for her deviant desires. With both men framed in contrast, Thelma realizes she belongs with the dark and dangerous Tony. Tony beats Cleve to a pulp, leaving with Thelma.
But driving down a winding mountain road, Thelma’s pang of conscience gets the better of her and she causes the car to plunge off the cliff. It’s a darkly romantic gesture, suicide by flaming car crash is her attempt at redemption. She hopes with her death, Cleve can repair the ruination of his life. But this is noir, and he cannot wake from the nightmare.
Tony dies but Thelma lives long enough to confess her crimes. She does not give away Cleve as Mr. X, but Miles (Paul Kelly) is suspicious. His career in shambles, Cleve walks off into the uncertain shadows of noir. Thelma dies, redeemed. It’s noir universal justice, Thelma cannot get away with her Aunt’s murder and continue her affair. She must be brought down by fate’s hand.
Miles: ”She’s confessed everything except who her Mr. X is.”
Cleve looks at her “Why don’t you tell him?”
Thelma: “I love him, that’s why. I couldn’t go on with him Cleve. You did that for me. I’m glad I told. All my life struggling, the good and the bad.”
Cleve: “Save your strength darling.”
Thelma: ”Willis said I was two people, he was right. You don’t supposed they could just let half of me die?”
This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying, it’s great to spend time in the darkness of noir’s shadows & under the influence of fate’s pointed finger, but you gotta come out into the light til the next time around!
Aired December 11, 1973 as an ABC Movie of the Week
“Beware the seal of Kah-ub-set, for he who dares to remove it will open the gates of Hell.”
The Cat Creature was directed by horror film icon Curtis Harrington— Night Tide (1961), Queen of Blood (1966), Games (1967), How Awful About Allan (1970) tv movie, What’s the Matter with Helen (1971), Whoever Slew Auntie Roo (1972), The Killing Kind (1973), Killer Bees (1974) tv movie, The Dead Don’t Die (1975) tv movie also directed by Curtis Harrington, Ruby (1977), Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (1978) tv movie.
The Cat Creaturewas scripted by Robert Bloch based on a story by producers Douglas S. Cramer , Wilfred Lloyd Baumes and writer Bloch himself.
From Nice Guys Don’t Work in Hollywood written by Curtis Harrington -he talks about how different television executives’ mind-set for tele-films are than major motion picture executives.
Director/writer Curtis Harrington master at ‘horror of personality’
“I found out just how different on a television movie called The Cat Creature. The script was written by Robert Bloch, based on an old story he’d published in Weird Tales. In fact, he was one of the horror writers I had discovered in the pages of Weird Tales during my teen years in Beaumont. It was a nice pulpy story about a girl who is the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian cat goddess. In casting the actress to play the modern incarnation of this beautiful goddess, I got my first nasty taste of TV executive thinking. I discovered that this new set of black suits was always very involved in the casting of leading roles in the network TV drama. Unlike movie executives whose primary interest was ‘box office appeal’ they were concerned with something they called TVQ” This meant the ratings the stars other television appearances had received. The connection between a star’s suitability for a role meant absolutely nothing, and this was the case of The Cat Creature… […] I recalled that Egyptian women supposedly used henna to dye their black hair red, so we put a dark red wig on Meredith Baxter, and she agreed to darken her eyes with green contact lenses… […] Bloch had written an important supporting role, the proprietor of a magic shop, for a man. I suggested that he rewrite the role for a woman and that we try to get Gale Sondergaard for the part. Sondergaard was an actress I remembered vividly from my childhood. She had been memorable as the sinister Oriental [sic] woman in The Letter and in the title role of The Spider Woman, a Basil Rathbone/Sherlock Holmes adventure in 1937…
“I had wanted the proprietress of the occult shop to be played as a lesbian to lend a bit of spice to the show. But Standards and Practices , the office of the network devoted to removing any element to a script that might offend Mrs. Grundy, sent a memo after that there must be ‘NO SUGGESTION WHATSOEVER THAT THIS CHARACTER IS A LESBIAN.’ However, my natural propensity toward subversion was given its due when Douglas Cramer allowed me to add a dwarf hooker to a scene in a cheap hotel where Stuart Whitman as the detective interview John Carradine, who plays the hotel clerk. The dwarf lady of the evening is shown seated on the counter in the hotel lobby. Swinging her short legs and batting her eyelashes, she says to Stuart, “How’s tricks, baby!” This was left in, and Cramer was very pleased when the incident was singled out for comment in a New York Times review of the show. It wasn’t the sort of thing they were used to seeing in the bland medium of television.”
An estate appraiser Frank Lucas (Kent Smith) comes to catalogue a private collection of Egyptian relic, the inventory at an estate –among the deceased’s possessions is an Egyptian mummy adorned with splendid regalia –wearing a large amulet around it’s neck and topped the golden head of the cat Goddess Bast.
Just to be clear as a person who worships cats–The story of The Cat Creature is a creation for a horror tele-play that has no foundation in historical fact. Bast was not a murderous cat nor an evil deity. Bast represents protection and is a sacred symbol of that protection toward cats… She is not a monster!
The uniting Egyptian cultures had deities that shared similar roles and usually the same imagery. In Upper Egypt, Sekhmet was the parallel warrior lioness deity. Often similar deities merged into one with the unification, but that did not occur with these deities having such strong roots in their cultures. Instead, these goddesses began to diverge. During the 22nd Dynasty (c. 945–715 BC), Bast had transformed from a lioness warrior deity into a major protector deity represented as a cat. Bastet, the name associated with this later identity, is the name commonly used by scholars today to refer to this deity.
Shortly after Lucas leaves, a thief Joe Sung played by Keye Luke steals the amulet, the mummy disappears setting off a series of uncanny events and several mysterious murders. Frank Lucas is found dead and Lt. Marco (Stuart Whitman) calls in Prof. Roger Edmonds (David Hedison) as an expert to help identify the missing amulet. Joe Sung tries to pawn this ancient amulet at The Sorcerers Shop an occult shop owned and run by Hester Black (Gale Sondergaard). After Black’s young salesgirl is murdered in the same fashion as Frank Lucas, she hires a new girl to work in her shop. Enter, Rena Carter (Meredith Baxter) who gets pulled into the mysterious happenings and begins a romance with Prof. Edmonds.
The strange killings show the victims all baring the marks of a giant cat attack, as if they’ve been clawed to death. Is it the resurrection of the Goddess Bast who is committing these murders?
This ABC Movie of the Week, showcases the actress whose popularity was rising at that time, Meredith Baxter, who plays the mysterious Rena Carter who may be somehow involved in these strange ritual killings. David Hedison plays Prof. Roger Edmonds an archeologist who is called upon by the detective on the case, Lt. Marco (Stuart Whitman) to assist him in solving the murders. Just a note… I am absolutely crazy about Stuart Whitman, down the road I plan on doing a feature on his work –his credits too long to mention, so see the link to IMBd, I also really want to do a feature on the incredibly mesmerizing actress of the 70sBarbara Parkinswho appears in another ABC Movie of the Week Snatched that I’ll be covering in just a bit…
Prof. Roger Edmonds-“Marco is on his way here to arrest you”
Rena Carter “What!”
Prof. Roger Edmonds-“Don’t you see Everything about you adds to Marcos’ suspicious no previous address no social security number A girl who covers her tracks A girl who stops at the shop not by accident but with deliberate purpose. Marcos thinks that you destroyed everyone who stood between you and that amulet.”
Another bonus of this creepy tele-film is that it co-stars the wonderful Gale Sondergaard. as Hester Black the occult shop owner.
In an interview actor David Hedison commented, “All in all, it was a very happy experience. Meredith was a joy to work with, and a fine human being. Stuart Whitman and I talked and laughed a lot about our early contract days at 20th Century Fox in the late 1950s and 1960s. And of course, Gale was a lovely woman and shared so many wonderful memories with me about her early films. And I should add that all the felines behaved beautifully–even in one of the more violent scenes with me at the end of the film. I managed to escape without a scratch!” –“One other memory was of the first screening of the film before it aired. There was a small invited audience at a screening room on the lot. My wife, Bridget, had not read the script or seen any of the shooting, and at one point when the Cat Creature suddenly jumps out to attack, she got such a fright she let out a scream- much to the delight of the producers and director”
From Television Fright Films of the 1970s by David Deal-“here he (Curtis Harrington) successfully recreates the moody thrillers of Val Lewton of the 1940s. Relying on creepy atmosphere and suspense.”
Deal points out one of the prevailing great elements of The Cat Creature, it’s fabulous casting of course Stuart Whitman who is a tremendous actor, his appearances go all the way back to the early uncredited 50s classics like When Worlds Collide (1951) and Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) Whitman was nominated for an Academy Award for his startling performance in The Mark 1961, as a tormented man dealing with his repulsive impulse to molest children and his ultimate redemption. It was a risky role, that he inhabited with dignity and pathos. A prolific supportive actor and leading man he appeared in Cimarron Strip tv series from 1967-1968. One of my favorite films of his Shock Treatment (1964) was another powerfully nuanced portrayal of Dale Nelson an actor who is paid to infiltrate a mental hospital to expose a crazy psychiatrist Edwina Beighly played by the silky and sly Lauren Bacall. Stuart Whitman has appeared in stinkers too, like Night of the Lepus (1972) about giant mutant bunnies, eh not so much… in Jonathon Demme’s Crazy Mama 1975with Cloris Leachman, and a very slick Italian cop thriller called Shadows in an Empty Room aka Blazing Magnums (1976). And since we’re celebrating these ‘tele-fright’ films of the 70s let’s just mention his other supporting roles, he plays a psychic looking for a missing husband in Revenge! (1971) with Shelley Winters as a deranged mother who lost her daughter and The Woman Hunter (1972).
David Hedison of course was popular with horror fans for his campy over-the top performance as a altruistic scientist who loses his head over his discovery to transport matter in the fantastical classic Sci-Fi hit, The Fly 1958(which is part of my series to follow Keep Watching the Skies -coming up The Year is 1953) starred in the hit television show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964)
The supporting cameos are such a treat! Seeing Gale Sondergaard who is terrific as the occult shop owner Hester Black who while reading Professor Edmonds his tarot cards gets into a battle of the wills between skepticism and fanaticism. Sondergaard received the first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in Anthony Adverse (1936) I adore her as Emily in the Abbott & Costello romantic comedy The Time of Their Lives (1946) even then she was open to the spirit world! Sondergaard was one of the unfortunate actors who were targeted by HUAC, brought before them she refused to testify and was blacklisted from the industry for over 20 years. She returned in 1969, and The Cat Creature was her first ‘tele-fright’ (as writer David Deal puts it) of the 1970s.
The Deputy Coroner (Milton Parsons) looks like a corpse himself, just one of the macabre details that Harrington likes to throw into his ‘horror of personality’ films and teleplays.
The busy working actor Kent Smith has appeared in so many film and television supportive roles. Best known by horror fans for his roles in Val Lewton’s Cat People (1942) and The Curse of the Cat people (1944)
Here he plays Frank Lucas the cat creature’s first victim. Ironic isn’t it! His other tele-frights include director Curtis Harrington’s How Awful About Allan (1970) starring Anthony Perkins, Julie Harris and Joan Hackett. He was also in The Night Stalker (1972) and The Disappearance of Flight 412 (1974). One of my all time favorites, is the lovable, ubiquitous the theatrical acrobat likes of Burgess Meredith who could inhabit the role from vagabond to thespian at times quixotic poetic tongued –the sharp, and saturnine character actor John Carradine who plays the manager of a sleazy hotel clerk. Carradine can make the smallest part enormously unforgettable and has graced many a tele-fright– Crowhaven Farm (1970), The Night Strangler ((1973) and Death at Love House (1976) Next to Boris Karloff and Vincent Price, I have such a sweet tooth for John Carradine and he’s another icon I’d love to feature here at The Last Drive In.
From David Deal’s terrific Television Fright Films of the 1970s a movie of the week companion –“Charlie Chan’s number one son Keye Luke is the amulet thief in his only telefright appearance of the decade but most curious is Peter Lorre Jr. who appears as a dying pawn broker Lorre Jr. was really German born Eugene Weingand a notorious imposter who was once taken to court by Lorre for using his name. Lorre died before his case against Weingand was settled, allwoing the impersonation to continue. Relative newcomer but top billed Meredith Baxter was fresh off the Bridget Loves Bernie sitcom and would soon marry her co-star David Birney, where she would heifeenate her name and has become a fixture to television.”
Composer Leonard Rosenman is responsible for the score, he has won Oscars and Emmys for his compelling music, for instance Fantastic Voyage (1966), A Man Called Horse (1970) Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)Race with the Devil (1975), Bound for Glory (1976) and supplied the poignant music for the dark disturbing psychological mini-series starring Sally Field–Sybil (1976). He also added his music to other tele-fright films such as Vanished (1971) The Phantom of Hollywood (1974) and The Possessed (1977) starring wonderful supporting actress of the 1970s Joan Hackett.
Though I am a huge fan of the directors body of work, I have to look away from Harrington’s predilection to either kill off cats or make them look sinister in his films, so avoid The Killing Kind (1973)with Ann Southern or if you love rabbits lets not forget the poor bunnies in Whats The Matter With Helen (1971).
Also the sound the cat creature makes doesn’t sound anything like a growling menacing cat, it sounds like an old man who smokes too many cigars and needs to spit up his oatmeal and prunes.
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc and screenplay written by writer/director Collin Higgin’s whose credits include the cult film starring Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon and one of my personal favorite films–Harold and Maude (1971), he also penned the memorable feminist comedy classic Nine to Five (1980) starring Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda.
Busy 70s television Canadian born actress –with the girl next door beauty –Belinda J. Montgomery plays Diane Shaw, whose mother has died, leaving her with the revelation that she is actually the daughter of Satan. Diane’s mother Alice Shaw (Diane Ladd) had carnal knowledge with the prince of darkness and Diane is the product of that unholy union. Alice was also friends and worshiped Satan with Lilith who befriends and lures our wayward devil waif into a web of suspense as she spirals toward her fate.
Naturally as the working formula would suggest Diane is then pursued by devil worshipers headed by Lilith Malone played by the grand lady herself, Shelley Winters. Of course there are elements that pay tribute to the far superior classic pre-occupation with devil cults and paranoia in the city Roman Polanski/William Castle’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968) brought to life by the stunning performance by Mia Farrow, and the presence of such greats as Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer, Ralph Bellamy, Patsy Kelly and Maurice Evans.
Shelley Winters having a Ruth Gordon/Minnie Castavet moment!!!
Feeling trapped by her destiny, she soon meets and falls in love with Steve Stone (another tele-fright favorite-Robert Foxworth). Steve asks Diane to marry him and so life is possibly good again? Well maybe not so much…
Lilith-“Dear, You mustn’t disappoint your mother’s old friends”
Alikhine-“You are your mother’s daughter!”
Lilith- “SHE WAS ONE OF US”
Mrs Stone (Martha Scott) “She got religion, and turned away”
Alikhine-“You are your father’s daughter!”
Diane –“NO! NO!”
Alikhine- “He is the evil one.”
Mrs Stone- “The all seeing… he is Lucifer”
First off, The Devil’s Daughteris still entertaining to watch, I adore Belinda J. Montgomery and I could watch Shelley Winters bring in her mail. She’s been lighting up the screen since she played the neurotic Jewish mother Faye Lapinsky in director Paul Mazursky’s sublime Next Stop Greenwich Village (1976)to watching her as Belle Rosen who swims under treacherous waters in The Poseidon Adventure (1972) , as she envision Ma’ Kate Barker in Roger Corman’s Bloody Mama (1970) or the tragic Helen Hill/Martin in Curtis Harrington’s gruesome horror of personality thriller What’s the Matter with Helen (1971) as the bellicose Mrs. Armstrong in Bernard Gerard’s The Mad Room (1969) as the vengeful and deranged mother in the tele-fright film Revenge! (1971) going back to the luckless love-sick and doomed Alice Tripp in A Place in the Sun (1951), as the delightful singer Binky Gay in Phone Call from a Stranger (1952), the sympathetic Terry Stewart in William Castle’s Johnny Stool Pigeon (1949) or the gutsy and classy torch singer –Joy Carroll alongside Frank Sinatra in the dazzling musical noir film Meet Danny Wilson (1951)…! there it is I just adore Shelley Winters!
Belinda J. Montgomery was one of the more prevalent actresses in the 70s teleplays, like Season Hubley who looked fresh scrubbed and awfully pretty but could play it all damaged and less than pure if you know what I mean.
The Devil’s Daughterplays like a dark comedy, with a surprisingly pessimistic or should I say fatalistic ending, not unlike it’s finer forerunner Rosemary’s Baby.
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc had started out his career working in television and has directed many popular contemporary television series link to IMBd to see his complete credits, in the late 60s and 1970s he worked on Rod Serling’s television horror anthology series from 1969-1973 Night Gallery.
If you’re familiar with the series you’ll recognize the painting of Satan that emblazon’s Lilith’s living room wall, could be a tout to the series that utilized artwork of art director Thomas J. Wright who painted all of the paintings used to introduce each story.
Szwarc directed a the ‘tele-fright’few Night of Terror (1972) and in 1973 directed the Lovely But Lethal episode of Columbo starring Vera Miles. Some of his notable theatrical releases – Bug (1975), Jaws 2 and the romantic fantasy Somewhere in Time (1980).
What makes The Devil’s Daughter the most interesting to watch are the familiar character actors that populate the film. The nefarious characters that are not quite they seem to be on the surface. Of course there’s the mentioned Diane Ladd as the profane mother who slept with the devil in the first place but in her waning years found religion but was executed by the cult for her transgression. There’s the wonderfully perspicacious Ian Wolfe whose presence always adds an extra depth to any story, here he plays Father MacHugh a kindly priest who while he doesn’t believe the gossip about Lilith would rather see Diane move out of Lilith’s house and live with a girl her own age. When Diane does decide to move in with a friend, Lilith blows her stack…
Fans of Dan Curtis’ cult television horror soap opera of the 1960s Dark Shadows will recognize Jonathan Frid as Lilith’s mute ‘chauffeur companion.’
Film star Joseph Cotten plays Judge Weatherby, Martha Scottas Mrs. Stone, Lucille Benson ( a quirky character actress who was great at playing batty old ladies) as Janet Poole and Thelma Carpenter as Margaret Poole curious twins, a pair that reminds me of the odd relationship between Sylvia Miles as Gerde Engstrom and Beverly D’Angelo as Sandra in Michael Winner’s The Sentinel (1977) which I am highlighting this Halloween month of October! The Poole sisters dress alike, Janet is white and Margaret is black, and they have cats with opposite colors.
The persnickety Abe Vigoda (the irascible Detective Fish from tv’s Barney Miller) plays Alikhine an expert in ancient art of dance, Robert Corthwaite (the fanatical scientist intent on idolizing the superiority of the super carrot in The Thing from Another World 1951) plays pastor Dixon.
Some of the dialogue is as campy and hilariously high brow as all get out–“You are promised in marriage to the Prince, the Demon of Endor.”
And much like the climax of Rosemary’s Babythere is the ensemble of Satanists seen in Lilith’s scrapbook of yesteryear, the cult standing around in living rooms in their robes posing for a the photograph.
Diane struggles to fight back her legacy as the Devil’s own daughter as she struggles with nightmares, manifests her inherited evil nature and wearing her ring with the strange insignia, mentally impels a young boy to walk out into traffic, nearly getting him run down by a car.
There’s a nice touch as she meets her roomate’s horse and they become frightened by her presence bucking and whinnying, a sign that they can see her evil essence. When Alikhine (Abe) leads the ‘ancient dance’ at the party Diane has an instinctual rhythm that guides her movements. Will Diane succumb to her legacy or will she use her power to fight her destiny? I won’t tell… “They actually refer to me as the Devil’s daughter.”-Diane
“Sally, Sally, Sally… We want you, we want you. It’s your spirit we want, your spirit we need… When will they come to set us free… there’s time enough we have all the time in the world.”
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is one of the most remembered television horror films of the 1970s. It no doubt has left a lasting impression with so many of us. Enough so, that director Guillermo Del Toro remade it with more teeth and polished effects in 2010, renewing a whole revitalized generation of fans of the story and mood of the piece in all it’s palpitating unreality. That’s why it has maintained such a cult status all these years. The creepy atmosphere is partly credited to director John Newland who wasn’t a stranger to stories of the macabre and uncanny as he developed the late 50s series One Step Beyond. which dealt with real life experiences with the uncanny and the supernatural. He also had a hand in directing several of Boris Karloff’s anthology series that blended mystery, horror and noir in his 60s series Thriller.
I love the color palate by set designer James Cane–the purple and blue tones, the reds and pinks, the golds and browns, the lighting and set design is a rich visual set piece to work within the modern ‘things that go bump in the night’ trope.
Felix Silla, Tamara De Treaux & Patty Malone as the creatures: on the set of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)
Newland worked steadily through the 60s and 70s with Karloff on Thriller and then with Rod Serling on Night Gallery. In Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, director Newland has such a grasp on what is eerie and spooky in the classical sense delivers an atmosphere that is rich with a wonderful color pallet. He produces a simple story with spine tingling chills, that are often missing today. Newland’s device works great often due to the lighting and the quick glimpses, as you just catch aspects of these little menaces, rather than have them appear for long periods of time on camera. Another creepy mechanism that I find startling is a device within the make-up developed by Michael Hancock (The Omega Man 1971, Deliverance 1972, Altered States 1980, Se7en 1995). where the creatures speak but their mouths do not move, it is as if the voices come from behind their faces.
It’s an odd effect, and though it lacks the virtual ‘teeth’ that Del Toro’s savage creatures have, I am filled with such nostalgic shivers for the old look of things. The kitschy decorating for instance. The creature masks also remind me of something you’d see in The Twlight Zone, episode ofEye of the Beholder, in the same way make up artist William Tuttle created masks where their mouths didn’t move when they spoke. The effect just works. The three little devil imps with their shriveled scowling faces and piercing eyes and creep-tastical voices are among the most iconic and remembered creatures from the 1970s.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Darkis “lit like a horror movie–pools of light glow amidst shrouds of darkness and mysterious shadows abound” “Even a darkened party scene is justified as reticence to reveal the house remodeling underway. The truth is fear of the dark is universal., especially when prune-face goblins tug at our bedclothes.”- David Deal: Television Fright Films of the 1970s.
Alex (Jim Hutton) and Sally Farnham (Kim Darby) inherit a eerie old Victorian house from Sally’s grandmother that holds a dangerous secret legacy, as it harbors the spirits of little devil imps who need to be set free by a designated person whose soul they aim to possess. Once Sally moves in to her grandparents garish and secretly ghoulish old house, Sally discovers these little creatures living down in the pits of hell behind the bricked up fireplace in the creepy, musty den. Like her grandfather before her, Sally is next in line to ‘set them free’ by being their chosen sacrifice. She now must convince her success driven husband Alex that she isn’t crazy or a hysterical, bored housewife. Alex refuses to listen to Sally’s pleas to leave the house, or that the strange happenings and sightings of antagonistic little demons are real and not born out of her imagination or a way for her to sabotage his budding career that takes him away a lot. The only person who not only believes Sally but has tried to warn her not to meddle in things she doesn’t understand, is William Demarest as cantankerous handyman Mr. Harris, who worked for Sally’s grandparents. He knows about the little evil gnomes bricked up behind the fireplace and tries to no avail to get Sally to leave the creepy den as is, “Some doors are better left unopened.”
Sally pushes on the bricks of the old fireplace, Mr. Harris the handy walks in, in his
sour-puss scowling manner-
Mr Harris-“It won’t work.! Sorry Miss I didn’t mean to make you jump”
Sally-“It’s alright… well why won’t it work? I mean surely all it needs to be is smashed open”
Mr. Harris- “those bricks are cemented 4 deep and reinforced with iron bars. There’s no way of opening it up.”
Sally-“now who’s idea was that?”
Mr.Harris-“Your grandmother had me do that twenty years ago.”
Mr. Harris-“Well, it, it was after, er (he stops and looks at the fireplace)
Mr. Harris- “I just can’t open it up.”
Sally-“Now Mr. Harris surely you’re not afraid of a little hard work, hhm?”
Mr. Harris-“Its not the work it’s just that some things are better left as they are”
Mr. Harris-“That’s for cleaning out ashes”
Sally-“it’s been bolted shut”
Mr. Harris-“By me, and that’s the way it should stay!”
Told by both Alex and cranky pants Harris to leave the fireplace alone, naturally she unbolts the ash pit, releasing the creatures who proceed to torment her, making it look like she is crazy, torturing her, gas-lighting her, as we here whispered tones of
“No don’t hurt her, not yet… “but I want to I want to…”
Oh there’s plenty of opportunity and time to torment, hurt and and drag Sally down to hell. Sally, it’s too much fun to drive her mad, messing with the lights whiles she’s taking a shower, then leaving the straight razor on the dark bathroom floor, poking out from behind curtains and bookcases, peaking out of the floral arrangement at the haute dinner party intended to impress Alex’s boss, placing a chord across the steps hoping she’ll fall down the long staircase. Sally sees these little menaces everywhere but no one else does. Alex doesn’t even believe that it’s mice, the place was fumigated right before they moved in. After Alex has a fit and fires Mr. Harris for filling his wife with dread, he finally reaches out to him wanting to hear about the history of the house.
Apparently, Mr. Harris tells Alex, that Sally’s grandfather was heard screaming in the study the night he disappeared presumably as he was being dragged down into the pits of hell. After that, the fireplace was bricked up and the ash pit bolted shut. The wicked little imps have been waiting all this time to be set free.
The simplistic story, everyone at one time has been afraid of the darkness and the unseen terror that it holds and the beauty of this enduring film which moves along in a very quick pace that doesn’t seem rushed, nor empty. Each scene while at times frustrates from the standpoint of stupid things you don’t do if you feel you’re in danger, like at the height of the danger drawing ever so near, just lie down on the bed and take a nap, okay you’ve been drugged with the sleeping pills slipped into your coffee by those little creeps. You will forever ask yourself, go to a hotel, why not just get out of the house. You feel like you want to scream at Sally, get the hell out… now for the love of Mike! And by the end, it tickles you to finally see her being dragged and daunted.
It’s hard to make out in the darkly lit scene but the goblins are climbing the stairs like a mountain.
Sally -“It’s was something like this little ferocious animal grabbed at my dress… Alex’s irritated voice scolds Sally like a child--“Look Sally you’ve got to stop this!!!”
I must admit, it’s too delicious to see these little nasty creatures bounding up the stairs, rigging them with a chord in order to cause one to trip, fall and break ones neck, and pop out of the luscious darkness wielding what is to them a giant a straight razor. These little evil imps inhabit our world view perfectly of those ‘things that go bump in the night.’
Kim Darby is plain and perfectly whiny within the horror version of Diary of a Mad Housewife, but that works to the films sense of go ahead drag her down the stairs already feeling, though I cheered for Carrie Snodgrass in the afore mentioned film of the 70s. ” Sally trips into a surreal world of gloom and although she never really gets a grip on things, she still shows some resolve.” Buying flashlights and candles instead of a room at a Hotel. sure Sally sure…
Alex and Sally experiencing martial woes and little devil imps in the suburbs!
As Sally puts it when having a heart to heart with her only friend Barbara- “Most of the time she feels like a reasonable adjunct to his getting ahead”
Barbara tells Sally that she knows exactly what’s it’s like to be “left by yourself to brood” ‘Making imaginary mountains out of imaginary mole hills”that’s exactly what her friend Barbara thinks the breaking of the ash tray by the side of the bed and the sounds of something lurking behind the kitchen garbage merely was…
This 70s tele-fright film could work as a horror story that embroiders the dismissal of women, their needs, their perceptions and their entire world into a adult fairy tale/nightmare. How a woman can become discounted when what she thinks and feels is chalked up to being merely her ‘imagination’ or emotional distress, and/or an unreasonable emotional dependency on her man who is trying to make it. Or… she is just plain exuding hysteria. Don’t Be afraid of the Dark consists of blunt hyperbole of the hysterical woman not in it’s undercurrent rather, right out in plain sight a contrast to the ‘shadows’ and goblins that lurk in the dark. Metaphor for women’s desire to be set free? I’ll leave that to scholars…
Kim Darby looks better than ever… no frowzy Sally here!
Actually I read that originally actor George Hamilton was cast as Alex. The chemistry would not have been as well suited as Hutton’s disbelieving soul. Hamilton is too sharp an actor for Darby’s frowzy simple girl next door style. William Demarest gives a well suited supportive performance as the cranky handyman Mr. Harris who knows all to well about the secrets of that bedeviled house with it’s ancient wicked creatures lurking about. It is Sally’s friend Joan played by Barbara Anderson who finally believes Sally isn’t going mad. At first she suspects that it is a mad housewife deal, sexual frustration, martial woes, and just plain hysteria. Anderson won an Emmy for her role on Ironside as Officer Eve Whifield.
Writer Nigel McKeand was sometime actor and was one of the demonic voices on the film. Prolific composer Billy Goldenberg (Columbo) is adept at both classical and pop music and has been in demand, providing music for film and television since the mid 60s. He tele-fright scores include Ritual of Evil (1970), Duel (1971), Terror on the Beach (1973), Reflections of Murder (1974), The Legend of Lizzie Borden (1975), The UFO Incident (1975) and One of My Wives is Missing (1976).
One of the great aspects that work in Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is the set direction by James Cane, the big old Victorian that creates the mood of a ‘chamber piece’ is so creepily garish with colors that clash, and a mix of neo-gothic, Louis VI and contemporary styles that even Sally decides to hire decorator Francisco Perez (Pedro Armendáriz Jr.) whom the dastardly gnomes accidentally cause to fall down the steps killing him. Still, Alex doesn’t quite see that something is wrong with the house.
Even after Joan (Barbara Anderson) begins to believe Sally, the efforts made to protect her friend are sluggish and frustrating, just to make our skin crawl with anxiety as these wicked little things chant “we want you, we want you, we want you, we want you”, while Sally is destined to go the way of her grandfather. This special Movie of the Week chiller is brimming over with eerie atmosphere.
Felix Silla, who played one of the creatures also played Cousin It in The Addams Family.
Directed by Philip Leacock with a screenplay by Richard Masterson. (I Am Legend, The Incredible Shrinking Man) This iconic writer/visionary has too many credits to list them all, link to IMBd to see the breadth of this genius’ work.
She’s Alone. No One Believes Her. And There’s No Way Out!
While driving across the desert Bob and Jean Mitchell (Dabney Coleman and Cloris Leachman) stop at a desolate roadside diner late one night. When Bob goes to the gent’s room, he doesn’t return, just vanishes completely! The locals including Ned Beatty as Tom King, the wonderful Louise Latham as Vi and Ron Feinberg as Lou McDermott all appearing unfriendly and downright menacing. The worst of all being diner owner Jim Cutler who considers people like Jean and Bob ‘moron city folk’ (Ross Martin who does sinister really well!)
Jean “You must have seen where my husband went”
Jim Cutler-“Are you telling me I did?”
Jean “He was sitting right there at that table. Right there.”
Jim Cutler-“And I was right there at that griddle, with my back turned how would I know where he went. Maybe he got sore at ya and just lit out. Cause your husband ain’t here ain’t no fault of mine.”
One of the most underrated character actresses Louise Latham!
These uncooperative folks deny even seeing her husband at all. Then as the paranoia and panic builds someone drives off with her car, stranding her there and now are coming after her. Jean goes to the sheriff played by recognizable character actor Dana Elcar but she has no proof of a crime and tries to get him to believe her protect her from the danger she is in and of course find Bob.
This familiar theme of the missing husband had been seen in tele-fright flicks such as Honeymoon with a Stranger 1969 starring Janet Leigh, and And No One Could Save Her 1973 starring Lee Remick.
Richard Matheson’s teleplay, from his short story strikes that universal chord of paranoia, alienation, helplessness and abject fear stuck in the middle nowhere, working like a claustrophobic stage play Dying Room Only puts our heroine in an environment surrounded by hostility with authority figures who don’t believe you all while stuck in the middle of a lonely unforgiving desert.
Cloris Leachman is one of THE most talented comedic actresses, just brings to mind her iconic role as Mary Tyler Moore’s narcissistic and fashionable friend Phyllis Lindstrom from 1970-1977 and her outre brilliant performance as Frau Blücher in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein (1974).
Ross Martin best known for Artemus Gordon of popular television series The Wild, Wild West, and as Garland Humphrey ‘Red’ Lynch Blake Edwards striking suspense thriller Experiment in Terror 1962, and his pretentious art critic Dale Kingston in Suitable for Framingon Columbo’s 1971 episode co-starring Kim Hunter. Ross is just superb as a menacing figure, showing up in another tele-fright film Skyway to Death, before his death of a heart attack in 1981.
Ned Beattyis another marvelous character actor who’s creepy statement to Jean is chilling a complete departure from the cowering victimized Bobby out of his element in Deliverance1972 who goes through his own ordeal with local hostile types here plays a slovenly cretin, Jean asks for change to use the pay phone, Jim Cutler (Ross Martin) tells her he’s fresh out and Tom (Beatty)- looks straight at her, jingles coins in his pocket and walks over to the pinball machine to play a few rounds. One of his more menacing lines–“The only thing I’m gonna regret, lady, is that I’ll only have ten minutes alone with you before I kill you.”
Dabney Coleman has few lines like this for instance– “These two men happen to be jerks and this… is a dump.”Not quite Bette Davis…
Dana Elcar appears to be a well-meaning but powerless sheriff… Is he part of the conspiracy?
From David Deal’s Television Fright Films of the 1970s –“This story of frustration has the feel of dream logic at first as Jean’s world suddenly turns into a series of unexplainable roadblocks.
Dying Room Only is a film that pushes the trope of paranoia and no-one will believe me. Director Philip Leacock who keeps the film tautly wound, especially during the first half. Leacock worked on many popular television shows of the 1960s. His tele-fright films in the 1970s include When Michael Calls (1972), and Killer on Board (1977).
Composer Charles Foxwas twice nominated for Oscars The Other Side of the Mountain, Foul Play, and won two Emmy’s both for Love American Style. Among his credits are Barbarella 1968, The Green Slime 1968, The Drowning Pool 1975. I just learned that he wrote Killing Me Softly with His Song with lyrics by Norman Gimbel in collaboration with Lori Lieberman in 1972, made famous by amazing songstress Roberta Flack, who gives the most stunning rendition.
If there are devils, there must also be gods. I don’t know. I have no thoughts…
Aired on February 13, 1973, as the CBS Movie of the Week
With a teleplay by Ron Austin and Him Buchanan -and music by Mort Stevens who worked on many Boris Karloff’s anthology series Thriller… Horror at 37,00 Feet is directed by David Lowell Rich
Television Fright Films of the 1970s by David Deal– “Horror at 37,000 Feet is either a meditation on the inherent savagery of the human race on the primal fears and ancient behaviors that tether us to the past, no matter how far we advance with our technology or just a silly horror movie.”
Alan O’ Neill –“You know I think I’m gonna put some black stone on the floor here around the altar”
Sheila O’Neill-“Very nice if you’re planning to use it as a bar”
Alan O’Neill -(laughs) “That’s a little nasty”
Architect Alan O’Neill (Roy Thinnes) appropriates the remains of a cursed abbey from his wife’s familial state in England, loads them onto a plane with the intention of flying them to America and using them in their home. During all this time it also happens to be the night of the summer solstice and I might add, a full moon. A foreboding glowing moon that shines over Heathrow Airport. Once the stones and pieces of the abbey are stowed away safely in the cargo hold, ten passengers board the red-eye flight.
Buddy Ebsen as millionaire Glenn Farlee, Tammy Grimes as Mrs. Pinder, Lynn Loring as Manya Kovalik, Jane Merrowas Alan O’Neill’s wife Sheila, France Nuyen as model Annalik, William Shatner as faithless minister Paul Kovalik, Paul Winfield as Dr. Enkalla, H.M Wynant as Frank Driscoll, a little girl Jodi played by Mia Bendixsen who is flying alone with her doll. And then there’s the crew Chuck Connors as Captain Ernie Slade, Will Hutchins as cowboy Steve Holcolm, Darleen Carras flight attendant Margo, and Russell Johnson as Jim Hawley.
Once everyone settles in, the spirits of the long dead druids break free in the cargo hold and threaten to take over the plane in order to claim their human sacrifice. The tension among the passengers starts to unfold as they try to figure out what the menace is, and what it wants.
Horror at 37,00 Feet is the only credit for V.X. Appleton whose story the film was based on. It was Emmy winning director David Lowell Rich’s first supernatural film for television but he would go on to make the cult favorite Satan’s School for Girls,Runaway! (1973) and another frightening flight film called SST-Death Flight (1977). Rich also made Madame X(1966)with Lana Turner and Eye of the Cat (1969) with Michael Sarrazin, Gayle Hunnicutt and Eleanor Parker and lots of felines…
People might make a comparison with some of the elements of Horror at 37,000 Feet and Cruise Into Terror1978 on a rival network. While the basic framework, passengers board a cursed ship daunted by supernatural powers, Horror at 37,000 Feet just has a campier, creepier more atmospheric mood and sensational theatrics because of it’s cast. In that film, the passengers of a boat are threatened by the son of Satan. Horror at 37,000 Feetutilizes a more nuanced menace, the spirits of ancient druids, which is a totally more unique narrative, as they howl and cause an eerie frosty freezing burning cold throughout the cabin of the airplane as they hunger for their sacrifice. Barry Thomas in charge of the sound department creates some authentically chilling aural scares as the wailing, groaning old ones, and the supernatural static that encircles them…
The ensemble of this horror film might not be too proud of it but it is quite a diverse cast indeed. Tammy Grimes is deliciously eerie in her unbounded knowledge of ancient cults, Lynn Loring as usual is perfectly intense and tightly wound. It’s all so outlandish and campy. Jane Merrow from Hands of the Ripper (1971) plays architect O’Neill’s wife, Sheila. Among the other great actors is millionaire Glen Farlee played by Buddy Ebsen, a Mrs. Pinder Tammy Grimes, who seems too in sync with all things supernatural and sort of sympatico with the druid mythology. There’s a man of god, who has fallen and is having a crisis of faith- drowning himself in alcohol and self pity. Who else could play that without breaking a sweat by the brilliant to happily hammy master most likely hand picked just to re-visit his role as the tormented man on a plane William Shatner as Paul Klovalik… Shatner is not at all a stranger to being terrorized on a plane by strange creatures–if we just think back to a decade before on The Twilight Zone episode Nightmare at 20,000 Feet that aired 10 years before in 1963. Shatner played Bob Wilson crazed by his visions of a monster on the wing of the plane, daunted by a gremlin who is tearing the wing and tinkering with the engine of a plane when no one, not even his wife will believe him much to the fate of the flight.
A film like Hitchcock’s Lifeboat (1944), creates a world of tension as the variety of personalities each respond to the crisis in their own way, not to compare this Movie of the Week with the masterpiece of cinema, Horror at 37,000 Feet is itself an ensemble morality play as much as it is a supernatural story. The tensions, conflicts and personal dynamics are tested by the imminent danger and the doomed fate they are faced with.
Alan (Thinnes) “Are you beyond fear or are you just drunk?”
Paul (Shatner) –“Both but if I were you I’d worry more about your fellow passengers than what ever it is you brought on board”
Things start to go wrong as soon as the flight leaves London as the plane is being mysteriously suspended in mid air going around and around in circles. The mysterious and uncanny entity smashes out of it’s crate in the cargo hold and freezes Mrs Pinder’s dog Damon. The cold then begins to manifest itself inside the cabin. A green boiling oozing Lovecraftian kind of menace reveals itself.
When Captain Slade and Hawley investigate, Hawley is quick-frozen like a bag of organic cauliflower. The evil power rips through the carpeted floor of the plane and an ugly greenish brown ooze bubbles and smokes as ancient unintelligible voices chant. That is how the malevolent entity shows its presence.
Co-Pilot Jim Hawley “Look at this there’s something like moss on the bulk head.”
An evil unspeakable horror that you cannot really see. From the old school of less is more, and it’s what you don’t see that creates more dread. It’s more creepy and effective that way. Sheila O’Neill (Jane Merrow), whose family built the abbey passes out and speaks Latin and hears voices that torment her, calling her name, which prompts Mrs. Pinder to explain a bit about what’s going on.
Paul- “Do you remember what you said when you fainted? (he speaks a Latin phrase)
Sheila “Yes I heard that, one of the voices what does it mean?”
Alan – “Well do you know or don’t ya?”
Paul “It’s from a Black mass…”
Alan “a prayer… to the devil?”
Manya-“or to that thing back there!”
Alan “My wife is imagining things that’s all
Manya “She’s hearing voices…Paul says she was reciting a black mass”
Paul –“I was probably wrong I was a worse scholar than I was a priest”
Mrs.Pinder “It was a man’s voice wasn’t it?”
Sheila -a crazed look in her eyes-“Yes”
Mrs. Pinder “Do you know who that was my dear… ? In 1407 Lord Compton the owner of the land in which the Abbey stood, your ancestor was burned at the stake for heresy and murder. He worshiped the Druid gods. Offered human sacrifices. Members of your own family.”
It seems the abbey was built on a sacred grove of the druids who had performed human sacrifices. Every hundred years at the solstice, the spirits of the ancient druids come back demanding their sacrifice. Mrs. Pinder asserts that it’s Sheila they want. The panic sets in as everyone jumps to wild conclusions for self preservation’s sake, They decide to make a pseudo Sheila, attaching her fingernail clippings and strands of her hair to the little Jodi’s creepy doll. They paint it’s lips red with Sheila’s lipstick. It’s a grotesque site. They try offering that to the spirits who are drawing nearer, only being held off by a fire the passengers have lit, and their safe space is growing smaller with each hour. They try to substitute the doll for Sheila as their sacrifice. The druids aren’t buying it!
Glen Farlee (Buddy Ebsen) has a soliloquy “Maybe she’s right. What other explanation could there be. Everything’s gone crazy!”The plan doesn’t work so the group decides to light a fire on the plane to keep the evil spirits away, and soon the fire burns out and all looks grim. Of course Shatner stands out in this film as the faithless, pessimistic, nihilist defrocked priest Paul Klovalik as he drinks heavily and tries to shut off the chaos surrounding him, feeling helpless and hopeless. “The closer to heaven, the more discordant” and generally dismisses the rest of the passengers bitterly as fools and barbarians.
Paul Kovalik: “You don’t need a priest, Mr. Farlee. You need a parachute….
I’m going to open a bottle of it right now. It might not make me happy. But it will amuse me to think of all of you back here worrying about your lives… as though they were of some importance.”
Shatner certainly isn’t playing this kind of guy, that’s for sure!
At the end Paul Klovalik does find a flicker of faith left and rises to the occasion. But will the ancient old ones, the druids get what they want?
Her task is clear, to find an confront her own murderer!
Aired November 5, 1973, ABC Movie of the Week.
From David Deal’s book Television Fright Films of the 1970s-“Producer-director Dan Curtis had his hand on several intimate productions in the early 1970s, which were shot on videotape in Canada. The Invasion of Carol Enders is one of these. Carol Enders (Meredith Baxter) and her fiance Adam Reston Christopher Connelly are attacked while spooning in lover’s lane and Carol is seriously injured when she attempts to escape. Meanwhile, Diana Bernard (Sally Kemp) the wife of a doctor, is fatally injured in an automobile accident. Both patients are sent to the same hospital. and Carol makes a miraculous recovery just as Diana dies. Upon Awakening, Carol claims in very convincing terms to be Diana. When the police determine that Diana was murdered, Carol/Diana leaves the hospital to find the killer. This mild-mannered story of possession will not appeal to those with a fancy for the macabre. It plays more like a soap opera mystery that happens to have a kernel of the supernatural driving the action.”
The story is by Merwin Gerard whose list of credits include tele-fright films, The Screaming Woman (1972) starring the great Olivia de Havilland, The Victim (1972) and She Cried Murder (1973) The story was adapted by Gene Raser Kearney. Kearney wrote several Night Gallery episodes for Rod Serling and my cult favorite Games (1967) starring Simone Signoret and Katherine Ross, directed by Curtis Harrington and Night of the Lepus (1972) —Giant killer bunnies, ehh not so much…
Meredith Baxter was in the midst of her breakthrough television series Bridget Loves Bernie in 1972 when she did this film. She also appeared in Ben in 1972 and the other film I covered directed by Harrington, The Cat Creature. Her most famous roles aside from tele-films were of course as Nancy on the thoughtful nighttime drama Family 1976-1980 starring Sada Thompson and Kristy McNichol then she went on to play Elyse on Family Ties in the 80s.
Peyton Place alumnus the handsome Christopher Connelly plays Adam Reston and familiar character actor Charles Adiman plays Dr. Peter Bernard both are good at playing the perplexed husband routine. Connelly’s Adam Reston even helps the police in their investigation, playing an important part in solving the mystery. Dan Curtis favorite John Karlen plays Diana’s ex-husband David Hastings, the number one suspect in her death. George DiCenzo plays Dr. Palmer and Sally Kemp is Diana Bernard.
Carol-“I knew Diana, probably better than anyone. She was hard on you David, a lot harder than you deserved.”
Dan Curtis has executive producer credit on this film. and an un-credited nod for direction because several snippets of footage–including Diana’s car crash are taken from his tele-fright The Norliss Tapes, which aired the same year. Some sources list the film as having aired on March 8 1974, some claim it was released in 1973. I’m choosing to include it in my feature here as a 1973 release.
Director Burt Brinkerhoff was an actor, mainly on television in the 50s and 60s and this was his first film as director. He would go on to make the horror film Dogs, and yet another television adaptation of Frankenstein in 1987.
The film plays more like a murder mystery/thriller, but you cannot escape the supernatural narrative that exists, references to India where the air was “thick with the spirits of the dead, it was like incense.”
The Possession of Joel Delaney came out in 1972 and The Reincarnation of Peter Proud came out in 1975, Audrey Rose came out in 1977. The subject of reincarnation was threaded throughout the 1970s as an appealing and uncanny, almost taboo trend.
“Down This Street Raced Dead-End Violence… Down This One Stretched Excitement Taut As Silk!”
Directed by Arnold Laven this noir acts as part police procedural, starring gruff he-man Broderick Crawford( the pre Tony Soprano alpha male, bull in the china shop cop) who plays FBI Agent John ‘Rip’ Ripley. Likable and mild mannered Kenneth Tobey plays his partner agent Zack Stewart who is gunned down from the shadows while juggling three cases that might be interrelated. John Ripley continues to hunt down the relationship between all these cases and find his partner’s murderer!
One connection involves gangster Joe Walpo as Ripley finds his hideout through Joe’s glitz and glamorous girl friend Connie Anderson played by Martha Hyer. Joe gets gunned down, and cleared of Stewart’s killing. Connie won’t be receiving anymore shiny things in the mail anymore!
The Second link involves a car-theft ring which Ripley, uses the wife of Vince Angelino (Gene Reynolds) to turn on his fellow thugs, when Vince finds out that they have roughed up his gentle and blind wife Julie, played by the beautiful Marisa Pavan.
The last and most disturbing case involves Kate Martell, the victim of an extortionist who says he’ll kidnap her little girl if she doesn’t fork over some cash. He calls using a creepy threatening voice and sends her on wild goose chases, trying to break her down, so she’ll pay the $10,0000 ransom.
Kate is played by the brassy Ruth Roman.There are a lot of dubious suspects surrounding her. The menacing uncle Max played by Jay Adler, and the smarmy, drooling suiter Dave Milson played byMax Showalter. How will this thriller play out in 3 dark streets!?
Starring again another likable actor Kent Smithwho plays Dr.Peter Graham a psychiatrist who works for the police department, living in a dark city anywhere U.S.A.
“We need good cops, even if you are a psychiatrist now.”
There’s a mysterious masher stalking women, ritualistically slicing their left cheek and stealing their purses as a trophy. Pretty gruesome for 1958 film goers. The mugger escapes undetected until his last victim is actually murdered! The film stars Nan Martin, James Franciscus, and Stefan Schnabel. With bit parts by Beah Richards as a ‘maid’ (god forgive Hollywood and their ever present stereotyping) a young George Maharis as Nicholas Grecco, a possible slime ball. And the first time appearance of Renee Taylor as a cheap hussy who is physically abusive to her wormy husband.
The film uncovers a lot of unsavory characters, in the dark underbelly of a city that is diseased in a way that might breed a handbag, cheek slashing maniac! As Dr.Graham tries to draw conclusions about the sort of man who would attack these women, we meet so many unsavory types along the way. It makes the film an entertaining ride on a dirty subway.
Very gritty and realistic slice of insanity run amok in the city and unlatched secrets within a nice America family!
“They all had one thing in common… The terrifying night they met!”
Written for the screen by Collier Young ( Former husband to Ida Lupino and Joan Fontaine and written by Ida Lupino. Directed by Don Siegel , starring Howard Duff who plays detective Jack Farnham an honest cop with a beautiful wife Francey (Dorothy Malone) who loves him. His partner Cal Bruner,(Steve Cochran) is a little more dark and brooding and rough around the edges. He’s hungry for something better than suburban living with ‘pay on time’ furniture and a small backyard with a grill and a white fence.
Both detectives while staking out a robbery, in which $300,000 was stolen, stumble onto the hot cash. Of course, Farnham wants to turn it into Captain Michaels played by the meditative Dean Jagger.
But Bruner has fallen hard for night club singer Lili Marlowe played by the one and only Ida Lupino. She’s great as the unattainable women who’s been burned once before and is now wearing asbestos lipstick. Cal is just too swarthy and smitten with Lili and soon, they go up in smoke!. Lily has very high expectations for herself, and loves nice shiny things. And Cal wants to give her anything she wants, but refuses to live like Farnham on a cop’s salary, playing nice little suburban couple struggling to get by.
Number 36 refers to the locker the money is hid inside of, while Farnham roils and ruminates over his dilemma.
Does he become a rat and turn in his partner or should he do what’s expected and go to Captain Michaels with the missing money and the truth!
“These are the Night Faces…living on the edge of evil and violence…making their own.”
It stars Frank Lovejoyas Howard Tyler and Kathleen Ryan as Judy Tyler. Two ordinary people in this allegory about how a decent human being can be directed to do a desperate or violent act in order to survive and protect their own family. Taken over by a fanatical young con-man, petty thief and psychopath named Jerry Slocum, played by Lloyd Bridges. Slocum preys on the Tyler’s need for money, Slocum convinces Tyler to be involved in a kidnapping scheme that goes horribly wrong and ends in murder.
The narrative unfolds more deeply as a condemnation of sensationalist journalism that can incite a mob mentality which feeds off the lurid details, culminating in a destructive force, almost worse than the original crimes committed.
Richard Carlson plays Gil Stanton a newspaper man who eventually has a pang of conscience, although much too late!
The ending is quite potent, powerful and remains a stunning commentary. The imagery holds a very powerful message in the final moments of the film…
PS: it seems that both The Sound of Fury 1950 and Fury 1936 Fritz Lang’s film starring Spencer Tracy are based on the same true events -from TRIVIA IMDb:
Based upon the 1933 kidnapping and murder of Brooke Hart, son of the owner of Hart’s Department Store in San Jose, California. Two suspects were arrested and jailed, but a lynch mob broke into the jail, dragged out the suspects and took them across the street to a city park where they hanged them from a tree
Hope you get to see at least one of these lesser known Noir/Thriller goodies!- Til next time!-MonsterGirl