Enduring Empowerment : Women Who didn’t Give a Damn! …in Silent & Classic film!

THE SILENT YEARS: When we started not giving a damn on screen!

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THE GODLESS GIRL (1929) CHAIR SMASH courtesy of our favorite genius gif generator- Fritzi of Movies Silently

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In celebration of our upcoming Anti Damsel Blogathon on August 15 & 16, I had this idea to provide a list of bold, brilliant and beautiful women!

There was to be no indecent exposure of the ankles and no SCHWOOSHING!  Not in this Blogathon baby!

From the heyday of Silent film and the advent of talking pictures, to the late ‘20s to 1934 Pre-Code Hollywood, films were rife with provocative and suggestive images, where women were kicking up a storm on screen… The end of the code during the early 60s dared to offer social commentary about race, class, gender and sexuality! That’s our party!

In particular, these bold women and the screen roles they adopted have become legendary. They sparked catchy dialogue, inspired fashion trends, or just plain inspired us… All together there are 111 of SOME of the most determined, empowered and uniquely fortified femmes of classic film…!

First of course I consulted the maven of all things splendid, shimmery and SILENT for her take on silent film actresses and the parts that made them come alive on the immortal screen…. Fritzi at Movies Silently has summoned up these fabulous femmes….

Rischka Wildcat
1) Rischka (Pola Negri) in The Wildcat (1921) Ernst Lubitsch’s hyperactive Dr. Seussian comedy is worth seeing for the sets alone but the best part is Pola Negri’s Rischka, a young bandit queen who is terrorizing the mountains. She meets the local Lothario during a robbery and by the end of the scene she has stolen his heart. And his pants.
Countess A Woman of the World
2) The Countess (Pola Negri) in A Woman of the World (1925) Anyone who thought going to Hollywood would tame Pola Negri’s wild side had another thing coming. In this film, she plays a countess whose skull tattoo causes an uproar in Anytown, USA. The film also features a romance between Negri and the stuffy local prosecutor, who soon finds himself on the receiving end of her bullwhip. Not a metaphor.
Miss Lulu Bett
3) Lulu (Lois Wilson) in Miss Lulu Bett (1921) Independent women weren’t always given to violence and thievery. In the case of Lulu, she is a single woman trapped in two Victorian social conventions: spinster and poor relation. During the course of the film, she rejects both titles, learns her own self-worth and empowers herself to enter into a healthy relationship with the local schoolmaster. Tasty feminism!
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4) Zaida (Bebe Daniels) in She’s a Sheik (1927) Silent movie audiences enjoyed reversals of gender tropes. The Rudolph Valentino vehicle The Sheik (1921) had been a smash hit and had spawned many rip-offs and parodies. (kidnapping = love = box office!) In this case, a warrior princess falls for a French officer and decides the most sensible course of action is to abduct him for the purpose of marriage. Sadly, this comedy seems to be one of many silent films that is missing and presumed lost.
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5) Eve (Leatrice Joy) in Eve’s Leaves (1926) Another gender reversal comedy, Eve’s Leaves features twenties fashion icon Leatrice Joy as a tomboy sailor who finds the perfect man while ashore on business. She ends up saving the day– and her favorite dude in distress– through quick thinking, a knowledge of knots and a mean right hook.
Ossi The Doll
6) Ossi (Ossi Oswalda) in The Doll (1919) Ernst Lubitsch featured another feisty heroine in this surreal comedy. Our hero wishes to dodge marriage but cannot gain his inheritance without a bride. A plan! He will buy a lifelike doll from a famous toymaker and marry that. What he doesn’t know is that the doll was broken, the toymaker’s daughter has taken its place and she means to teach the reluctant bridegroom a lesson. Oswalda’s mischievous antics are a delight.
Molly Sparrows
7) Molly (Mary Pickford) in Sparrows (1926) Mary Pickford was America’s Sweetheart during the silent era and audiences adored her fearless heroines. Molly is one of her boldest. She’s an orphan raised in a Southern swamp who must rescue a kidnapped infant. The epic final race across the swamps– complete with alligators– is still harrowing to behold.
Helen Lass of the Lumberlands
8) Helen (Helen Holmes) in A Lass of the Lumberlands (1916) Helen Holmes was an action star who specialized in train-related stunts and adventure. In this 1916 serial, she saves the day on numerous occasions and even saves her love interest from peril on the train tracks. (It should be mentioned that the Victorian “woman tied to the train tracks” cliche was incredibly rare and usually treated with ridicule in silent films.) This is another movie that is missing and presumed lost.
Musidora Judex
9) Diana Monti (Musidora) in Judex (1916) Not all the empowered women in classic film were heroines. In the case of Musidora, her most famous roles were as criminals. She was the deadly thief/hit-woman Irma Vep in Les Vampires and then took on the titular caped crusader in Judex. Smart, stealthy and likely to slip a stiletto between the ribs… in short, a woman not to be trifled with.
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10) Helen (Miriam Nesbitt) in The Ambassador’s Daughter (1913) This short film from Thomas Edison’s motion picture studio features espionage and a quick-thinking heroine. She tracks down spies at the embassy, follows her suspect and manages to steal back the documents that he purloined from her father. Not at all bad for a film made seven years before the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified.
Cornelia The Bat
11) Cornelia Van Gorder (Emily Fitzroy) in The Bat (1926) It’s a dark and stormy night and a murderous costumed villain means to recover stolen loot in an isolated mansion. What is an elderly woman to do? Take up her trusty pistol and investigate, of course! She also wields a dry wit and keeps cool under pressure. The Bat doesn’t stand a chance
Catherine The Eagle
12) Catherine the Great (Louise Dresser) in The Eagle (1925) As mentioned above, Rudolph Valentino specialized in aggressive wooing but he finds the shoe on the other foot in this Russian romance. Louise Dresser is a kick as the assertive czarina who knows what she likes and goes for it.

Now to unleash the gust of gals from my tornadic mind filled with favorite actresses and the characters that have retained an undying sacred vow to heroine worship… In their private lives, their public persona and the mythological stardom that has & still captivates generations of  fans, the roles they brought to life and the lasting influence that refuses to go away…!

Because they have their own unique rhythm to the way they moved through the world… a certain kind of mesmerizing allure, and/or they just didn’t give a hoot, a damn… nor a flying fig!

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“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud”-Coco Chanel

Stars like Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Crawford managed to keep re-inventing themselves. They became spirited women with an inner reserve of strength and a passion for following their desires!

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Barbara Stanwyck posing with boxing gloves!

The following actresses and their immortal characters are in no particular order…!

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13. Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) Double Indemnity (1944) set fire to the screen as one of the most seductive femme fatales— a dame who made sunglasses and ankle bracelets a provocative weapon. She had murder on her mind and was just brazen enough to concoct an insurance scam that will pay off on her husbands murder in Double Indemnity (1944). Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) is the insurance guy who comes around and winds up falling under her dangerous spell… Walter Neff: ”You’ll be here too?” Phyllis: “ I guess so, I usually am.” Neff: “Same chair, same perfume, same ankle?” Phyllis:  “I wonder if I know what you mean?” Neff: “I wonder if you wonder?”
Bacall Slim To Have and Have not
14. Marie “Slim” Browning in To Have and Have Not (1944) Lauren Bacall walked into our cinematic consciousness at age 19 when Howard Hawks cast her as Marie “Slim” Browning in To Have and Have Not (1944). A night club singer, (who does a smoking rendition of Hogie Carmichael’s ‘How little We Know”) She’s got a smooth talking deep voiced sultry beauty, possesses a razor sharp wit to crack wise with, telling it like it is and the sexiest brand of confidence and cool. Slim has the allure of a femme fatale, the depth of a soul mate and the reliability of a confidant and a fearless sense of adventure. Playing across Bogart as the jaded Captain Harry Morgan who with alcoholic shipmate Eddie (Walter Brennan ) run a boating operation on the island of Martinique. Broke they take a job transporting a fugitive running from the Nazis. Though Morgan doesn’t want to get involved, Slim is a sympathizer for the resistance, and he falls in love with her, while she makes no bones about wanting him too with all the sexual innuendo to heat things up! Slim: “You know you don’t have to act with me, Steve. You don’t have to say anything, and you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and… blow.”
Bette as Margo Channing in All About Eve
15. Margo Channing (Bette Davis) All About Eve (1950) In all Bette Davis’ films like (Jezebel (1938) Dark Victory (1939) The Letter (1940) Now, Voyager (1942)), she shattered the stereotypes of the helpless female woman in peril. Davis had an unwavering strength, fearlessly taking on the Hollywood system and embracing fully the moody roles that weren’t always ‘attractive.’  Davis made her comeback in 1950, perhaps melding a bit of her own story as an aging star in All About Eve. Margo must fend off a predatory aspiring actress (Anne Baxter as Eve Harrington) who insinuates herself into Margo’s territory. Davis’ manifests the persona of ambition and betrayal which have become epic… “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.” 
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16. Margaret DeLorca / Edith Phillips (Bette Davis) plays the good twin/bad twin paradigm in Dead Ringer (1964). Edith, is struggling working class gal who owns a nightclub, and Margaret is her vein and opportunistic twin who stole her beau Frank away and married into a wealthy lifestyle. On the night of his funeral, Edith shoots Margaret in a fit of vengeful pique, then assumes her identity with ironic results. Davis again proves even though she commits murder, she can manifest a pathos like no one else… Margaret DeLorca: You really hate me, don’t you? You’ve never forgiven me in all these years.”  Edith Phillips: “Why should I? Tell me why I should.”  Margaret DeLorca: “Well, we’re sisters!”  Edith Phillips: “So we are… and to hell with you!”
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17. Jane Hudson (Bette Davis) in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) is a forgotten alcoholic former child star living in a faded Hollywood mansion with her invalid sister Blanche (Joan Crawford), herself an aging Hollywood star. They punish each other with vicious mind games, temper tantrums and repressed feelings of revenge and jealousy.  Jane is a tragic tortured soul who’s life becomes ‘ugly’ because she’s been shunned and imprisoned by a fatal secret in which sister Blanche holds the key. What makes Jane such an empowered figure are the very things that have driven her mad. Jane’s itching for a comeback and is ready to dance and sing her way back into everyone’s heart! Jane has a child-like innocence that gives her that ambition and pure drive to see herself back on the stage. She believes it. While other people might laugh at her behind her back, Jane’s repressed rage also leaves room for joy. She’s an empowered aging actress who refuses to give up the spot light… Good for you Jane, now put down that hammer and feed Blanche something edible… Davis delivering yet another legendary line… Blanche: “You wouldn’t be able to do these awful things to me if I weren’t still in this chair.” Jane: But you *are*, Blanche! You *are* in that chair!”
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18. Alma Brown (Patricia Neal), in Hud (1963): Playing against the unashamed bad boy Hud Bannon (Paul Newman), Alma is a world-weary housekeeper who drips with a quiet stoic sensuality and a slow wandering voice that speaks of her rugged womanly charm. The philandering Hud is drawn to Alma, but she’s too much woman for him in the end… Hud Bannon: “I’ll do anything to make you trade him.” Alma Brown: “No thanks. I’ve done my time with one cold-blooded bastard, I’m not looking for another.”
Ball of Fire (1941) Directed by Howard Hawks Shown: Henry Travers, Oscar Homolka, Gary Cooper, Leonid Kinskey, Aubrey Mather, S.Z. Sakall, Richard Haydn, Tully Marshall, Barbara Stanwyck
19. Sugarpuss O’Shea (Stanny) in Ball of Fire (1941) she is just that, a sexy ball of fire and a wise-cracking night club singer who has to hide out from the mob because her testimony could put her mobster boyfriend Joe Lilac (Dana Andrews) away for murder! Some nerdy professors (including Gary Cooper) want to exploit her to study slang and learn what it’s like to speak like real folk and does she turn their world upside down. Sugarpuss O’Shea: [needing help with a stubborn zipper] “You know, I had this happen one night in the middle of my act. I couldn’t get a thing off. Was I embarrassed!“
Killer Jo Walk on the Wild Side
20. Jo Courtney (Barbara Stanwyck) in Walk on The Wild Side (1962). Jo runs the New Orleans bordello called The Doll House with an iron hand— when anyone steps out of line she knows how to handle them. Stanwyck had the guts to play a lesbian in 1962, madly in love with Hallie Gerard (Capucine). Stanwyck’s Jo Courtney is elegant, self-restrained and as imposing as Hera in tailored suits. Having to be strong in a man’s world, her strong instinct for survival and the audacious will to hold onto Hallie brings her world to a violent conclusion…  “Oh you know me better than that Hallie. Sometimes I’ve waited years for what I wanted.”    
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21. Marie Garson (Ida Lupino) in High Sierra (1941) Roy “Mad Dog” Earle has been pardoned from a long prison term. Marie, a rough around the edges taxi dancer, finds herself resisting her attraction to this brutal gangster, forming a very complicated dynamic with a second mobster who wants to pull off a high stakes robbery. Marie is a force of nature that bristles from every nerve she purely musters in this tale of doom-fated bad boys, but more importantly here… A woman can raise a rifle with the best of them! Marie Garson “Yeah, I get it. Ya always sort hope ya can get out, it keeps ya going.”
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22. Lilli Marlowe (Ida Lupino) in Private Hell 36 (1954) This rare noir gem is written by the versatile powerhouse Ida Lupino who also plays Lilli Marlowe. Lilli has expensive tastes. After getting caught up in an investigation of a bank heist, she falls in love with the blue collar cop Cal Bruner (Steve Cochran). Cal has secretly stashed away the missing money from that bank heist, and then begins to suffer from a guilty conscience.  Lilli’s slick repartee is marvelous as Cal and his reluctant partner Jack Farnham (then husband Howard Duff) focus on her, hoping she’ll help them in their investigation. Lilli’s tough, she’s made it on her own and isn’t about to compromise now… Cal may be falling apart but Lilli knows what she wants and she always seems to keep it together! Lilli Marlowe: “Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed I’d meet a drunken slob in a bar who’d give me fifty bucks and we’d live happily ever after.”
Tallulah Lifeboat
23. Constance Porter (Tallulah Bankhead) in Lifeboat 1944. It’s WWII and Connie is a smart-talking international journalist who’s stranded in the middle of the Atlantic ocean with an ensemble of paranoid and desperate survivors. Eventually her fur coat comes off, her diamond bracelet and expensive camera gets tossed in the sea. But she doesn’t give a damn, she can take the punishment and still attract the hunky and shirtless (yum) John Kodiak… survival’s just a state of mind… and she does it with vigor and class and a cool calm! Connie Porter: “Dying together’s even more personal than living together.” 
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24. Berenice Sadie Brown (Ethel Waters) The Member of the Wedding 1952. Berenice doesn’t take any crap. She’s in charge of the brooding, temperamental tomboy Franky Addams (Julie Harris) who feels like an outsider. Berenice’s kitchen is a place of wisdom as she tries to bestow some life lessons, to a child who is a wild and longing little soul… Berenice is the only steady source of nurturing and a strong pair of shoulders to lean on… Thank god Franky/Harris didn’t start having her droning inner monologues until The Haunting (1963). Frances ‘Frankie’ Addams: [throws the knife into the kitchen door] “I’m the world’s greatest knife thrower.”  Berenice Sadie Brown: [when Frankie threatens her with a knife] “Lay it down, Satan!” 
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25. The Bride (Elsa Lanchester) Bride of Frankenstein (1935) The Bride might be one of the first screen woman to rabidly defy an arranged/deranged marriage. She’s iconic,  memorable and filled with glorious hiss!.. because The Bride may have come into this world in an unorthodox way, but she’ll be damned if any man is going to tell her who to love! James Whale isn’t the only one who brought about life in this campy horror masterpiece… Elsa Lanchester manifested The Bride with a keen sense of fearsome independence. No matter whether the Monster demands a Mate, The Bride isn’t ready and willing. Lanchester always took daring roles that were larger than life because she had a way of dancing around the edges of Hollywood convention. Charming, hilarious and downright adorable even with the wicked lightning struck hair and stitches and deathly pale skin! the bride-“Hiss…Scream….”
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26. Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) in His Gal Friday (1940) Hildy is a hard-bitten reporter for New York City’s The Morning Post. She’s just gotten back from Reno to a get a divorce from her louse of a husband who happens to also be her boss Walter Burns (Cary Grant). Hildy’s anxious to break ties with her manipulative ex-husband who just isn’t ready to let her leave the job or their marriage so she can marry straight-laced Bruce (Ralph Bellamy)… and he’ll do so by any means. But she’s nobody’s fool… and if she stays it’s because she’s made up her mind to embrace Walter’s crazy antics… Hildy Johnson: [to Walter on the phone] “Now, get this, you double-crossing chimpanzee: There ain’t going to be any interview and there ain’t going to be any story. And that certified check of yours is leaving with me in twenty minutes. I wouldn’t cover the burning of Rome for you if they were just lighting it up. If I ever lay my two eyes on you again, I’m gonna walk right up to you and hammer on that monkeyed skull of yours ’til it rings like a Chinese gong!” 
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27. Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) in Sunset Boulevard (1950) There’s just no one quite like Norma Desmond. It’s 1950’s decadent Hollywood, the heyday of the Silent Era long gone… and a true screen icon, a sympathetic soul, fights her way to a comeback. brought to life by Gloria Swanson. Swanson, who knew very well what it was like to be a screen goddess railing against fading away, creates an atmosphere of fevered madness. She’s a woman whose desires are punished by an industry and the men who hold the reigns. But Norma doesn’t give a damn she’ll always be ready for that eternal close-up… Yet another memorable phrase is turned and a legend both on and off screen is reborn. Joe Gillis: “You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big.”  Norma Desmond: “I *am* big. It’s the *pictures* that got small.” 
Vivien Leigh in The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone
28. Karen Stone -(Vivien Leigh) in The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone (1961) Karen Stone has the misfortune of being a 50 year old actress. There’s no place in theatre for an old woman of 50. On the way to Italy with her husband who is much older than she, he dies of a heart attack on the plane. Karen decides to settle in Rome and live a quiet life of solitude in her magnificent villa. Contessa Magda Terribili-Gonzales (Lotte Lenya) is an opportunistic Madame who employs charming young gigolos to wine, dine, and bleed dry wealthy older women. She introduces Paolo di Leo (Warren Beatty) to Karen in hopes that it will bring about a showering of riches from this great American lady. Karen has no use for her old theatre friends, the status, and the game of staying on top. She enjoys the serenity of her life at the villa. Yet she is shadowed by a young Italian street hustler’s mysterious gaze. At first Karen is reserved and cautious but soon she allows Paolo to court her, and the two eventually begin an affair. Karen is aware Paolo is using her for her money, but her passion has been released. She is using him as well. But when his mood begins to sour and he turns away, Karen finds him with a younger wealthy upcoming starlet that he is already sizing up as his next meal ticket… The fling ends but Karen has taken back the power of attraction and sexual desire, and turns the usual stigmatizing dichotomy on it’s head, for while it was okay when she was a younger woman married to a much older man,  she takes a younger male lover Karen Stone: “You see… I don’t leave my diamonds in the soap dish… and when the time comes when nobody desires me… for myself… I’d rather not be… desired… at all.” 
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29. Maxine Faulk (Ava Gardner) in Night of the Iguana (1964). Maxine is a the personification of the loner. She is sexually, morally and socially independent from opinion. When Ava was cast as the “earthy widow” the director said her “feline sexuality” was perfect for one of Tennessee Williams’ “hot-blooded ladies.” Maxine runs a quiet out-of-the-way tourist oasis in Mexico. When a bus load of provincial middle aged ladies break down, Maxine has to host Judith Fellowes (Grayson Hall) a repressed lesbian, her gaggle of ladies who lunch, and Sue Lyon, a Lolita who is chasing Rev. T. Lawrence Shannon (Richard Burton) a defrocked alcoholic priest, that Maxine would like to become better acquainted with. Once Hannah Jelkes (Deborah Kerr) and her elderly grandfather arrive, the atmosphere seems to shift and Shannon is confronted with questions of life and love. Everyone at the hotel has demons and the rich and languid air seems to effect everyone… Maxine waits patiently for Lawrence to realize that they could have a passionate life together if he’d stop torturing himself… Gardner’s scene dancing in the ocean with the two young men is daring and provocative and purely Ava Garnder- Judith Fellowes: [Yelling at Shannon] “You thought you outwitted me, didn’t you, having your paramour here cancel my call.”  Maxine Faulk: “Miss Fellowes, honey, if paramour means what I think it does you’re gambling with your front teeth.”
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 Ava Gardner | Maxine Faulk in Night of the Iguana 1964
HAROLD AND MAUDE, Bud Cort, Ruth Gordon, 1971
30. Maude (Ruth Gordon) in Harold and Maude (1971) There is no one quite like Ruth Gordon. She’s a sage, a pixie filled with a dreamy light that shines so bright from within. You can’t help but believe that she was as effervescent off screen as she was on screen.  Maude has a transcendent world view and a personal dogma to live life to the fullest and not waste time with extraneous matters. She believes everyone should be themselves and never mind what other people think… What else can you say about a character that vocalizes as much wisdom as any of the great and insightful spiritual leaders? Maude and Ruth both have a tenacity, vivacity and perspicacity…  Maude: “Harold, *everyone* has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can’t let the world judge you too much.”  — Maude: “I should like to change into a sunflower most of all. They’re so tall and simple. What flower would you like to be?”  Harold: “I don’t know. One of these, maybe.”  Maude: “Why do you say that?”  Harold: “Because they’re all alike.”  Maude: “Oooh, but they’re *not*. Look. See, some are smaller, some are fatter, some grow to the left, some to the right, some even have lost some petals. All *kinds* of observable differences. You see, Harold, I feel that much of the world’s sorrow comes from people who are *this*”

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31. Ma Kate Barker (Shelley Winters) in Bloody Mama 1970: You know that Roger Corman was going to get the BEST woman who didn’t give a damn to play Ma Barker, the machine gun wielding matriarch of a notorious gang of bank robbers. She’ll do anything for her boys… Four boys only a mother could love. She’d kill for them! Ma Barker was irreverent and as mean as a bear backed into a beehive. A bold and brazen nature that delves into a whole other level of ‘no fucks given.’  Holding up a bank with her machine gun in hand “Alright everybody now reach for the nightgown of the lord, REACH!” 
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32. Pepe (Grayson Hall) in Satan in High Heels (1962). Pepe is the owner of a posh burlesque house in mod-yet-gritty 60s New York City. Pepe is an incessant smoker and savvy, domineering woman who brings the story about a new ‘singer’ Stacey Kane (Meg Myles) who joins the club, to a boil— even as she stays as cool as the center seed of a cucumber. Pepe tilts her head sizing up all the various patrons who inhabit her club with just the right mix of aloof and self-possession as she puffs on her cigarette. She’s always ready with the quick lash of her tongue like a world-weary drag queen.  “Bear up, darling, I love your eyelashes.” — “You’ll EAT and DRINK what I SAY until you lose five pounds IN THE PLACES WHERE!”
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33. Lucy Warriner (Irene Dunne), The Awful Truth (1937) Before the ink on the divorce papers is dry Jerry (Cary Grant) and Lucy Warriner (Irene Dunne) torture each other and sabotage any chances of either of them getting re-married. Both Lucy and Jerry carry on monologues to themselves throwing out quick witted repartee, so that we can see both sides of the story. One evening, when Jerry is flirting with the idea of marrying into a high society family, Lucy impersonates his sister, playing at it like a cheap bimbo. At one point she does a fabulous drunken Hoochie dance, wiggling around with a provocative sway falling into her ex-husbands arms in a way that should definitely put a dent in Jerry’s plans. Lucy is hell bent on driving Jerry crazy, yet becomes flustered herself when the tables are turned on her as she tries to carry on with her new fiancé (Ralph Bellamy). Jerry Warriner: “In a half an hour, we’ll no longer be Mr. and Mrs. Funny, isn’t it.”  Lucy Warriner: “Yes, it’s funny that everything’s the way it is on account of the way you feel.”  Jerry Warriner: “Huh?”  Lucy Warriner: “Well, I mean, if you didn’t feel that way you do, things wouldn’t be the way they are, would they? I mean, things could be the same if things were different.”  Jerry Warriner: “But things are the way you made them.”  Lucy Warriner: “Oh, no. No, things are the way you think I made them. I didn’t make them that way at all. Things are just the same as they always were, only, you’re the same as you were, too, so I guess things will never be the same again.”
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34. Catherine ‘Cay’ Higgins (Ruth Roman) in Tomorrow is Another Day (1951). Catherine is a tough dance hall girl who isn’t afraid to get herself dirty. She goes on the lam for the sake of self preservation when her new love interest Bill Clark (Steve Cochran) is wrongfully accused of killing her abusive pimp… and geez he’s just gotten out of prison after a long stretch. Cay is ballsy, extremely earthy, and exudes an inner strength that is so authentic it’s hard not to believe she could take one on the chin and still keep going. She embodies an indestructible sort of sex appeal, powerfully passionate and self-assertive woman you’d want to be with you if you’re ever on the lam… Catherine ‘Cay’ Higgins: “You worked a whole day just to dance a minute at Dream Land?  Bill Clark: It was worth it.”
Lizabeth Scott and Raymond Burr in Pitfall 1948
35. Mona Stevens (Lizabeth Scott) Pitfall (1948) Mona is a sultry dewy blonde fashion model with a low simmering voice in the greatest tradition of the noir femme fatale. Forbes falls for her, and they begin to see each other, though she unwittingly starts the affair without knowing he’s married. It’s a recipe for disaster because ex-cop turned private dick J B MacDonald (Raymond Burr) is psychotically obsessed with Mona and will set things up so Forbes goes down. Mona is a tough cookie, who unfortunately keeps attracting the wrong men. But she can take on any challenge because she’s got that noir frame of mind. She’s a doll who can make up her own mind and can hold a gun in her hand as easily as if it were a cigarette. Mona “You’re a little man with a briefcase. You go to work every morning and you do as you’re told.”
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36. Lady Torrence (Anna Magnani ) in The Fugitive Kind (1960) Lady is an earthy woman who’s passions run like a raging river & her emotions and truths flow freely on the surface clear and forceful. She is a shop owner in Louisiana who is stoically existing in a brutal marriage to her cruel and vindictive husband Jabe (Victor Jory) who’s bed-ridden and dying of cancer. Lady dreams of building a confectionary in the back of the store. Along comes Marlon Brando as Valentine “Snakeskin’ Xavier, a guitar playing roamer who takes a job in the shop. Lady’s jaded loneliness and Valentine’s raw animal magnetism combust and the two begin a love affair. And Lady suddenly sees possibility again and her re-awakened passion empowers her to live her dreams. Lady-“Let’s get this straight, you don’t interest me no more than the air you stand in.”
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37.  Egle (Anna Magnani) … And the Wild Wild Women (1959) Egle is the toughest inmate at this Italian prison for women. When Lina (Giulietta Masina) is convicted on a wrong felony charge, Egle takes her under her hardened wing and tutors her in the ways of crime. Egle is an instigator, she’s volatile and inflammatory and stirs up quite a riot at times. She’s got no fear. She is a tougher-than-nails, armpit-washing dame who just could care less about anyone else’s comfort or freedom. She’s a woman who has built up a tough exterior long enough that she truly is made of steel. The only thing that may betray that strength is at times the past sorrow or suffering that swims in her deep dark eyes.
The Rose Tattoo
38. Serafina Delle Rose (Anna Magnani) in The Rose Tattoo (1955) As the tagline states ‘Seething with realism and frankness!” You can’t get any other kind of performance from Magnani, her passionate soul is right up front, on her face and in her movements like a wild animal she moves so freely. Serafina is perpetual grieving widow filled with fire, playing against another actor (Burt Lancaster) whose bigger-than-life presence comes her way to bring about a lighthearted romance… Serafina is a seamstress in a small New Orleans town. She lives with the memory of her dead husband as if he were a saint. She mourns and wears black to show she is still committed to her man, even after he’s been killed by police while smuggling drugs for the mafia hidden in the bananas in his truck. With the presence of the local Strega or witch (Serafina gives deference to these things illustrating that she is of an older world of ancient feminine magic and empowerment), and her wandering goat, the town of fish wives & gossips who point, stare, judge, wail and cackle with their unkind insults put Serafina it forces her to fight for every last bit of dignity. Serafina gives deference to these things illustrating that she is of an older world of ancient feminine magic and empowerment. Once she learns her dead husband Rosario Delle Rose (who had a rose tattoo on his chest) was having an affair, the spell that leaves her imprisoned by mourning, breaks and awakens her will to celebrate life once again. She is stubborn, & passionate, and she has a strength that commands the birds out of the trees.  Serafina “We are Sicilians. We don’t leave girls with the boys they’re not engaged to!” Jack “Mrs Delle Rose this is the United States.” Serafina “But we are Sicilians, and we are not cold-blooded!”
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39. Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) Martha who is the archetypal Xanthippe and George (Richard Burton) are a middle-aged couple marinated in alcohol, using verbal assaults, brutal tirades, and orgies of humiliation as a form of connecting to one and other. All the characters spew biting blasphemous satire and are each neurotic in their own ways. But Martha is a woman who spits out exactly what she wants to say and doesn’t hold back. It’s an experiment in at home couple’s therapy served with cocktails, as they invite Nick and Honey (George Segal and Sandy Dennis) to join the  humiliating emotional release. In the opening of the film Martha arrives home and does a nod to Bette Davis while also condemning her own personal space and the state of her marriage, as she says “What a dump.” “I swear to GOD George, if you even existed I’d divorce you.”– Martha: “You’re all flops. I’m the Earth Mother, and you are all flops.”
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40. Gloria Wandrous  (Elizabeth Taylor) in Butterfield 8 (1960) Gloria is a fashionable Manhattan beauty who’s part model, part call-girl–and all man-trap. She grew up during the Depression and couldn’t escape the sexual advances of her uncle. New York City was for her a great escape. Gloria becomes an independent, sexually free woman who wants to get paid for her time. She hits the bottle a lot, because she has those dark troubling memories from her past that make her want to drown her thoughts. She winds up meeting a wealthy business executive who’s married, Weston Liggett, (Laurence Harvey) instantly he becomes entranced by her. She’s thrown off course and headed toward a fateful end, because she sees a kindred soul in the disillusioned Liggett who isn’t happy in his marriage. Their passion breathes new life into both lonely people. Though we can admire her sexual liberation, in cinema, women in the 60s ultimately had to be punished for their willful freedom, though it’s a double standard of course. Liz Taylor is another screen goddess who never shied away from bold & provocative roles. Gloria Wandrous: “Command performances leave me quite cold. I’ve had more fun in the back seat of a ’39 Ford than I could ever have in the vault of the Chase Manhattan Bank.”
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41. Severine Sevigny (Catherine Deneuve) in Belle du Jour (1967) A whole new world opens up to Severine, a repressed housewife married to a doctor, when she decides to spend her midweek afternoons as a prostitute. While she can not seem to find any pleasure or intimacy with her husband, she blossoms in the brothel run by Madame Anais (Geneviève Page) and adopts a persona that can experiment with her secret desires of being dominated, her sexual appetites flourish during the day, when often she runs into more rough clients. But, sexual freedom has a price and ultimately, a relationship with a volatile and possessive john (Pierre Clémenti) could prove to be dangerous. Severine breaks free of the confines of convention, like marriage, and explores a provocative even deviant kind of sexual behavior. She allows herself to go further and explore the most secret desires by indulging them, it is quite adventurous and risky and Deneuve masters it with a transcendent elegance. Madame Anais: “I have an idea. Would you like to be called “Belle de Jour?”  Séverine Serizy: “Belle de Jour?”  Madame Anais: “Since you only come in the afternoons.”  Séverine Serizy: “If you wish.” 
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42. Julie Kohler (Jeanne Moreau) in The Bride Wore Black (1968) Julie Kohler is on a mission of revenge for the men who accidentally shot her husband on their wedding day outside the church. It was a short marriage… Julie finds a maniacal almost macabre sort of presentation to her theater of revenge, she moves through the film with the ease of a scorpion. But there’s dark humor and irony  (in François Truffaut’s homage to Hitchcock) running through the narrative. Like a good mystery thriller it utilizes very classic iconographic motifs. Julie is a captivating figure of sadness and passion put out at the height of it’s flame. Once passion for her late husband, and now passion for revenge. It’s playful and sexy and Moreau is utterly brilliant as the resourceful Julie Kolher who creates a satirically dire & elaborate, slightly Grande Guignol adventure of a vengeful woman on a crusade to exact poetic justice where the system has failed. Coral: “Permit me to make an impossible wish?” Julie Kohler: “Why impossible?” Coral: “Because I’m a rather pessimist.” Julie Kohler: “I’ve heard it said: “There are no optimists or pessimists. There are only happy idiots or unhappy ones”. .Julie-“It’s not a mission. It’s work. It’s something I must do” Priest–“Give it up”
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Priest–“Have you have no remorse in your heart?… don’t you fear for your soul?”
Julie-“NO… no remorse, nor fear.”
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Julie-“The justice of men is powerless to punish, I’m already dead. I stopped living the moment David died. I’ll join David after I’ve had my revenge.”
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43. Alraune ten Brink -Brigitte Helm as Alraune 1928. A daughter of destiny! Created by Professor Jakob ten Brinken (Paul Wegener) Alraune is a variation on the Shelley story about man and his womb envy- which impels him to create a human-oid figure from unorthodox methods. A creation who does not possess a soul. He dared to violate nature when he experiments with the seed (sperm) of a hanged man and the egg of a prostitute. Much like James Whale’s Frankenstein who sought the secrets of life, Alraune is essentially a dangerous female who’s origin is seeded from this socially constructed ‘deviance’ of the hanged criminal and the whore (the film proposes that a whore is evil- I do not) Mixing the essence of sin with the magical mandrake root by alchemist ten Brinken he is seeking the answer to the question of an individual’s humanity and whether it be a product of nature or nurture. Alraune stumbles onto the truth about her origin when she reads the scientist’s diary… What could be more powerful than a woman who isn’t born with the sense of socially ordered morality imposed or innate. Is she not the perfect femme fatale without a conscience, yet… A woman who knows she is doomed to a life without a soul, she runs away with her creators love-sick nephew, leaving Professor ten Brinken, father figure and keeper- alone.
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44. Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish) in Night of the Hunter (1955) “I’ve never been in style, so I can never go out of style.” Lillian Gish. There are certain images that will remain with you long after seeing masterpieces like Night of the Hunter. Aside from Harry Powell and Mitchum’s frightening portrayal of an opportunistic sociopath, beyond the horror of what he is, the film is like a childhood fairy tale. It’s a cautionary tale about the boogeyman but it’s also a story about the resilient spirit and far reaching imagination of children. And those who are the guardian angels of the world. One of the most calming and fortifying images- is that of Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish) protecting the children from harm, holding the rifle and keeping watch like a wonderful fairy god mother elected by fate to guard those little ones with her powerful brand of love… There’s just something about Gish’s graceful light that emanates from within and the character she manifests in the righteous Rachel Cooper…. Rachel Cooper: “It’s a hard world for little things.”
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45. Kathleen Stewart- (Lucille Ball) in The Dark Corner (1956) Kathleen Stewart is the always faithful and trustworthy secretary of private investigator Bradford Galt (Mark Stevens) She’s the right amount of snarky and just a sexy bundle of smarts… Bradford Galt: “You know, I think I’ll fire you and get me a Tahitian secretary.”  Kathleen Stewart: “You won’t like them; those grass skirts are a fire hazard.”  Kathleen just won’t quit her boss. She knows he’s in trouble and wants to help him face it head on. She keeps pushing Galt to open up that steel safe “heart”, of his and let her help. Once she’s in on the intrigue, she’s right there with him, putting her secretarial skills aside and getting into the fray with her love interest/boss. She shows no fear or hesitation, doesn’t look down on Galt’s past, and is quite a versatile sidekick who really helps him out of a dangerous set up! She’s that other sort of  film noir heroine Not quite the ‘good girl’ nor a femme fatale. A strong sassy woman who doesn’t shy away from danger and when she’s in… She’s in it ‘for keeps.’ And say… isn’t that empowering!. Kathleen tells it like it is, sure she dotes on the down and out guy and is the strong shoulder to lean on, whenever things get frenzied or rough. Doesn’t make her a sap, it makes her a good friend and companion! Kathleen: “I haven’t worked for you very long, Mr. Galt, but I know when you’re pitching a curve at me, and I always carry a catcher’s mitt.”  Bradford Galt: “No offense. A guy’s got to score, doesn’t he?”  Kathleen: “Not in my league. I don’t play for score, I play for keeps “
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46. Lady Lu (Mae West) in She Done Him Wrong (1933) In the Gay Nineties, Lady Lu is a voluptuous nightclub owner/singer (she sings-A Guy What Takes His Time) who has men falling all over themselves. One is her ex lover who just escaped from prison, and a few waiting in the wings. Lu is interested in the handsome Captain Cummings (Cary Grant) who runs the temperance league across the way. Lady Lu loves to be bathed in and dazzled by diamonds, lots of diamonds. But Lu is also determined to seduce missionary Cary Grant… who is more interested in her soul than in her body-Marvelous Mae tells him- “Maybe I ain’t got no soul.” Mae had a hand in creating the woman who didn’t give a damn! She gave us the immortal line… “Come up’n see me sometime. I’m home every evenin’–“Lady Lou: “Listen, when women go wrong, men go right after them.”  Captain Cummings: “Well, surely you don’t mind my holding your hand?”  Lady Lou: “It ain’t heavy – I can hold it myself.” 
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47.  Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret) in Diabolique (1955) Simone Signoret is a torrent of sensuality (Room at the Top 1959, Ship of Fools 1965) Christina Delassalle (Véra Clouzot) plays the wife of a sadistic husband Michel Delassalle (Paul Meurisse) the controlling headmaster at their boarding school for boys. Nicole is the mistress of the cruel Michel, who has formed a special bond with Christina. Nicole incites the timid and weakly woman to kill the bastard by drowning him in a bathtub and then dumping his body in the school’s unused and mucky swimming pool. Nicole is determined and forceful in her mission to rid Christine of this abusive beast and the two women go through with the plan.  Nicole Horner: [to Christina] “I won’t have any regrets.”  In short, the pool is drained, the body isn’t there. And then there are numerous eerie sightings of the dead man which eventually drives the murderesses into a panic…  Is Nicole in on an even more nefarious scheme to drive Christina crazy? For now, the main focus is how Nicole summons a thuggish type of power that is riveting.  What’s remarkable about the film, aside from Clouzot’s incredible construction of a perfectly unwinding suspense tale, Signoret’s performance exudes grit and an unrelenting audaciousness. Nicole.  Christina Delassalle: “Don’t you believe in Hell?”  Nicole Horner: “Not since I was seven.” 
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48 Mia Farrow is Rosemary Woodhouse in Rosemary’s Baby 1968
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48. Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) in Rosemary’s Baby 1968. Rosemary has a fearless defiance in an ordinary world that becomes an unsafe space and a deep well of paranoia. Beyond guarding her body and motherhood against all intruders, Rosemary has an open mind, a delicate brand of kindness although troubled by a catholic upbringing that haunts her, she is still ‘too good’ and too independent to taint. And she winds up taking life and the life of her baby on her own terms. No one could have manifested the spirit of Rosemary Woodhouse like Mia Farrow. It’s an indomitable image of striking resiliency. A heroine who braves an entire secretive cult of devil worshipers entrenched in the high society of NYC. That takes a lot of guts people!… Ruth Gordon as well personifies a meddling old New York busybody who just happens to be a modern day witch. Minnie Castavet also does what she wants -as she is empowered with her quirky style and her beliefs, as wicked as they may be…And her wardrobe is bold, kitschy and fabulous! Rosemary Woodhouse: “Pain, begone, I will have no more of thee!”
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49. Alexandra Del Lago (Geraldine Page) in Sweet Bird of Youth (1962) Alexandra Del Lago is a decadent, soaked in boozed, and fading film star who is picked up by drifter by Chance Wayne (Paul Newman) for a tumble in the sheets. He’s been trying to break into the film biz for years, and hoping that Alexandra can help him get a screen test. He also wants to be reunited with his old flame Heavenly Finley (Shirley Knight). Chance Wayne: “I had my picture on the cover of Life magazine!… And at the same time I was… employing my other talent, lovemaking.”  Alexandra Del Lago: “That may be the only talent you were ever truly meant for.” The roles that Geraldine Page would often take were filled with an intellect that transcends the strong female archetype. As Alexandra, she has a unique sort of cynical romanticism that exudes, a bit of alienation, a touch of longing and a penetrating intensity. She might be a washed up film star but she’s also a philosopher with a grasp of vocalizing the ironies and tragedies of life. She wants to drown her sorrows in liquor so she can escape from the pain of her life, and the uncertainty the future holds. But within that internal tumult is the soul of a great lady. Narcissistic, world-weary and a spirit stoked by those heart-aches.
Anna Lucasta (1958) | Pers: Eartha Kitt, Sammy Davis Jr | Dir: Arnold Laven | Ref: ANN040AE | Photo Credit: [ United Artists / The Kobal Collection ] | Editorial use only related to cinema, television and personalities. Not for cover use, advertising or fictional works without specific prior agreement
50. Anna Lucasta (Eartha Kitt) (1958) Young Anna is rejected by her sanctimonious father Joe played to the hilt by Rex Ingram. While the rest of the family wants Anna to come home, her self-righteous father can’t resist demonizing his daughter, with an underlying incestuous desire that he is battling.  Anna takes the cliched road of the fallen woman and becomes a good time gal who meets Danny (Sammy Davis Jr.) a cab driving sailor who is as smooth as silk and as fiery as molten lead. Though there is an underlying sadness because of the estrangement with her father, Anna possesses a strong sense of self, and exudes a fiery passion that cannot be denied… She isn’t a bad girl, she had to find her own way and again, it often leads to taking control of who you love and how you love. She and Sammy have a smoking hot chemistry on screen, and Kitt is just powerful as a woman who made that road her own…  Danny- “Tell her who Papa is” (speaking about the little carved wooden Haitian idol he’s given her) Lester – “That’s the model of Agwé the Haitian god of the sea. Seems he’s good to sailors” Anna- “Looks like Papa and me’s got something in common…”
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51. Carol Richman (Ella Raines) in Phantom Lady 1944 Carol Richman risks her life to try to find the elusive woman who can prove her boss (Alan Curtis) didn’t murder his wife. The unhappy guy spends a fateful evening with a woman he has picked up in a bar. He doesn’t know her name but she wears an unusual hat, which might be a clue for Carol to try and track down. Carol’s got so much guts, she puts herself in harms way so many times but she’s fearless just the same. Even when she meets the super creepy jazz drummer Cliff Milburn, who obviously is manic and might just be a sadist in bed, (if his drumming is any indication.) Plus there’s always the deranged sculptor Jack Marlow (Franchot Tone) who seems to be a menacing force.  Cliff Milburn (Elisha Cook Jr) “You Like Jive?” Carol ‘Kansas’ Richman “You bet, I’m a hep kitten” 
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52. Pam Grier is Coffy 1973  Okay okay tho I’m sneaking in past the 1970 cut off… I’m a woman who doesn’t give a damn and nodding to one of the greatest 70’s icon… Pam Grier set the pace for strong female heroines that laid the groundwork for all the others to follow… so she gets a nod from me! She plays a nurse who becomes a vigilante in order to get justice against the inner-city drug dealers who are responsible for her sister’s overdose… Coffy sets the bar high for strong female characters who wouldn’t back down, and who possessed a strength that is meteoric and a force to be reckoned with. Beautiful, resourceful, intelligent -a strikingly irrepressible image that will remain in the cultural consciousness for an eternity. Arturo Vitroni: “Crawl, n*gger!” Coffy: [pulls out gun] “You want me to crawl, white mother fucker?” Arturo Vitroni: “What’re you doing? Put that down.” Coffy: “You want to spit on me and make me crawl? I’m gonna piss on your grave tomorrow.”
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53. Charlie (Teresa Wright), in Shadow of a Doubt (1943) Charlie is tired of small-town life with her parents and annoying younger sister. She’s a girl starved for new adventures, longing for something exciting to happen, to stir up her life. Careful what you wish for… She’s overwhelmed with joy when her beloved Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotton) decides to pay the family a visit. But something isn’t quite right with her idol, he begins to exhibit a strange sort of underlying hostility and troubling secret nature… Her mother’s (Patricia Collinge) younger brother is actually a sadistic serial killer who preys on rich widows by marrying them, then strangling them! He’s so charming and charismatic that women can’t help being drawn to him. But young Charlie begins to see through his facade. Why would he cut out the news headline in the paper about a murderer who kills rich women? It all begins to take shape, and unfortunately Uncle Charlie can’t afford to have his favorite niece spill the beans.  What’s remarkable about young Charlie is that for a girl who fantasizes and indulges herself in things of a more romantic nature, she’s pretty darn brave in the self preservation department since no one else in the family believes her suspicions that he’s The Merry Widow killer. And she might just have to go rogue and wind up killing him in self-defense… Young Charlie: “Go away, I’m warning you. Go away or I’ll kill you myself. See… that’s the way I feel about you.”
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Constance Towers The Naked Kiss
54. Kelly (Constance Towers) in The Naked Kiss (1964) The opening of the film is one of the most audacious entrances in early exploitation cinema,as Kelly confronts her pimp who has shaved off her hair and stolen her money. Kelly brutally pummels the rat with her handbag. Stripped of her hair she looks like a mannequin signifying her as the ‘object’ She is introduced to us from the opening of the narrative as a fighter. Kelly manages to fit in to the quaint new town of Granville she’s made her home until the perverse true nature of Granville’s benefactor is exposed. Grant (Michael Dante) possesses a dark secret that Kelly stumbles onto and ultimately explodes in scandal. The story is a mine field of social criticisms and hypocrisy that allow Kelly to rise above her persecution by the local cop Griff (Anthony Eisley) who isn’t adverse to taking Kelly to bed himself or frequenting Madame Candy’s (Virginia Gray) high class “cat house’ yet he’s above reproach. Griff tells Kelly it’s a clean town and he doesn’t want her operating there. But Kelly wants out of the business. She’s great with disabled children at the hospital and just wants a fresh start. Until she exposes the truly deviant secret about Grant and winds up accused of his murder. Kelly initially walks the fine line of being the ‘whore’ of the story, the one who needs redemption only to have the narrative flip it around and more importantly it’s the town that must be redeemed because of it is jaundiced complacency from the long kept secrets of the wealthy Patriarchal family that own and run it. Kelly is a powerful protagonist, because she kicks down the door of hypocrisy and judgement. Kelly also shatters the limitations that are placed on women. There’s exists a displaced female rage that started to become articulated later on with ‘f’eminist parable’ films during the late 60s and 70s. In the end she no longer is labeled or objectified or persecuted. She is embraced as a savior. Kelly’s got a reserve of strength and a great sense of self. To me she ends up being a heroine who rather than redeems herself becomes the catalyst for cleansing the ‘white middle-class’ town of it’s hypocrisy… Kelly (talking to Capt. Griff Anthony Eisley)“I washed my face clean the morning I woke up in your bedroom!”
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55. Velma (Agnes Moorehead) in Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964) Velma is Charlotte’s trusted companion. She shows a lot of gumption when Cousin Miriam (Olivia de Havilland) shows up trying to gaslight poor Charlotte who’s suffered enough at the grotesque and tawdry way she lost her fiancee, and how she lived under the oppressive thumb of her father (Victor Buono). Velma wasn’t nary shy a bit to face off with Cousin Miriam, that intimidating gold-digging she-devil in Park Avenue clothes. (From de Havilland’s own wardrobe) Velma always says it like it is, and tries to be a trusted friend to Charlotte even when the whole town shuns her as a crazy axe murderess. We all need friends who would either help you hide the body, or at least defend you against an accusing mob… either way. I’m pretty sure Velma could have taken Miriam if she didn’t have Joseph Cotton’s help on her side… And we can’t forget Mary Astor’s firebrand performance as Jewel Mayhew… Jewel Mayhew: “Well, right here on the public street, in the light of day, let me tell you, Miriam Deering, that murder starts in the heart, and its first weapon is a vicious tongue.”– Velma Cruther talking to Cousin Miriam: “O you’re finally showin’ the right side of your face. Well, I seen it all along. That’s some kinda drug you been givin’ her. Isn’t it? It’s what’s been making her act like she’s been. Well, Ah’m goin’ into town and Ah’m tellin them what you been up to.”

Continue reading “Enduring Empowerment : Women Who didn’t Give a Damn! …in Silent & Classic film!”

No Way To Treat a Lady 1968 & Man On a Swing 1974: All the World’s a Stage: Of Motherhood, Madness, Lipstick, trances and ESP

No Way To Treat A Lady 1968

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Directed by Jack Smight (Harper 1966, The Illustrated Man 1969, Airport 1975 (1974) plus various work on television dramas and anthology series) John Gay wrote the screenplay based on William Goldman’s novel (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid 1969, screenplay for The Stepford Wives, Marathon Man ’76, Magic ’78, The Princess Bride. Smight shows us sensationalist traces of The Boston Strangler killings to underpin his black satire.

Lee Remick George Segal & Eileen Heckart on the set of No Way To Treat A Lady (1968)
Lee Remick, George Segal & Eileen Heckart on the set of No Way To Treat A Lady (1968)

No Way To Treat a Lady 1968  Stars Rod Steiger, George Segal, Eileen Heckart, Lee Remick, Murray Hamilton, David Doyle, Val Bisoglio, Michael Dunn, Val Avery and the ladies… Martine Bartlett, Barbara Baxley, Irene Daily, Doris Roberts Ruth White and Kim August as Sadie the transvestite, a female impersonator who was a featured performer at a Manhattan cabaret.

The film has it’s gruesome, grotesque and transgressive set pieces of women splayed with lipstick kisses on their foreheads. Director Jack Smight’s and writer William Goldman’s vision is outrageously dark, sardonic, satirical penetrating and contemptuous of motherhood and humanity in general.

From “Ed Gein and the figure of the transgendered serial killer” by K.E. Sullivan “NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY a story about a serial killer who was psychologically abused by his mother and kills women to get revenge upon her. The killer is most likely based on William Hierans (The Lipstick Killer),yet the narrative foregrounds cross-dressing as part of the murderer’s technique, despite the fact that Hierans did not cross-dress.”

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The dynamic Rod Steiger enlivens the screen as lady killer Christopher Gill, living in the shadow of his famous theatrical mother. He impersonates different characters in order to gain access to his victim’s homes, where he then strangles them, leaving his mark a red lipstick kiss on their foreheads. Gill begins a game of cat and mouse with police detective Morris Brummel (George Segal) who lives at home with his domineering mother.

There is an aspect of the film that is rooted in the ongoing thrills of watching Rod Steiger don his disguises as a sex-killer. But what evolves through the witty narrative is the moral confrontation between antagonist and protagonist surrounding their conflicting values and class backgrounds. The one psychological thread that runs through their lives is the parallel and sexual neurosis both have because of their dominating mother figures.

The opening scene… Christopher Gill impersonating Father McDowall (Steiger) is walking down the street viewed with a long shot, he’s whistling a ‘sardonic’ tune… in the vein of “the ants go marching” along side The East River. Present is the activity of cars passing by on the East Side Highway.

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As he comes closer into the camera’s view we can see he’s wearing a priests frock.

We hear the city noises, the sounds of cars honking, young children plow into him as they run by, a young girl in a short lime green dress greets him as he continues to walk along the sidewalk.

As Gill passes Kate Palmer (Lee Remick) descending the stairs of the apartment house, he says “Top of the morning to you young lady!”

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Kate is wearing in a smart yellow dress (Theoni V Aldredge ) she says “Hello father” As he continues to whistle his tune, she stops and looks up the stairs after him, the camera does a close up on her lovely face. He stops at apt 2B knocks and calls out for Mrs. Mulloy. It’s father McDowall, asking if she can spare a moment of her time. Sounding a bit suspicious she asks if he’s new to the neighborhood, but he smiles and says that it’ll be a pleasure to serve to such as the like as herself. “I Just need a minute of your life” he says and that’s pretty telling… since that’s true. Mrs. Mulloy sounds like she’s making a hard decision to open the door, but we hear the latch click….

Martine Bartlett (Sybil’s mother yikes!) opens the door as Alma Mulloy, the very simple Irish Catholic widow.

Alma Mulloy let’s him in, after all he’s a priest. He remarks on what a lovely place she has. She prides herself on her vocabulary. He delights in a word she uses. “habitable” She’s been taking a self improvement course… She offers him a cup of tea. He asks for something a might bit stronger. She offers him some port. Splendid…

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We don’t know what to expect in terms of how graphic the murder sequence will become. It is already quite disturbing how it begins to evolve, as the violence is simple and quite literal, it is the subtle psychological mechanisms that are turning within the narrative that make it all the more uneasy to watch.

This is his first kill. He sits back in the rocking chair contemplative. Perhaps a moment of Guilt? perhaps. Gill puts the lifeless body of Mrs. Mulloy in the bathroom – Stanley Myers’ (The Night of the Following Day ’68, The Devil’s Widow ’70 with Ava Gardner, X,Y and Z ’72, House of Whipcord ’74, The Deerhunter ’78, The Watcher in the Woods ’80) soundtrack creates a layer of vocalise which is a flutter of sopranos, like Anglican chants, nuns doing canticles or vespers. The frailty and holiness of their voices underlying the freakishly morbid ritual of Gill laying out the body and adding the fetishistic red lips on their forehead is provocative. This image has stayed with me for years.

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It’s a haunting backdrop to a very disturbing opening sequence… once the piano and voices are through.. Gill turns from the door frame and blows the dead woman a kiss… utterly macabre…

Switch scene to Detective Morris Brummel’s (Segal) mother yelling at him that his eggs are cooking. She starts picking at him… The banter begins, the cliched jewish mother/ son relationship unfolds. Morris asks for toast, she pushes the Latkas- he says it’s a bit heavy for breakfast.

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“So take a good look at yourself, a skeleton without a closet… hows the eggs?” she complains about people starving then adds. So why do I feed you? Tell me…ha Tell me, how much money are you gonna make today?… Should I tell you how much your brother Franklin’s gonna make today, maybe a thousand maybe two thousand in one day.”

Morris tells her, “He deserves it mother he’s a very fine doctor.”

“Oh no not fine… THE BEST!! B.E.S.T. do you know what that means to be the best lung surgeon in all Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx!… and he’s not even 40 yet” Her Semitic hand gestures are a vital part of the conversation.

“Well he’s older give me time..” She answers him, “Ha you… time, a hundred years I give and you still can’t tie your shoe laces.”

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I could continue with the hilarious dialogue that satirically pins down beautifully the essence of the mother/son relationship between New York Jews. Heckart does a splendid job of capturing the needling ‘pick pick pick’ nature, in the guise of love, protectiveness and worry, pride and disappointment all rolled into a swift set of words and not so subtle hand gestures…

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Lieutenant Dawson (David Doyle) calls Morris and asks how his mother is and tells him that he’s on the Mulloy homicide. Morris starts to leave… putting his gun on his belt.

“Look at you with that thing… a Jewish cop. When everybody knows if you’re not Irish, you’re a nobody if you’re a cop.”

His mother starts flailing her hands at him while he’s trying to tie his tie. She needles him about not getting a diploma from city university not to mention giving her grandchildren, his brother Franklin has three grand children already… pick pick pick.

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“What do I got from you… but heartbreak.” She slaps her heart. Morris says so long mashe chases after him, “Oh that’s right, leave, me leave me… don’t come back…”

He tells her she’s over doing it a bit. She calms down , her voice softens, She calls his name wistfully, Morris… He looks down at his shoes, He needs to tie them… She calls him darling… they’re having Kreplach for dinner, he should stop by for the Flanken… He kisses her on the cheek. And the dynamic comes full circle. Love through food and needling…

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Scene cuts to Christopher Gill’s opulent Gothic adorned apartment house interior. He’s humming that sardonic tune again, wearing a black silk bathrobe. He fixes a candle stick that isn’t quite straight on the side table. He is a control freak and a fastidious man. Sits down to a lovely breakfast set out for him by Miss Fitts (Irene Dailey) She gives him the morning paper. He ruffles through the newspaper looking for signs of the murder, and is angered that it isn’t on the front page. All there is, is a small paragraph under WIDOW SLAIN amidst the other news about floods and fireworks.

He calls the newspaper to ask why the story was buried, they tell him that they didn’t have time to get all the facts, when they ask who’s calling he hangs up.

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“Miss Palmer did he say anything to you?”

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“Oh yeah as a matter of fact he said something kinda funny… He said Top of the morning.” Morris looks puzzled, “That’s funny?” Kate clears up the confusion, “It was afternoon.”

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Morris arrives at the Mulloy crime scene. Asks the super who saw the priest. He tells Morris, 3E Katherine Palmer.
He asks for a description of the priest. Kate is still groggy from sleeping. She flirts with Morris. “That’s kind of a sweet nose you got there, it’s not handsome exactly I didn’t say handsome… just kinda sweet, especially for a cop.”

“Oh yeah as a matter of fact he said something kinda funny… He said Top of the morning.” Morris looks puzzled, “That’s funny” Kate clears up the confusion, “It was afternoon.”

Morris leaves but Kate tells him to come back some other time. A voice over of Mrs Brummel begins…

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“Lunatics, lunatics (she’s now framed sitting in a chair on the phone talking to Morris) you got now… Stranglers!!! Morris I tell you, I’m ashamed. You know… you know. I am sickened at heart when my own son goes looking at dead women’s naked bodies. I tell you Morris… it’s no way to treat a lady!”

Now Gill arrives at Mrs. Himmel’s (Ruth White) apartment dressed as a plumber. He looks through the old photo albums of Germany, and eat strudel. Now he’s using a German accent. After he’s killed poor Mrs Himmel and left his lipstick mark… he calls Morris while holding the newspaper with a photo of Detective Brummel.

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Morris answers, “Yeah this is Detective Morris Brummel speaking?”

“Yeah well this is Hans Schultz, at least I was Hans Schultz all day today, but a week ago last I was Father Kevin McDowall.”
Morris says, “Look I don’t have time to fool around Mister” Gill tells him, “Yeah well don’t hang up on me, just don’t hang up Mr Brummel huh.”
“What do you want… What do you want?”
“Well I want to tell you that I am in the apartment of Frau Himmel and she’s quite dead.”
“What?”
Gill laughs “Now you’re interested, maybe now I should hang up on you” Morris motions to Detective Monaghan (Val Bisoglio) to start a trace…

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“No no don’t hang up just wait a second, hold on, please please don’t hang up.”

“Hehehe, now you say please, say please, then I don’t hang up.”

Morris pleads, “I just said it, please please don’t hang up.”

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“You know what I think, I think you put a trace on the call so that’s not gonna work because there is no trace tone on this set and by the time that they check with the switchboard man at the central office and he checks the frames on the cross bar equipment and then they check “ Morris mouths to Monaghan with his hand over the receiver that Gill knows all about tracing. “But by that time Auf Wiedersehen I’m gone see, so I think it’s best I tell you, that I tell you that I am at 520 East 89th street… (Morris scrambles to get a pen to write down the address)
I like what you said in the newspapers about the murder being so well planned and so well executed and I consider that high praise coming from an expert such as yourself. I thank you for that. You hear me?”

“Yeah yeah I hear ya.”

“Now the other thing I’d like to tell you is is that you should come over here and take a look because you’ll find out that I am well up to my previous standards and I would like you to put that in the newspaper. In fact I insist on it.”

“I’ll try” Morris acts casually, as a way to piss Gill off, but it’s also part of Morris’ jaded, down trodden personality.

“Don’t try, you do it and know that I’m smarter than you are.”

“You’re smarter than I am?”

“And there’s just one more thing. You see I don’t like I should call you Detective Morris Brummel because that’s too formal so from now on I call you Morris.”

Morris starts to answer “Fine, listen…” then Gill hangs up. Maintaining himself as the one in control….

The way the scene is framed it looks like Gill is lying on the bed making romantic overtures to Morris. Gill has found a relationship that titillates him.

Meanwhile a relationship is developing between Kate and Morris. Kate comes down to the police station to give a description to a sketch artist of the priest. Morris escorts Kate onto the bus and back home. Unbeknownst to the couple, Gill is wearing his hairdresser disguise and watching the pair… Gill is now fixated on Morris.

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The next victim up is Barbara Baxley as the cat lady Belle Poppie. Gill plays a flaming fag hairdresser Dorian Smith with bleached blond hair and perfect lisp and hat boxes filled with bad wigs.

Belle holding one of her felines asks, “Would you like to meet my cats?” she shows him around the immaculate BTW apartment introducing him to the various cats… This scene is perhaps the most hilarious in the film as the whimsical Belle introduces every feline in the apartment. Gill follows her around, repeating the names of the cats in a manner that just made me laugh out loud,  it’s a hysterical scene and Barbara Baxley is spot on in this bit role.

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His plan is foiled when her sister Sylvia played by the equally hilarious character actress (Doris Roberts) comes home. He pretends that the wig isn’t free after, so he can get out there. As he’s leaving Sylvia calls him a homo, he snaps back quickly. Sylvia Poppie- “Is that one of your own wigs you’re wearing? Gill- “You don’t look like Cleopatra, honey.” Belle Poppie-“Don’t raise your voice!” Sylvia gets mean- “You homo!”

You Homo... Well that doesn't mean you're a bad person (lisp)

Gill as he’s halfway out the door. “Doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.” 

Back at the Brummel apartment, Mother Brummel is torturing Morris again…

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Mrs. Brummel: “So, what do you, what do you do with her, go to mass?
Morris Brummel: “No, we just… we walk and we talk.”
Mrs. Brummel:“Oh, please, please. I don’t want to hear another word. Already I won’t sleep another wink tonight. Please, don’t say another word.” she pauses.
Mrs. Brummel: “Morris…”
Morris Brummel: “I thought you didn’t want to hear any more?”
Mrs. Brummel:Aw, you think I want to? You think I want… I’m in agony. I… I… It’s my duty. Go on, go on.
Morris Brummel: “Well, she… her, her name is Katherine. Katherine Palmer.”
Mrs. Brummel: “Short, blonde, beautiful?”
Morris Brummel: “No, she’s, er, she’s, she’s tall and er, she’s only got one eye right in the middle of her forehead.”
Mrs. Brummel:Of course. Of course. She’ll break your heart!”

There’s a bowl of assorted fruit in the fine crystal and the Challah bread sits on a silver platter decorating the table. The details of the film’s spaces are perfect. From Kate’s mod apartment, to the Brummel’s home, to each individual apartment of the various female victims, to the NYC bars, including Gill’s own opulent apartment. The atmospheres are envisioned perfectly.

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Again like masturbation Gill calls and taunts Morris as the flaming hairdresser Dorian…

As Gill asks to speak to Morris Brummel the camera frames the dead woman to the left of screen as Gill is lensed to the far right, standing by the phone. He found his third victim. Morris says, “Speaking” Gill answers, “Morris, this is Dorian (still in character) Dorian, Dorian Smith.”

“Ha, I’m sorry I think you got the wrong number.”

“I don’t have the wrong number this is Dorian, Dorian Smith. Tell me you haven’t forgotten me already sweetheart. “ Morris says, “no no I haven’t forgotten you.”
Sarcastic chuckle, “Well I didn’t think so Sweetheart, I didn’t think so. Now look, (he stammers for a bit) I’m very sorry if I”m disturbing you at home.”

“How’d you get my number?”

“Sweetheart, How many Morris Brummel’s are in the phone book?”

“What do you want?”

Gill looks insulted that Morris seems abrupt and uninterested, and looks over at the dead woman. Her head resting on the cold porcelain toilet lid. Her forehead tattooed with bright red lips.

“Oh Morris I’ve been a bad boy again. yes… (he explodes) What do you mean yes… just don’t say yes show some interest. Can’t  you notice that my voice is completely different?”
“Yes I noticed that.”
“Alright, you should have heard my Father McDowall it was sensational. (Steiger’s voice changes on a dime and an all together malefic tone emerges in the midst of his rant “Don’t you think I’m clever?”
Morris comments, “Yeah, you’re a wizard.”

“Then You should hear my W.C Fields sometimes it’s absolutely uncanny” ( he goes into his WC Fields impersonation- “My boy you are engaged in a conversation with the great WC Fields himself concerning the degeneracy, debauchery and murder involving one infantile detective called Morris Brummel boy detective. How’d ya like that one Morris?”

“Alright alright but can’t we talk this over from one human being to another?”

“No no no no no no no you don’t, you don’t (Deep sigh) you gotta find that out for yourself, you see it’s not fair I told you where I was last time. So you’ll have to find out this time for yourself.” He hangs up the phone.

Gill says out loud to himself Ciao, Ciao Ciao Bambino…. He holds the last vowel and hums on it like a mantra which turns into a whimpering sob as he looks away crying like a small child, he chokes the tears back and puts a gold handkerchief over his mouth. He is sickened by his actions. Obviously struggling with Oedipal psychosis, ambivalent and disturbed. He even called himself a “bad boy” to Morris…

His body shakes and shivers. Yet again another layer of a stunning performance by Steiger. We hear the heavenly soprano voices in the background, it’s an eerie moment that plugs into the disorientation and grotesquery of the film’s narrative. One that also makes this antagonist a bit more sympathetic, as he is aware that he is sick…

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Morris has to cancel the dinner date with Kate…
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“You know what she said…She told me to be careful…”- it must be love.
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Gill looking for his name in the headlines.

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Gill putting back the wigs in the prop department of the theater.

Morris and Katherine continue to date. We see Gill at his mother’s theater. He is directing a production of Othello. One of the names on the theater roster is William Pratt an homage to Boris Karloff’s real name.

Gill is trying to live up to the expectation of his famous mother. His masquerading to murder is put on for her benefit. To attain the notoriety she had back in the day. The strata of Steiger’s performance is chilling as it is stunning. Going in and out of his central character Christopher Gill to one of his guises back into the wounded child within Christopher Gill, the very sick man, the mama’s boy, he balances three separate performances in one when he is aroused to anger on the phone. He is an outstanding actor, and in No Way To Treat A Lady he gives a tour de force…

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A very memorable scene in the film is when Michael Dunn comes to the police station and tries to confess to the murders. As Mr Kupperman (Michael Dunn) turns himself into Brummel as ‘The strangler,’ “Yeah I killed everyone of them” Morris asks, “You, you killed them?“With my bare hands” “Why’d you do it?” “Hostility.” Mr.Kupperman warns Morris that he’s sensitive. But Morris has to bring it up because it bares on the case. “You’re a midget” “Lots of people are midgets!” “He was taller than you..” “You see how I fooled them I’m a master of disguise.”

Morris gets the idea to plant a fake 6th victim. He suggests this idea to Murray Hamilton as Inspector Haines.
They got the body from the east river, a suicide. Morris is disgusted that they even added the lipstick to the corpse.

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At Gill’s home, he sits down at the piano remarking about the flowers that Mrs Fitts puts on the grand piano. He tells her they’re lovely, “Romance Mrs Fitts, romance is the magic that makes men whole and women bold.”

Mrs Fitts-“You read the newspapers nowadays there’s not much love in it… not with all the rioting and wars and with all these murders. It’s getting so that I’m afraid to step out onto the street. Imagine one man killing six women.”

Gill is confused asks what she means he didn’t kill six women. Morris’ plan works, the news unwittingly has planted a fake story to lure him out.

Mrs Fitts tells him, “Victim number six and killed the same way with the lipstick across her forehead and everything. Imagine Mr Gill six women!!!!”  He asks Mrs Fitts for his tea. Then gets into a phone booth and calls the police station.

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Gill-“I didn’t do it, I didn’t you hear me. Somebody else did, I did not kill that woman you must listen to me
listen to me.”
Morris-“I am listening to you what can I say.”
Gill begs insistently- “Say you believe me, say it.” Morris calmly-“I can’t say that because I don’t believe you.”
“I didn’t do it.” Gill is using his German persona this time.
Morris argues, “You did it, you did it alright.”
Gill desperate-“Can’t you understand it’s somebody else, somebody who is a copycat. I did everything up til now. Somebody comes along now and he wants to take all the credit and it’s not fair.”
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Morris bates Gill-“Look this is getting a little too weird for me I think I’ll
hang up now.”
Gill angry “Don’t you hang up on me…don’t you hang up on me or I’ll kill a hundred women I promise you that.”
Morris says, “Go on.”
“A little common sense will tell you that it is a copycat. Did he call you on the phone? Did he tell you where the body was?”
Morris tells him, “Neither did you the first and fourth time.”

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“Ah but you forget something Mr Brummel, I have given you my word of honor that I’ll stop… I don’t tell lies what kind of a person do you think I am?”

“What do I think you are… a malignancy, a cancer the cesspool of the world that’s just for openers.”

“I see, hhm well why cant I make you believe it!”

Morris starts yelling into the phone “You don’t have to, you don’t have to… we got a full description of you this time, somebody who saw you last night at the murder” “But that’s impossible, it was not me.”

“You’re very short, you have blonde hair wide nose and bushy eyebrows.”

“hahha that’s very funny you see cause first of all I have brown eyes, I have brown hair I am approximately 6 feet tall. (he pauses) and you are clever.”

“What’d you say?”

“Oh Mr Brummel you’re very clever, very clever.” he gets off the phone, “yes clever but not clever enough.”

And so the elaborate game of cat and mouse continues between the theatrically psychotic Christopher Gill and the smothered downtrodden Jewish cop Morris Brummel. I’ll stop here… See it to it’s thrilling conclusion!

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“A rather striking portrait of my mother don’t you think?… Have you ever seen her on the stage?”

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Gills sees Morris admiring the imposing painting of his mother-“A rather striking portrait of my mother don’t you think?… Have you ever seen her on the stage?”

In Cinema and Classical Texts: Apollo’s New Light by Martin M. Winkler he mentions how the killer (Rod Steiger)
feels overshadowed by his late mother, and so strangles these middle aged women- He owns a large bronze statue by German sculptor Gerhard Marcks of Antigone leading her blind father in which killer Christopher Gill makes the revealing comment “I like it’s strength.”

Ed Gein and the figure of the transgendered serial killer by K.E. Sullivan
“In the world of Krafft-Ebing, there is no such thing as benign sexual variation. Everyone who departs from reproductive, monogamous, male-dominant heterosexuality is described as criminally insane.”
According to Vito Russo in The Celluloid Closet “In the 1960s, lesbians and gay men were pathological, predatory and dangerous; villains and fools, but never heroes.” I just watched Richard Chamberlain who portrays a wife beater struggling with his bourgeois 60’s existence suppressing his attraction for little boys in Petulia 1968. Rod Steiger played a closeted homosexual who winds killing himself with a bullet to the head after kissing the divine John Phillip Law in The Sergeant 1968. Carson McCullers Reflections in a Golden Eye 1967 has Marlon Brando’s macho exterior as an impotent army officer finally destroying the object of his desire lingerie sniffing Robert Foster who rides a horse naked throughout the film just to antagonize Brando’s latent homosexuality. In 1961 Shirley McClaine hangs herself for the love of Audrey Hepburn in Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour and Sandy Dennis has a large tree fall on top of her in, if I remember correctly symbolically falling between her legs. The giant phallus she needed to smash out the lesbianism she suffered from in The Fox 1967. And a post I did a while back that combined The Devouring Mother and The Oedipal Son in Tennessee William’s Suddenly, Last Summer 1959 where the specter of Sebastian, a predatory homosexual is eventually devoured literally in front of poor Elizabeth Taylor by a group of young local boys he had been soliciting. And that’s just to mention a few, Ultimately cinematic homosexuals and lesbians –all had to be killed or kill themselves. These are just a drop in the queer bucket of cinematic history.
This is why I’ve got a working draft of Queers and Dykes in the Dark. Noir Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters: The Idolizing/Objectifying Male, and the Obssessive/Psychotic Woman sitting in WordPress waiting for me to publish it! The sub context fascinates me to no end…
While Christopher Gill (Rod Steiger) was a transvestite and not transexual the prototype for these kinds of gender bending killers could be located through out the 70s. As K.E. Sullivan cites.
“The second version of transvestism in contemporary media also involves discovery about the “truth” of a character’s body. Such revelation, however, is not comic but horrific. Here the guise of femininity does not hide or empower a clever heterosexual man but reveals a monstrous gender- and sexual-deviant: a man in “gender distress.”‘ If a character has a transgender body, this detail usually is tied to some dark and horrible secret in the narrative, and the revelation about the “truth” of the body” — that a woman has a penis or a man is a transvestite/ transsexual — typically is revealed simultaneously with the revelation of another “secret” — that the person is a killer. Indeed, monstrosity or deviance almost exclusively mark images of transgender individuals, allowing for little if any sympathy from spectators.”

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A drag queen walks into a bar and orders a pink squirrel…

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“There haven’t been seven victims?”
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“There are now!”

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The onlooking neighbors spout biblical put downs and curse words at the dead transvestite… a bit of the moralizing that challenges Morris’ old fashioned yet compassionate nature.

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Gill calls Morris from Sardi’s.

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Rod Steiger is superb as Christopher Gill the Oedipal well-educated upper-class dandy thespian lady killer who disguises himself as various characters in order to gain entry to unsuspecting women’s apartments where he proceeds to strangle them. George Segal is marvelous as Morris Brummel… Gill’s new fixation/adversary as he begins to phone and taunt Brummel like a lover. Brummel who also has issues with his own domineering mother portrayed by the wonderful character actress Eileen Heckart.

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Kate tells Mrs Brummel-“I love your home it’s so Jewish!”... the Jews only have the best things she tells her- The pretty blonde shiksa starts to work her charms on her future mother in law…

Lee Remick is perfect as Kate Palmer the shiksa in Morris’ life who has a pretty wild side herself, confessing that she used to swing with all the beautiful people when she first moved to NYC.  The film also co-stars Murray Hamilton as Inspector Haines. Then there’s a delicious bit by Michael Dunn as Mr. Kupperman who has a hilarious cameo in which he shows up at Morris Brummel’s police station confessing to the murders. The always droll Val Bisoglio plays Detective Monaghan.

And the fine character actors who are lined up to be Gill’s victims- Martine Bartlett as Alma Mulloy, Barbara Baxley ( who I love!) as the cat loving Belle Poppie, Doris Roberts as sister Sylvia Poppie, Irene Daily as Mrs Fitts, Ruth White as the nice German house frau Mrs. Himmel.

Stanley Myers is responsible for the fabulous musical score and the engaging cinematography is by Jack Priestley   (Who’s on location realist and gritty photography can be found in some of the best episodes of The Naked City series, Where’s Poppa 1970, & Across 110th Street (1972). Priestley captures the rhythm of NYC perfectly. And George Jenkins (All the President’s Men 1976) adds detail and flare with his art & set direction. His use of color brings the palate of the film to a vibrant level of verisimilitude. Cinematographer Jack Priestly and art director George Jenkins chose very vibrant colors- a familiar richness in tone common to films of the 60s and adds a sense of pageantry of the grotesque because the killer is playing out some murderous theater.

Theoni V. Aldredge’s costuming and wardrobe for Lee Remick and Eileen Heckart are fabulous, but even as much detail is spent on the lady victims of the story. Adding a dimension of realism and intimacy as a character study within the narrative.

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A descendent from the Alfred Hitchcock/Robert Bloch -Norman Bates generation of psycho flicks No Way To Treat A Lady acts as wonderful hybrid suspense piece synthesizing all the best parts of black comedy & crime thriller, with a bit of police procedural and psycho-sexual drama centered on a flamboyant actor with an Oedipal fixation who kills women, leaves a lipstick kiss as his calling card on their foreheads and taunts a Jewish cop who is also dominated by his stereo typical Jewish mother.

Here as in Psycho the monster is not drawn from the supernatural, or divined by historic mythic lore, they are  very real psychotic individuals who commits acts of violence. The antagonist is presented as an ‘object’ of horror, like Norman Bates, Hannibal Lector, Terence Stamp in The Collector ’65 or even Catherine Deneuve’s insane disorientation in Repulsion ’65.

According to Leslie H. AbramsonMovies and the Failure of Nostalgia in American Cinema of the 1960s edited by Barry Keith Grant. 1968 was rife for movies to exploit the American nightmare. The Vietnam War peaked in ’68, civil unrest, anti-establishment sentiment was rampant, there were political, social and domestic clashes everywhere, so that these turbulent times manifested a very contemplative lens in film. Jack Valenti president of Motion Picture Association of America tried to attain film’s independents and self protection by  creating the rating system instead of the Production Code that existed earlier. This was meant to appease critics. So amidst all the reality of shocking news headlines “In cinema as well, manifesting not only social trauma and upheaval but the public’s new commitment to confronting its own demons, the year’s releases reflected upon domestic culture as one of appalling violence, violation and struggle. An index of the increasing pervasiveness of psychic and graphic mortification as well as the huge for its containment, both the independent and studio sectors nostalgically encoded contemporary anxiety in the horror film, reinvigorating the classical genre with Night of the Living Dead and Rosemary’s Baby. Both films envisioned the nightmarish emergence of the ghastly from within and among patriarchy, a preoccupation of the year’s multiple releases representing the murderer as lone assassin: The Boston Strangler, Targets, and No Way To Treat a Lady.” 

Abramson seems to be making the argument that these films cynically portray the disparity between a vastly dysfunctional social pathology and a corrupt institution of laws. Presenting the archetypal outsider, the anti-hero figure who is capable of shedding a truthful light on the decadence or irredeemable vexations of our culture.

Also made monstrous within the film’s narrative is Morris’ castrating Jewish mother, who is running parallel to the specter of Gil’s deceased but ever present imposing theatrical mother. What makes this a clíche is what Kaja Silverman in Re-Vision: Essays in Feminist Film Criticism claims is that the character (in this case every female presence in the film) only knows her own identity by the language that is used. This is how she knows herself. Brummel’s mother, one of the main women in the film, is merely defined by her being an overbearing Jewish mother with no other qualifying marker of identity. As Silverman states, “Whereas the male subject has privileges conferred upon him by his relationship to discourse, the female subject is insufficient through hers.”

So neither Kate Palmer (Lee Remick), Mrs Brummel (Eileen Heckart) nor the various female victims have a strong identifying individuality other than, ‘mother’, ‘object of desire’ or ‘victim’. The film truly focuses on the relationship between Morris Brummel and Christopher Gill which acts as the central pinion for the larger narrative.

An interesting fun fact that I read from IMDb is that one of Rod Steiger’s theatrical and campy impersonations was that of comedian W.C.Fields. In (1976) Steiger would inhabit the role of the red faced wise cracker in Arthur Hiller’s W.C.Fields and Me.

Director Hiller with Rod Steiger on the set of WC Field and Me
Director Arthur Hiller with Rod Steiger on the set of WC Field and Me 1976

Curiously Rod Steiger was the one who was approached at first to play the mama’s boy cop Morris Brummel. And he probably would have been fabulous at it, since he’s quite good in any role. But what a stroke of genius for him to choose the part of psychopath, transvestite and all around chameleon, his over the top performance truly brought the film to life. In fact, Christopher Gill was not as prominent in William Goldman’s novel, but had been elaborated on in greater detail for the film, making him the narrative’s focal point as both the antagonist anti-hero.

Steiger felt the role of the killer would be the one that would gain the audiences’ attention as well as the critics eye, stealing the show as the flamboyant frustrated thespian with a mother complex and a fetish for red lipstick.

Also a little homage that is close to my heart, is the poster outside the theater using the name William Pratt which happens to be the name given at birth to my beloved grandfather Boris Karloff. Okay okay… he’s not really my Grandpa, but if I did have my wish, he sure would have been the one to read me stories at night with a nice cup of cocoa. And not the kind laced with K9 Liniment as used in that Henry Slesar teleplay for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour– ‘What Really Happened.’

Here’s what film critic Vincent Canby had to say back in 1968 upon the film’s release in movie theaters. colorfully articulated, insightful yet a bit harsh & scathing, taking the film a bit too seriously IMHO.

No Way to Treat a Lady (1968) Screen: Farcical Exercise in Murder:Logic Loses in ‘No Way to Treat a Lady’ Segal and Steiger Play Hunter and Quarry
By VINCENT CANBY
Published: March 21, 1968

Buried beneath all the outrageous make-up, hairpieces, disguises and belly laughs in “No Way to Treat a Lady,” there is a curious and ironic comment about the land of stifling mother love that once so alarmed Sidney Howard that he wrote “The Silver Cord.” The comment seems to be that whatever makes one man into a psychotic killer may make another into a nice Jewish cop.
So much for what passes as sweet reason.
That commodity is in conspicuously short supply in the farcical melodrama that opened here yesterday at the Forum and Tower East theaters. However, anybody who has been entertained by “Psycho”—or even “Twelfth Night”—knows that sweet reason often has as much to do with entertainment as goodness had to do with Mae West’s diamonds.
Although “No Way to Treat a Lady” has the shape of a conventional suspense tale, the film is at its most entertaining—and, in fact, is only acceptable—as a series of macabre, sometimes broadly funny confrontations of caricatures, all dominated by the presence of Rod Steiger. Here is a dream role for the actor, permitting him a half-dozen masquerades as everything from a garrulous Irish priest, with a platitude for every occasion, to a fearful lady barfly, as full of tears as she is of booze.
Mr. Steiger gives a beautifully uninhibited performance as a hammy. Mom-haunted Broadway producer who undertakes “his own bizarre solution to the problem of New York’s growing population of lonely ladies—maiden, widowed and divorced. Dressed in a variety of disguises, he gains admittance to their apartments, where he promptly strangles them and then calls the police to brag about his handiwork.
Playing mouse to Steiger’s cat is George Segal, the detective assigned to solve the mystery of the stranglings and who is, oddly, as much of a caricature as the flamboyant killer who taunts him. Fresh from his role as a Jewish intellectual in “Bye, Bye, Braverman,” Segal is seen here as a middle-class nebish, dominated by a Jewish mother so extravagantly played by Eileen Heckart that she might drive Georgie Jessel to seek asylum in Syria—and her son to matricide.
John Gay’s script, adapted from the William Goldman novel, makes nothing much of this Oedipean hang-up common to both cat and mouse nor does it offer more than the sketchiest motivations for anything that happens. Instead, Mr. Gay has written an exposition-free, gag-filled cartoon, which is the manner in which Jack Smight directs it. “No Way to Treat a Lady” is all contemporary surface action, with quick cuts between scenes of murder and comedy and sometimes between scenes that combine both. Luckily, despite the fact that it was beautifully photographed in color entirely in New York, it has absolutely no reality.
There is nothing wrong with this sort of sheer sensation for its own sake as long as the gags and Steiger’s masquerades maintain their bold effrontery. When they don’t, however, as happens with increasing frequency toward the end, the mind begins to wander.
One simply must not question why Steiger, apparently a normal, maladjusted. Broadway producer until the film starts, suddenly commences his reign of terror. Nor why Lee Remick, the Minnie Mouse of the cartoon—a beautiful blonde with no visible means of support, a self-described former swinger and the kind of girl who sleeps in her false eyelashes—should fall for the clod detective. (Unless, of course, she is actually the castrating putdown artist she humorously affects to be in her first meeting with Segal’s harridan-mother.)
There is also the peculiar casting of someone who is obviously a female impersonator as one of Steiger’s victims, although nothing is made of this in the plot.
In addition to the wild, eyeball-rolling, lip-smacking, rococo-gestured performance of Steiger, who employs more accents than you might have heard in a year of vaudeville, Smight has got some fine performances from his supporting players, including Barbara Baxley, Martine Bartlett, Ruth White and Michael Dunn.
Dunn is seen as a pint-sized creep who tries to confess to the crimes. “You’d believe me,” he tells the detective waspishly, “if I weren’t a midget!” As with the film itself, there is something both funny and oddly disturbing in this aggressive lack of logic.

No Way To Treat A Lady opens with the unsuspecting woman in peril Martine Bartlett as Alma answering the door to an Irish Priest. The queasiness we feel, the anxiousness and empathy because she is an older lady. The victims could be our own mother, aunt or grandmother and not the evaluated, penalized, sexualized and typified film ‘tramp’ who has somehow brought this wrath down upon herself making the murders particularly vicious. One of the more interesting victims is Sadie, a drag queen who sees Gill dressed in drag himself crying into a hanky in a bar who is scorned by the other patrons contending with nasty homophobic comments. Has Gill chosen this particular victim as a way to destroy the latent homosexuality within himself?

Rod-Steiger---No-Way-To-Treat-A-Lady---film-USA---1968_
Rod Steiger in make up on the set of No Way To Treat a Lady 1968 Ernest Adler ..hair style supervisor and Bob O’Bradovich -makeup supervisor

After each murder Gill meticulously traces the lips of each victim with red lipstick and brands his kiss on their foreheads!

The symbol used as the ‘red lips’ is the hyper representation of female sexuality. The co opting of this image as a weapon is really interesting as it is telling….

various disguises Rod Steiger

The Illustrated Man poster

The Illustrated Man rod steiger
Rod Steiger has never shied away from challenging roles. He is an outstanding actor. Here he is in Ray Bradbury’s-The Illustrated Man.

Steiger as FlamingDorian

Rod Steiger, perhaps one of the most versatile actors, brings to life the flamboyant Christopher Gill who begins his assault on middle aged women in the unsafe jungle of NYC. His chosen victims most representative of dear old mother. Steiger’s assorted guises that he dons in order to gain each ladies trust is not only compelling but darkly funny as his performance which is never superfluous but totally campy psycho candy for the brain. Gill is like a super villain who disguises himself as a parish Irish priest befit with ideal brogue, he’s a German plumber perhaps a nod to the killings attributed to that man in Boston who strangled his innocent female victims. He plays a flaming hairdresser using the ploy that they have won a wig in a giveaway. He becomes a chef and a police officer, and at one point, he eventually does turn up in drag. – He incorporates various accents masterfully, among them he uses the voice of W.C. Fields.

All guises that will draw upon his designated victim’s wish fulfillment. Speaking German to Mrs. Himmel (Ruth White) bringing back her nostalgia for the old country, he enjoys eating her strudel.

Ironically enlisted to help track down and capture this deranged killer of defenseless women is Morris Brummel (George Segal) who is perfect for the part of a man who needs to break free of his cliched Jewish mother’s love… once again I’ll mention portrayed by the marvelous Eileen Heckart.

Morris is under his mother’s thumb, get’s flustered a lot when ever he’s at home or near beautiful women, gets phoned and taunted by the crazed Gill while trying to woo his new waspy girlfriend. Lee Remick plays the blonde shicksa a free spirited liberated woman who used to swing with the beautiful people in Manhattan, and now gives museum tours. She’s sexy and classy and just what Morris needs to shake things up in his claustrophobic life. Heckart is wonderfully overbearing to the point of pushing my own Jewish mother buttons. Pick, pick pick!

Morris and Mother Brummel

It’s no accident that there is a correlation between the two character’s mothers. One, domineering and relentless in her nagging Morris for not being more successful like his lung surgeon brother. While the dead Grande Dame mother of Gills looms largely over him, shown in austere portraits at the theater, having been a great actress herself in the day. A torch her son must carry in order to be as substantial as she was, and why he enacts different personae while he murders her repeatedly in re-enactments, these are his victims, middle aged women who are signifying his mother.

What creates the great interplay between flamboyant fiend and underdog cop is that they are both outliers, who somehow find each other and give their lives it’s meaning for that time. A game of cat and mouse. An oddball commiseration, one giving purpose to the other. A struggle of wills and morals.

Morris Brummel

Steiger another disguise-the chef

Christopher Gill begins another fixation aside from his middle aged female victims, now with his pursuer Morris Brummel. Perhaps he feels a kindred spirit in him. But something about their banter on the phone titillates Gill, it’s almost homoerotic and as we can see by the animosity toward middle aged women, that although he worships the memory of his grande dame mama, he does have deep rooted mother issues. Why else would he be re-killing her over and over again.

Gill is also a classic narcissist. Checking the newspapers constantly to make sure that they are printing the story about him. All the world’s a stage… Gill’s mother was a great thespian. 

He deals with his repressed homosexuality and his engorging Oedipal Complex. The homoerotic fixation that he has in dressing up and using, lipstick as fetish, suggest again that he has a strong anti-mother sentiment. The use of lipstick turning a symbol of womanhood against them.

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The film is pervasive torch song of psycho-sexual prompts as Christopher Gill’s masculinity is challenged, destroying his mother, the devouring mother with each victim of his baleful masquerade.

We sense both men’s alienation Gil and Brummel as they are governed by mother’s with a tight and suffocating grip. It’s a macabre classy thriller, polished and well acted even with the stereo types and remnants of homophobia the 70s film that hadn’t been shaken from their villain’s or bit characters who were either down right crazy, unstable or destined to be a victim of murder or suicide themselves.

In Cynthia A Freeland and Thomas E Wartenberg’s Philosophy & Film chapter The Politics of Interpretation they cite as I like to, once again Kristeva’s theory of abjection of the maternal body from Powers of Horror. Abjection…

“Is an extremely strong feeling which is at once somatic and symbolic and which is above all a revolt of the person against an external menace from which one wants to keep oneself at a distance, but of which one has the impression that it is not only an external menace but that it may menace us from inside. So it is a desire for separation, for becoming autonomous and also the feeling of an impossibility of doing so.”

Kristeva’s notion of abjection is taken to an extreme level, where it is not sufficient enough to annihilate the maternal body seeing it as abject, in order for the child to be free of the maternal restraints. Even on an imaginary level where the maternal body must be killed so that the child will not kill itself. Kristeva suggests that this leads to matricide. And why Christopher Gill must constantly kill his mother in the form of various middle age women, over and over again, yet his psychosis will not allow him to be set free. He is surrounded by her memory. It is as if she is still alive and reigning over his life. He portrait prominent in the theater watching over her son.

The portrait of Mrs Gill comes across with the power of a Sphynx. A monster with the body of a beast and the head of a woman. Perhaps even a bit like a gorgon. Her piercing eyes and outre defined red lips tell of a menacing woman who commanded an audience, especially her son…

From The Sexual SubjectStephen Heath’s chapter-Difference “The historical positions of patriarchy society tell us that ‘women’ are constantly identified as the central focus of oppression constructed and justified in its terms.”

“Woman as sphinx confronting Oedipus and the Oedipus is always underlying. the eternal feminine which menaces the subject, either male or woman.”

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Continue reading “No Way To Treat a Lady 1968 & Man On a Swing 1974: All the World’s a Stage: Of Motherhood, Madness, Lipstick, trances and ESP”

Postcards From Shadowland No.7

La Belle et la Bete (1946)
Caged (1950)
Criss Cross (1949)
Devil Girl From Mars (1954)
Les Diaboliques (1955)
Experiment in Terror (1962)
Les yeux sans Visage (1960)
Les yeux sans visage (1960)
Gloria Grahame The Cobweb (1955)
I Bury The Living (1958)
Island of Lost Souls (1932)
Kiss The Blood Off My Hands (1948)
Lady in a Cage (1964)
Mother Joan of The Angels (1961)
Belle et la Bete (1946)
Strait-Jacket (1964)
Sunrise (1927)
The Haunting (1963)
The Queen of Spades (1949)
Vampyr (1932)
The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962)

Fiend of The Day!: Ross Martin is Garland Humphrey ‘Red’ Lynch

“You’ve got a small waist — measurements: 34-22-35 — right? Oh, I know a lot about you, Miss Sherwood.” — Red Lynch

EXPERIMENT IN TERROR (1962)

Lee Remick plays bank teller Kelly Sherwood who is being terrorized by ‘Red’ Lynch (Ross Martin) a psychopath with an asthmatic voice like sandpaper who schemes to use her in a plot to steal $100,000 from the bank where she works. Lynch kidnaps Sherwood’s younger sister Toby played by Stephanie Powers, and then threatens to kill her, if she tells the police. Enter Glenn Ford as F.B.I. agent Ripley who is now on the case… setting off a feverish game of cat & mouse between Remick, Martin and Ford.

Directed by Blake Edwards, this is one hell of a gripping Film Noir/ Thriller, with a screenplay by The Gordons, based on Mildred and Gordon Gordon’s 1961 novel Operation Terror.

I love Ross Martin’s portrayal of the murdering, smarmy crushed velvet jacket wearing, tv host art critic Dale Kingston in Columbo’s “Suitable for Framing”

… and Martin inhabits ‘Red’ Lynch giving him a most bizarre sort of vicious earning him the persona here as Fiend of The Day!

See you soon!-MonsterGirl