Film Noir ♥ Transgression Into the Cultural Cinematic Gutter: From Shadowland to Psychotronic Playground

“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.”
Sigmund Freud

“Ladies and gentlemen- welcome to violence; the word and the act. While violence cloaks itself in a plethora of disguises, its favorite mantle still remains sex.” — Narrator from Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)

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Tura Satana, Haji, and Lori Williams in Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! 1965
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Françoise Dorléac and Donald Pleasence in Roman Polanski’s Cul-de-sac 1966
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Constance Towers kicks the crap out of her pimp for shaving off her hair in Sam Fuller’s provocative The Naked Kiss 1964
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Peter Breck plays a journalist hungry for a story and gets more than a jolt of reality when he goes undercover in a Mental Institution in Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor 1963
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Bobby Darin is a psychotic racist in Hubert Cornfield and Stanley Kramer’s explosive Pressure Point 1962 starring Sidney Poitier and Peter Falk.

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Constance Towers as Kelly from The Naked Kiss (1964): “I saw a broken down piece of machinery. Nothing but the buck, the bed and the bottle for the rest of my life. That’s what I saw.”

Griff (Anthony Eisley) The Naked Kiss (1964): “Your body is your only passport!”

Catherine Deneuve as Carole Ledoux in Repulsion (1965): “I must get this crack mended.”

Monty Clift Dr. Cukrowicz Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) : “Nature is not made in the image of man’s compassion.”

Patricia Morán as Rita Ugalde: The Exterminating Angel 1962:“I believe the common people, the lower class people, are less sensitive to pain. Haven’t you ever seen a wounded bull? Not a trace of pain.”

Ann Baxter as Teresina Vidaverri Walk on the Wild Side 1962“When People are Kind to each other why do they have to find a dirty word for it.”

The Naked Venus 1959“I repeat she is a gold digger! Europe’s full of them, they’re tramps… they’ll do anything to get a man. They even pose in the NUDE!!!!”

Darren McGavin as Louie–The Man With the Golden Arm (1955): “The monkey is never dead, Dealer. The monkey never dies. When you kick him off, he just hides in a corner, waiting his turn.”

Baby Boy Franky Buono-Blast of Silence (1961) “The targets names is Troiano, you know the type, second string syndicate boss with too much ambition and a mustache to hide the facts he’s got lips like a woman… the kind of face you hate!”

Lorna (1964)- “Thy form is fair to look upon, but thy heart is filled with carcasses and dead man’s bones”

Peter Fonda as Stephen Evshevsky in Lilith (1964): “How wonderful I feel when I’m happy. Do you think that insanity could be so simple a thing as unhappiness?”

Glen or Glenda (1953)“Give this man satin undies, a dress, a sweater and a skirt, or even a lounging outfit and he’s the happiest individual in the world.”

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Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda 1953

Johnny Cash as Johnny Cabot in Five Minutes to Live (1961):“I like a messy bed.”

Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton) Island of Lost Souls: “Do you know what it means to feel like God?”

The Curious Dr. Humpp (1969): “Sex dominates the world! And now, I dominate sex!”

The Snake Pit (1948): Jacqueline deWit as Celia Sommerville “And we’re so crowded already. I just don’t know where it’s all gonna end!” Olivia de Havilland as Virginia Stuart Cunningham “I’ll tell you where it’s gonna end, Miss Somerville… When there are more sick ones than well ones, the sick ones will lock the well ones up.”

Delphine Seyrig as Countess Bathory in Daughters of Darkness (1971)“Aren’t those crimes horrifying. And yet -so fascinating!”

Julien Gulomar as Bishop Daisy to the Barber (Michel Serrault) King of Hearts (1966)“I was so young. I already knew that to love the world you have to get away from it.”

The Killing of Sister George (1968) -Suzanna York as Alice ‘CHILDIE’: “Not all women are raving bloody lesbians, you know” Beryl Reid as George: “That is a misfortune I am perfectly well aware of!”

The Killing of Sister George
Susannah York (right) with Beryl Reid in The Killing of Sister George Susannah York and Beryl Reid in Robert Aldrich’s The Killing of Sister George 1960

The Lickerish Quartet (1970)“You can’t get blood out of an illusion.”

THE SWEET SOUND OF DEATH (1965)Dominique-“I’m attracted” Pablo-” To Bullfights?” Dominique-” No, I meant to death. I’ve always thought it… The state of perfection for all men.”

Peter O’Toole as Sir Charles Ferguson Brotherly Love (1970): “Remember the nice things. Reared in exile by a card-cheating, scandal ruined daddy. A mummy who gave us gin for milk. Ours was such a beautifully disgusting childhood.”

Maximillian Schell as Stanislaus Pilgrin in Return From The Ashes 1965: “If there is no God, no devil, no heaven, no hell, and no immortality, then anything is permissible.”

Euripides 425 B.C.“Whom God wishes to destroy… he first makes mad.”

Davis & Crawford What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Bette Davis and Joan Crawford bring to life two of the most outrageously memorable characters in Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? 1962

WHAT DOES PSYCHOTRONIC MEAN?

psychotronic |ˌsīkəˈtränik| adjective denoting or relating to a genre of movies, typically with a science fiction, horror, or fantasy theme, that were made on a low budget or poorly received by critics. [1980s: coined in this sense by Michael Weldon, who edited a weekly New York guide to the best and worst films on local television.] Source: Wikipedia

In the scope of these transitioning often radical films, where once, men and women aspired for the moon and the stars and the whole ball of wax. in the newer scheme of things they aspired for you know… “kicks” yes that word comes up in every film from the 50s and 60s… I’d like to have a buck for every time a character opines that collective craving… from juvenile delinquent to smarmy jet setter!

FILM NOIR HAD AN INEVITABLE TRAJECTORY…

THE ECCENTRIC & OFTEN GUTSY STYLE OF FILM NOIR HAD NO WHERE ELSE TO GO… BUT TO REACH FOR EVEN MORE OFF-BEAT, DEVIANT– ENDLESSLY RISKY & TABOO ORIENTED SET OF NARRATIVES FOUND IN THE SUBVERSIVE AND EXPLOITATIVE CULT FILMS OF THE MID TO LATE 50s through the 60s and into the early 70s!

I just got myself this collection of goodies from Something Weird!

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There’s even this dvd that points to the connection between the two genres – Here it’s labeled WEIRD. I like transgressive… They all sort of have a whiff of noir.
Grayson Hall Satan in High Heels
Grayson Hall -Satan in High Heels 1962
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Gerd Oswald adapts Fredrick Brown’s titillating novel — bringing to the screen the gorgeous Anita Ekberg, Phillip Carey and Gypsy Rose Lee and Harry Townes in the sensational, obscure and psycho-sexual thriller Screaming Mimi 1958
The Strangler 1964 Victor Buono
Victor Buono is a deranged mama’s boy in Burt Topper’s fabulous The Strangler 1964
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Catherine Deneuve is extraordinary as the unhinged nymph in Roman Polanski’s psycho-sexual tale of growing madness in Repulsion 1965

Just like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, Noir took a journey through an even darker lens… Out of the shadows of 40s Noir cinema, European New Wave, fringe directors, and Hollywood auteurs, brought more violent, sexual, transgressive, and socially transformative narratives into the cold light of day with a creeping sense of verité. While Film Noir pushed the boundaries of taboo subject matter and familiar Hollywood archetypes it wasn’t until later that we are able to visualize the advancement of transgressive topics.

Continue reading “Film Noir ♥ Transgression Into the Cultural Cinematic Gutter: From Shadowland to Psychotronic Playground”

The Mary Astor Blogathon: The Man With Two Faces (1934) A Caligarian Black Comedy with Astor as a Trilby like Sylph and the tell-tale Mustache in a Gideon’s Bible

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THE MAN WITH TWO FACES (1934)

or ‘Of Mice and Mustaches’

Man With Two Facs Lobby Card

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Mary Astor plays Jessica Welles a Trilby-Like Sylph who falls under the spell of her treacherous husband played by Louis CalhernRobinson’s role the tagline would suggest, “It’s the most unusual picture since “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”  is quite misleading as his character Damon is not a split personality, induced by mad science or a fractured id run amok. He is simply impersonating a fictitious mustache, spectacles and goatee wearing Frenchman in order to lure his vicious prey into his vengeful murderous trap. Louis Calhern is an archetypal Svengali/Caligarian figure and ultimately it’s Damon’s fake mustache accidentally left in a Gideon’s Bible that gives the crime away. Archie Mayo had actually directed Svengali in 1931.

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Astor and Calhern Archetypal Trilby and Svengali characters
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Barrymore and Marian Marsh in Svengali

The Man With Two Faces is a mystery thriller with comical overtones. Invoking Jekyll & Hyde is far off the mark as Edward G. Robinson only dons a disguise to rid his bewitched sister of her treacherous, conniving, abusive and murderous husband. The character of Damon is more like Zorro or The Lone Ranger exacting out a theatrical brand of vigilante justice. As an actor the milieu is perfect for him to wear a ‘mask’ posing as a producer to lure his tortured sister’s husband Vance (Yiddish for bedbug, pronounced ‘vants’ but it applies as Stanley Vance is quite the vermin) into his trap so he can kill him…

Mary Astor The Man with Two Faces
Mary Astor as the bewitched Jessica Welles in The Man with Two Faces
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photo of Mary Astor courtesy of Doctor Macro

Mary Astor has a classy, understated beauty. She’s sophisticated and smart, refined and polished and worldly-wise. Often poised and self-possessed with a simmering kind of sexiness. Yet here in The Man With Two Faces, her light is just a bit diminished by the role of Jessica Welles who is forced to shape-shift from lovely star of the stage into a doll imprisoned in a fugue state.

I was thrilled when Dorian from Tales of the Easily Distracted and Ruth of Silver Screenings let me participate in The Mary Astor Blogathon. I wanted to pick a film that I hadn’t seen in order to enhance the fun of bringing some of her films to the attention of readers and really be inclusive while paying tribute to this great woman. I adore Mary Astor. And as much as I like The Maltese Falcon 1941, and simply adore Bogie, it wasn’t that iconic bit of Film Noir flight of fancy that brought Miss Astor to my attention. I hadn’t truly started to notice her work until I did an extensive feature on Robert Aldrich’s Grande Dame Guignol masterpiece Hush… Hush Sweet Charlotte 1964 It was then that I became taken in with Mary Astor’s performance as the bitter and time worn Jewel Mayhew. Then of course being a huge fan of Boris Karloff’s Television series Thriller, I am one of the few people who actually think Rose’s Last Summer was one of the finest episodes of that series. Mary Astor bringing her classy swank and snark to the role of Rose French. I became a devout fan of hers from that time on, and have started trying to devour as much Mary Astor as I can…

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It’s funny how most people might connect her with her role as Brigid O’ Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon 1941, but I think of her other contributions like Sandra Kovac in The Great Lie 1941 Mme. DeLaage  The Hurricane 1937 Antoinette de Mauban The Prisoner of Zenda 1937  and of course in Dodsworth 1936 as Mrs. Edith Cortright.

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Mary Astor and Walter Huston in Dodsworth 1936

The Man With Two Faces is a Warner Bros. black comedy not so much of a mystery, with tinges of the 19th Century melodramatic tradition written for the stage by George S. Kaufman and Alexander Woollcott with a screenplay by Tom Reed and Niven Busch. The original play opened in New York City in 1933 and had 57 performances. Margaret Dale who plays Aunt Martha originated her movie role on the stage. The original cast included Porter Hall and Margaret Hamilton (The Wicked Witch of the West from Oz)

Produced by Hal Wallis, Jack L Warner and Robert Lord and Directed by Archie Mayo (Svengali 1931, Bordertown 1935, The Petrified Forest (1936) Moontide 1942 Angel on My Shoulder 1946) and with the production and art design by John Houghs (Treasure of the Sierra Madre 1948, The Thing From Another World 1951)

Mary Astor as well as Mae Clarke (Frankenstein 1931, Waterloo Bridge 1931 and Public Enemy’s memorable grapefruit in the face girl) seem to be wasted in both these roles where the women are subverted ridiculed, demeaned and inconsequential. I wish Astor had more presence in the film… even the housekeeper Nettie has more spark to her character as does Aunt Martha. Astor just isn’t given enough layers to work with because she is in a trance most of the time, her character Jessica’s lack of affect doesn’t suit her usual spirited performances, here there are only little bursts of the dimension she is capable of.

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Ricardo Cortez titles

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David Landau and Emily Fitzroy

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I went to Syosset High School which was the town right next to Locust Valley… just a little sentimental factoid about your little MonsterGirl

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Jessica-“doctor dear why are you such a bother”
Dr. Kendall– “the bother was getting you well enough to act at all… if you think it’s been a picnic”
Jessica-“Alright I’ll rest but do you mind if I get a little excited, it’s the first time in three years… doctor why did all those people remember me?”
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Dr. Kendall-” Why shouldn’t they, you weren’t entirely unknown you know.”
Jessica-“I know but comebacks you know, you know what they are. Critics staying home out of kindness. And the Times saying you were ‘adequate’

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Damon throws books at Barry as he enters the dressing room
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John Eldredge as playwright Barry Jones
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Daphne-“Give the gentleman a cigar”
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Barry-Why, he missed me
Damon “Ah, just my luck I always get buck fever when I see an author
Barry-“Damon, I don’t know what you’re sore about your sister has a whole basket full of telegrams and everybody thinks it’s a grand play
Damon– “Yeah, grand for a high school strawberry lawn festival, somebody oughta stuff that second act and put it in a museum…”

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Barry– “You, you’ve had a hangover for the last ten years. You, you just hangover with him.”

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Daphne– “f I had known that, I’d never have acted in your play”
Damon– “Oh Daphne my love… you never acted in any play, never will.”

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Aunt Martha– “Well you’ve never said a truer word in your life Mr.Weston the work was just the medicine that Jessica needed”
Ben Weston– “Well I always knew she would act again.”
Aunt Martha “Well I didn’t. I was in front the night she collapsed. They dismissed the audience, you’d a thought she’d been drugged.”
Ben Weston– “A lot of people said it was drugs.”
Aunt Martha– “There were all sorts of stories around but the truth was that husband of hers… Stanley Vance.”
Ben Weston– “From what I’ve heard, he must have been the lowest form of animal life.”
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Aunt Martha– “You put it mildly”
Ben Weston– “What I can’t understand is, how a girl of Jessica’s type would… I mean to say, a girl with her brains and talent”
Aunt Martha -“Brains and talent don’t mean much to the Devil Mr. Weston.”
Ben Weston– “I don’t follow you”
Aunt Martha-“Did you ever see a snake with a bird Mr Weston? That’s Jessica and Stanley Vance. Horrible… of course you know the night she collapsed was the night he left. But this is something you may not know. The day she learned that he’d been shot dead in San Francisco was the day her mind began to heal….”

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Damon-“Why do you always break down, you did that tonight”
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Damon coaches Jessica on the finer points of her acting…

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“Hattie I’m famished”

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Daphne asks Barry to accompany her on a bit of Stormy Weather.  

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Mary Astor who plays actress Jessica Welles, is a delicate Trilby-like sylph who is married to a cold-blooded cad Stanley Vance (Louis Calhern The Asphalt Jungle 1950) Vance is a conniving, controlling Svengali/Caligari-esque cutthroat who not only bilks old ladies out of their fortunes but actually murdered his first wife. He seems to possess the art of hypnosis and uses it to manipulate Jessica into a state of virtual somnambulist enslavement. With the mere tilt of his head and leering eyes that penetrate she goes deeper under his control. In his presence she is a wilting flower, powerless, catatonic and as submissive as Trilby, a piece of clay to be molded in any form Vance desires.

Continue reading “The Mary Astor Blogathon: The Man With Two Faces (1934) A Caligarian Black Comedy with Astor as a Trilby like Sylph and the tell-tale Mustache in a Gideon’s Bible”