At 104 years old, this incredible Hollywood legend, leaves us behind. But we’ll remember her movies, her beauty and her spirit! I can hear Bette Davis saying “What took you so long!”
I love you Olivia, Joey
It’s that dastardly wonderful time of year when Speakeasy* Shadows and Satin & Silver Screenings host The Great Villain Blogathon 2017! featuring an endless array of diabolically cunning, insensate evil, down right nefarious and at times psychotic adversaries that Cinema has to offer!
Now in the past several years I’ve taken a long look at Gloria Holden & Gloria Swanson: When the Spider Woman Looks: Wicked Love, Close ups & Old Jewels -Sunset Blvd (1950) and Dracula’s Daughter (1936).
Dark Patroons & Hat Box Killers: for 2015’s The Great Villain Blogathon! I focused on the extraordinarily passionate Vincent Price in Dragonwyck 1946 and the ruthlessly sublime Robert Montgomery in Night Must Fall 1937—in a twisted nail biter by director Walter Graumen who puts the lovely Olivia de Havilland in peril at the hands of a sociopathic animal James Caan — Lady in a Cage (1964) for the spectacular Blogathonian lady’s hosting the 2014’s —The Great Villain Blogathon and once again last year for 2016’s event, I featured True Crime Folie à deux: with my take on Truman Capote’s true crime drama In Cold Blood (1967) & the offbeat psycho thriller The Honeymoon Killers (1969).
I was tempted to do a double feature tribute to the two masterful, despicably loathsome characters brought to life by Robert Mitchum. First his superb manifestation of the crazed preacher Harry Powell in Charles Laughton’s expressionist masterpiece The Night of the Hunter (1955). And then as the animalistic psychotic Max Cady in director J. Lee Thompson’s Cape Fear (1962).
I might not wait until The Great Villain Blogathon 2018, and just do a special feature “Robert Mitchum’s Alpha Madmen” because he & these two films are just too good not to write about before next go around! And I’m simply mad about Robert Mitchum, not to worry, not mad in the same way as Angel Face’s Diane Tremayne!
The Great Villain Blogathon is perhaps one of my favorite blogathons because the possibilities are devilishly deliciously endless. My mind began to wander around all the delightfully deadly possibility of dastardly dames…
Beautiful Anti-Heroines with a psychological underpinning as in THE DARK MIRROR 1946 starring Olivia de Havilland playing twin sisters one bad, one good, de Havilland also embodies that certain dangerous allure in MY COUSIN RACHEL 1952.
THE STRANGE WOMAN 1946 features a very cunning and mesmerizing Hedy Lamarr, and then there’s always Anne Baxter who portrays a deeply disturbed woman in GUEST IN THE HOUSE 1944. All would be excellent choices for this bad ass… blogathon! BUT…!
This year, I find myself drawn to two intoxicatingly beautiful antagonists who’s veneer of elegance & delicate exquisiteness is tenuously covering their obsessive shattered psyches. Jean Simmons and Gene Tierney both manage to create an icy austerity and a menacing malignancy within the immediate allure of their physical beauty and wiles.
Also significant in both these films, the characters of Diane Tremayne and Ellen Berent flip the male gaze and conquer it for themselves, being the ones ‘to look’.
In both these films the two deadly women are father-fixated! Both are pathologically jealous. And both women will not go “easy” Diane won’t put the car in gear “Easy!” and Ellen will not leave Dick alone and go away “easy.” These two killer psycho-noir ladies are a great pairing of deadly damsels!
DEFINITION : beauty |ˈbyo͞odē|
noun (pl. beauties)
1 a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight: I was struck by her beauty | an area of outstanding natural beauty.
DEFINITION : CRIMINALLY INSANE
1 in a manner that is contrary to or forbidden by criminal law:
noun (pl. psychoses |-ˌsēz| )
a severe mental disorder in which thought and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality.
the state of being obsessed with someone or something: she cared for him with a devotion bordering on obsession.
- an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind:
Freudian |ˈfroidēən| Psychology
relating to or influenced by Sigmund Freud and his methods of psychoanalysis, especially with reference to the importance of sexuality in human behavior.
pathological |ˌpaTHəˈläjək(ə)l| (also pathologic)
the science of the causes and effects of diseases, especially the branch of medicine that deals with the laboratory examination of samples of body tissue for diagnostic or forensic purposes.—• mental, social, or linguistic abnormality or malfunction—compulsive; obsessive
*feeling or showing envy of someone or their achievements and advantages:
*feeling or showing suspicion of someone’s unfaithfulness in a relationship:•
*fiercely protective or vigilant of one’s rights or possessions:
• (of God) demanding faithfulness and exclusive worship.
From Mary Ann Doane’s book “The femme fatale is the figure of a certain discursive unease, a potential epistemological trauma. For her most striking characteristic, perhaps, is the fact that she never really is what she seems to be. She harbors a threat which is not entirely legible, predictable or manageable. In thus transforming the threat of the woman into a secret, something which must be aggressively revealed, unmasked, discovered … Her appearance marks the confluence of modernity, urbanization, Freudian psychoanalysis…The femme fatale is a clear indication of the extent of the fears and anxieties prompted by shifts in the understanding of sexual difference in the late nineteenth century… “
Doane goes on to say that it’s no wonder cinema was a great place for the femme fatale of 1940s noir with the femme fatale representing a sign of deviant strength. That could be said of both of highlighted q!
Directed by Otto Preminger written by Frank Nugent, Oscar Milland, Chester Erskine and an uncredited Ben Hecht.
Jean Simmons stars as the antagonist Diane Tremayne Jessup, Robert Mitchum plays Frank Jessup, Mona Freeman as nice girl Mary Wilton, Herbert Marshall as Diane’s beloved father, Mr. Charles Tremayne, Barbara O’Neil as stepmother Mrs. Catherine Tremayne, Leon Ames as attorney Fred Barrett, and Kenneth Tobey as nice guy Bill Compton, who is also Franks ambulance jockey partner. Cinematography by Harry Straddling (Suspicion 1941, A Streetcar Named Desire 1951, A Face in the Crowd 1957, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs 1960, Gypsy 1962, My Fair Lady 1964) and haunting score by great composer Dimitri Tiomkin.
Angel Face is a bit of a reserved psycho-drama/noir directed by Otto Preminger who also produced. Quite striking in it’s few brutal moments scattered throughout as the murders play out at the hands of the extremely poised Jean Simmons, (So Long at the Fair 1950, The Big Country 1958, Spartacus 1960) which is what gives the film it’s nasty ironic burn in the end.
Jean Simmons was absolutely mesmerizing as Charlotte Bronn, a tormented woman who suffers a nervous breakdown, who leaves the institution and tries to make sense of her life with her austere husband Dan O’Herlihy, sister Rhonda Fleming, and sympathetic Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in director Mervyn Leroy’s Home Before Dark 1958.
In Angel Face, Simmons plays it almost perfectly chilling with her refined beauty that displays no affect, a few obvious inner demons behind those dreamy eyes, not so much bubbling passion underneath as there is bursts of fervency out of necessity. She stunningly floats through the scenes with ice water in her veins, determined to possess, first her father (Herbert Marshall) and then Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum).
As an actor Robert Mitchum possesses an enormous range, and many layers to his film & real life persona– although he always exudes that smooth yet brawny exterior, he can either play it self-possessed, a coolly determined hero or visceral anti-hero and at times he’s been quite effective as a sicko. In Angel Face, Mitchum while still the usual rugged beast and cocksure fella, this time he is foolish and unsympathetically led by his pants, right into our anti-heroine’s trap…
Frank should have stayed with nice nurse Mary, a nice fella for a girl.
Herbert Marshall as Charles Tremayne tries to explain to the doctor and the ambulance drivers what might have happened when the gas valve was left on in his wife’s bedroom.
Robert Mitchum plays former race car driver Frank Jessup, and ambulance jockey who becomes drawn into Diane Tremayne’s (Jean Simmons) psychotically woven web of obsessive love. Frank and Bill are called to the wealthy Tremayne family’s hilltop mansion, when Catherine Tremayne (Barbara O’Neil) is almost asphyxiated when the gas valve on her bedroom fireplace is stuck on. In reality Diane’s attempt to gas her stepmother fails. It seems that Diane is insanely jealous of the woman who took her dear doting father Charles’ (Herbert Marshall) attentions away.
Catherine Tremayne insists that someone has tried to kill her, and that the gas inhalation was not a suicide attempt. Catherine Tremayne is looked after by the doctor, given a sedative and tucked into bed. Frank wanders down the great staircase, lured by haunting piano playing.
Frank wanders into the parlor when he hears the refined and innocent doe eye looking Diane playing a classical melody on the grand piano. He is immediately struck by the beautifully delicate young woman. As soon as Diane sees Frank who tells her that her stepmother is okay, she becomes hysterical. He tries to calm her down in his gruff manner, “Look take it easy I told ya she’s gonna be fine.” Diane continues to sob, “Leave me alone.” He grabs her arm forcefully and yells at her to stop it, but Diane acts as if she is inconsolable, while Frank is getting more frustrated with her. So, the big guys slaps her, slaps her hard. Some sort of awareness washes over her face, in fact she might have rather liked getting smacked in the face and so, she slaps him back, just as hard. Frank laughs, “Now look, the manual says that’s supposed to stop hysterics, it doesn’t say a word about getting slapped back.” “I’m sorry”, “That’s alright forget it. I’ve been slapped by dames before.”
We can see that there is something definitely off about this strange young woman and it should have raised the hair on the back of his neck but Frank is a bit of a dog you see.
Frank and Bill drive back to the hospital where they are set to get off from work. Frank says goodnight to Bill and walks over to the cafe, because Mary is waiting on his call. Bill tells Frank he’s a lucky guy, and he agrees- “You know it!”
What Frank doesn’t realize is that Diane has jumped into her little sportscar and has followed the men in the ambulance all the way back to the hospital. She watches as Frank enters the cafe. Harry the cafe owner says, “Well if it ain’t the dead body jockey” “Sure Harry that’s why I come here it looks like the morgue.”
Frank puts a coin in the phone and begins to call Mary but he gets a busy signal. He turns around and voilà Diane is standing there. She floats out an innocent sounding,“Hello.” Frank pleasantly surprised says “Well hello, you do get around fast don’t ya.” Diane answers, “I parked my broomstick outside” Frank-“Beer Harry… what do witches drink?”
Now… This is why Frank is a dog, it doesn’t trouble him that this young woman has followed him to work. He was supposed to have dinner with his girlfriend Mary who is a nurse at the hospital and a wonderful person.
Naturally one busy signal and Frank’s attention span is switched to this young stalker whom he finds intriguing. He finally gets Mary on the phone and tells her that he’s too tired to get together and goes off into the night to dine and dance with Diane. He is now ensnared in her web.
Frank-“I’ll see you tomorrow” Mary-“Tomorrow… was it a rough call?” Frank staring at Diane- “Yeah, rough.”
Diane asks Mary to lunch… she’s got a plan you see
What makes Diane even more conniving is that the next day she meets Mary for lunch and tells her about her evening with her boyfriend. She puts it under the pretense of helping the couple out with Franks plans on owning his own sports car repair ship, Diane having the means to offer financial support. But the seed is planted and Mary gets the heavy hint dropped that Frank is a dog and feels betrayed by Frank’s lie about being too tired. Mary is no dope and she let’s Diane know that she won’t be a fool. She tells Diane that she would have rather not known about their evening together and knows that Diane has brought her to lunch to try and shake her faith in Frank and to “find out how stupid” she was. Mary isn’t the typical good girl in noir—she’s more streetwise than that and a bit jaded by the ways of the world. She’s the good girl, but not a dumb girl.
That night Frank is about to go out on a date with Mary and he continues to lie about the previous evening “I was so beat last night I hit the sack as soon as I got in” Mary tells him “That, I can believe.”
Diane walks into the diner and tells Frank that she met with Mary for lunch.
Diane-“Go ahead hit me.” Frank-“First I’ll buy you dinner then I’ll hit ya.” Diane -“When I tell you what I did you probably won’t want to see me again, ever.” Frank-“sounds pretty grim.” Diane-“I had lunch with Mary I told her about last night… oh not everything just that we went out together.” Frank gripes-“Well why did you say that, I told her that…” Diane-“I just told her that I wanted to help you get the garage.” Frank-“Oh yeah you’re a big help.”
Later that evening while dropping subtle barbs at each other about the price of Diane’s spending, she lays the groundwork for getting Catherine to hire Frank as her new chauffeur.
Diane to Catherine complaining about her expense account-“Don’t you know it’s the simple things that cost the most!”
Diane tells Catherine that she could really use a chauffeur…
Now that Frank and Mary’s relationship is strained Diane moves in for the kill, she initiates a passionate kiss, she tempts him with the idea of a race coming up, tempting him with “pebble beach” and that she will loan her car to him, also luring him with the security of a better paying job.
He decides to take a job with the Tremayne’s as her stepmother Catherine’s chauffeur, though he tells Diane he’s just “not the type” even moving into an apartment over the garage. Diane tells Frank about her father, how he is a widowed writer, who has been wasting his talent, marrying into money for it’s comfort with the rich Catherine whom Diane despises for the way she treats him.
Part of Diane’s diabolical plot to draw Frank into her web, she pretends to be nice to Catherine asking her to invest in Frank’s desire to open up his own garage that caters to sports cars.
This is also a way for Diane to ingratiate herself into Franks life by appealing to his love of fast cars, as an extension of her own dangerous mind, she drives a sports car that Frank seems to be dazzled by and covets as he was once a race car driver. This is just an example of one of Diane’s manipulative powers as she seduces Frank with the illusion that he will be in control. Race cars are vehicles that represent freedom and freedom of movement as they are capable high speeds and risk taking. Both Diane and Frank seem to want to move at their own speed and of their own volition with no one interfering. In that way they are suited. Frank wants to do his own thing, opening up his own garage and Diane is looking for someone new to possess and control since her father is now a little more out of her reach.
But this is where the bait, or point of attraction leads Frank down a dangerous spiraling road led completely by Diane’s calculating will— where he will ultimately and literally crash and burn.
And so Frank meets with his employer who is receptive to him. Catherine actually thinks he’s a very nice young man and calls over to her lawyer to look over the papers, feeling fine about lending a great deal of money for him to open up his own garage, though she must wait for her attorney to look over the financial details of the transaction. Frank believes the deal is going to happen, until Diane sabotages the whole thing by insinuating herself using deception once again, pretending to show Frank a crumpled paper from the waste pail with the figures for the investment, that her stepmother supposedly trashed. Frank seems surprised that Catherine decided not to go ahead with it, as she appeared keen on the idea.
“Oh Frank I’m so sorry.” Frank-“Don’t take it so hard. You had a nice idea it just didn’t work that’s all.” Diane-“I’m so sorry for you.” Frank-“She changed her mind forget it, we’ll make a big night of it.” Diane– “Not tonight.” Frank slightly annoyed-“Now why?” Diane warns him, “It would be safer not too. We have to be careful for a few days. More than ever now.” Frank-“What do we have to be careful of now?” Diane-“Well if she finds out she’ll dismiss you and I couldn’t stand to lose you now…” Frank-“So she fires me and I get another job. Maybe it’s better that way. At least we won’t have to play around like this. Hiding like kids.” Diane-“You don’t know her Frank. She’d lock me in.” Frank laughs-“How could she lock you in?” Diane-“She could do anything to me because of my father. If I try to fight her, she makes him pay for it, she knows I can’t stand that, please try to understand.”
Of course Diane has constructed this lie as Catherine was very interested in going through with the deal. She wants to poison Frank’s mind against Catherine, and Frank doesn’t go straight to Catherine and merely ask if this is true, he just takes Diane’s word for it.
Once he is working for the Tremayne’s, and the prospect of his garage will not materialize-Frank gets antsy.
While Diane plays chess with dear old daddy, Frank gets bored playing chauffeur above the garage and tries to call Mary but he can’t reach her. Diane says goodnight to father laying out his milk, biscuits and cigarettes by his bedside, like the loving daughter, he can’t do without.
While Diane sits at the piano and plays her lamenting melody, in her eyes she appears like a black widow knowing that she has a juicy fly trapped above the garage, planning her next strategy which comes in the middle of the night.
She comes to Franks room crying and frightened claiming that Catherine had been in her bedroom looking down at her. Diane says with her most delicate voice-“It was so strange I wanted to speak but I couldn’t.” Diane tells Frank that Catherine had closed the window and put the gas on in her room, that she heard that awful hissing sound. She didn’t dare leave the room. Frank wants to tell her father and the police, but Diane quickly gathers her composure, “No Frank we mustn’t do that.”
Diane’s pretense of paranoia about Catherine’s trying to kill her emerges more clearly for Frank who is now taking notice of it.
An exercise in frustration, Frank begins to realize that he is in love with a lovely yet quite homicidal head case! but he fails to untangle himself from this deadly beauty.
Frank [of Diane’s supposed ‘evil’ stepmother] … “If she’s tryin’ to kill you, why did she turn on the gas in her own room first?”
Diane “To make it look as though somebody else were guilty…”
Frank “Is that what you did?”
Diane “Frank, are you accusing me?”
Frank “I’m not accusing anybody. But if I were a cop, and not a very bright cop at that, I’d say that your story was as phony as a three dollar bill.”
Diane “How can you say that to me?”
Frank “Oh, you mean after all we’ve been to each other?… Diane, look. I don’t pretend to know what goes on behind that pretty little face of yours – I don’t *want* to. But I learned one thing very early. Never be the innocent bystander – that’s the guy that always gets hurt. If you want to play with matches, that’s your business. But not in gas-filled rooms – that’s not only dangerous, it’s stupid.”
Diane tells him that she’s very tired. He says “Yeah, that I can believe.” When she tries to kiss him, he pulls away from her.
Meantime Frank visits with Mary, who is on her way out to meet up with Bill for a date. She is surprisingly nice to Frank which is more than he deserves. She tells him Bill was sure he’d show up for last night’s bowling tournament he tells her –“I’ve been busy.”
Frank asks how Bill did in the tournament, she tells him “wonderful.” Frank answers, “He’s been making out alright with you too huh.”
Mary says, “Bill was very sweet to me after you walked out.”
Frank-“I took a job that pays better than being a lousy ambulance driver, is that a crime?” Mary- “Is taking the bosses daughter to the Mocalmba (club) part of the job?” Frank-“They got a good band there, remind me to take you there sometime.”
You just can’t blame Mary for trying to move on, Bill is a much more dependable and a very likable guy who has worshiped Mary from the beginning. She asks about Frank’s new life, and he tells her that he’s thinking of quitting.
He tells her, “I’ve been thinking about quitting, it’s a weird outfit, not for me.”
Frank asks-“What’s the score Mary, has Bill taken over or do I still rate?”
Mary-“That’s a hard question to answer and I don’t think a fair one to ask” Frank-“A very simple question, yes or no, Bill or me? Can’t you make up your mind?” Mary tells him, “Yes, but I want to be sure you can make up yours. Can’t we let it go at that for a while” Frank-“Oh, I’m on probation, okay, how bout tonight, we got a date?” Mary laughs- “Why not” Frank says, “You know something you’re a pretty nice guy… for a girl.”
The next day Frank is going to leave, but Diane has packed her bags, and stumbles onto Frank packing his own bags. She asks him where he is going. He tells her that he’s quitting, when she asks why, he tells her, “well maybe it’s the altitude. Living up here makes my heart pound.”
Of course Diane collapses onto the couch and begins to weep. Frank tells her, “Now let’s face it I never should have taken this job. You shouldn’t have asked me… you know I’m right. You have your world I have mine. You got beautiful clothes a big house, someday you’ll come into a lot of money. I got a pair of big hands and not much else.”
“But all I want is you. I can’t let you go now… I won’t.”
He tells Diane that he wants to quit his job and she becomes upset as her plaything and the object of her second fixation is now slipping away from her. Frank doesn’t want to be involved with the whole package anymore. “It’s no good I tell you, I’m not getting involved.” She asks “Involved with what?”
“How stupid do you think I am –You hate that women Someday somehow you’re gonna hate her enough to kill her. It’s been in the back of your mind all along.”
Diane says coldly-“So she’s fooled you too! Just like she has everyone else.”
Diane reminds Frank about her father’s book. That one day she went into his desk to hide a present for him, just “something between him and me…”
And that she found inside the drawer where he was supposed to keep his manuscript, there was nothing but a stack of blank paper. He hasn’t written a line since he married Catherine. At first Frank just blows this off, “So he got tired. Writer marries a rich widow what’d ya expect him to write… checks.” This touches on a nerve, “Don’t joke about my father!” She tells Frank that Catherine has “humiliated and destroyed him.”
Frank tells her that there’s no law that says she has to stay, she could move out and find work the way other girls must do. She tells Frank that she would leave if it weren’t for her father. “That’s where I came in. I guess that’s where I leave.”
“Frank please will you tell me one thing. Do you love me at all? I must know…”
“I suppose it’s a kind of love. But with a girl like you how can a man be sure.” Diane quietly asks, “Will you take me with you?”
Frank-“You had it all figured out didn’t ya. You mean you’d really leave your father and everything here.” Diane-“If I have to, to keep you.” Frank-“I could be wrong about you.”
Diane begins to tell Frank how she can sell her jewels and the fancy car and he can get a small garage at first. He wants her to be sure what she is getting herself into. She tells him that she’s sure. They hear Catherine’s car pull around. He tells her to think it over for a few days. Her kisses and sympathetic story about her poor father has worked perfectly on Frank. And she makes sure that he promises that he won’t leave until then. Diane’s maneuvering has worked.
Diane leaves Franks room, and walks passed Catherine’s car. Tiomkin’s score plays fervently, feverishly as she looks down the steep cliff and seems thoughtful about the car that is framed behind her. Finding an empty package of cigarettes stuck in the hedge, she holds it out and watches it as it drops down the deep cliff side. Shades of darker things soon to follow.
Diane is so sinister she even loans Catherine a pair of her new driving gloves, just for the irony of it all. Sometimes she can be so sweet.
Catherine needs to go to her bridge game looking for Frank to drive her, Diane makes the excuse that he needed to go to Santa Barbara, having loaned her sports car to him. Diane offers to drive her instead, knowing all too well that she’ll refuse. And of course Catherine does in fact decide to drive herself to her bridge game. At the last minute, Charles decides to tag along for a ride to Beverly Hills.
Diane languidly floats as if in a psychotic trance and sits at her piano performing the same melody she played the night she failed to asphyxiate Catherine. We can hear Diane playing her melancholy ‘death song’ on the grand piano as her stepmother and father proceed to drive. But…
Diane has figured out how to tamper with the gear shift. She’s been watching Frank tinker with the mansion’s cars, and learns how to reconfigure the brakes and the shift.
Catherine starts up the car, put the gear into drive AND the car shoots backwards rather than forwards –it has been rigged to go into reverse, as her stepmother and father are propelled over the steep cliff’s edge.
Of course the convertible car goes careening over the jagged cliff, rolling over and over and smashing against the rocks, the crash dummies used are quite effective as they (Catherine and Diane’s father) seem to become crushed under the twisted fiery metal…
It is one horrific scene indeed. A scene that truly rattles me!
Diane is successful at the second attempt on her stepmother’s (Barbara O’Neil Stella Dallas 1937, Gone with the Wind 1939, All this, And Heaven Too 1940, Secret Beyond the Door 1947, Whirlpool 1950) life. The problem with Diane’s almost ingenious perfect murder unbeknownst to her is that dear daddy wasn’t supposed to be a passenger in the car so he also dies in the fiery crash, a casualty in the wreckage of Diane’s unbridled psychotic scheme of stepmother machine meddling.
The police think there is something strange about the accident and Frank is charged with murder after Diane’s packed suitcase is found in his room.
The a cop on the case knows Frank from driving the ambulance, and he brings Frank in for questioning. Detective Lt. Ed Brady asks how Frank came to work for the Tremaynes, and Frank tells him that he sort of just fell into it, after they had gotten the call about Catherine’s near asphyxiation. Ed tells him he knows. He’s got the report right there on his desk, Detective Lt. Ed Brady (Larry J. Blake)-“probably accidental, sure makes you wonder, don’t it.” Frank asks,“What da ya mean?” Ed “She claims somebody tried to murder her” Frank laughs it off-“She was hysterical, why would anyone try to murder her?” Ed-“Are you kiddin’ a woman with her kind of money. Oh by the way Frank, what sort of a girl is this step daughter er… Diane?” Frank tells him, “Very nice girl, very pretty girl.” Ed-“Any boyfriends?” Frank-“None that I ever saw. She and her father were very close.” he puffs on his cigarette some more. Ed mentions “But didn’t get a long with her stepmother eh” Frank- “I didn’t say that.” Ed-“Okay okay, when was the last time you drove the Tremayne car?”
Ed shows him the packed suitcase and then tells Frank he should get himself a lawyer.
Attorney Fred Barrett (Leon Ames), Diane’s lawyer comes to see her in the prison hospital ward.
“She idolized the man Fred it’s no wonder her nerves are cracked!”
Diane suffers a breakdown as she had only wanted to kill her stepmother, she never intended on killing her beloved father when she tinkered with the car. It looks like Frank is involved because he was the last known person to handle the car. He was known to have worked on the cars at the Tremaynes.
The Tremayne family lawyer hires one of L.A’s best defense attorneys, Fred Barrett a master at playing on a jury’s emotions.
Barrett tries to tell her that it won’t serve either she nor Frank to shoulder the blame because the jury would believe them both guilt. In a moment of honesty she tries to save Frank’s neck. Seeming less like a crazy girl and in more control of her powers now in the aftermath of what she has done, inadvertently killing her father, she wants to take responsibility for the murders herself, not wanting anyone to defend her and that she acted alone.
Diane confesses to the crime-“But I’m telling the truth.”
“The truth is what the jury decides…not you, not me, not Frank.”
At first Frank doesn’t want to go along with Barrett’s plan.
Barrett-“To be perfectly blunt Mr. Jessup I’m not particular invested in saving your neck. The concern is with my client Diane Tremayne” Frank-“Yeah that’s what I figured” Barrett tells him, “But the point is you have a much better chance together than separately. And the evidence actually points much more to you than it does to her. The fact that an automobile was involved” Frank interrupts, “If she thinks she can get away with that she’s lost her mind.”
Frank and Diane are married at the hospital…
The ladies at the prison bake the bride and groom a wedding cake-“Kids we sure hope you beat the rap!”
Barrett concocts a scheme to have Frank and Diane married in the hospital jail ward where Diane is spending her time while first catatonic, she is then convalescing after the break down. Diane’s legal team insists that she marry Frank so that it would seem like the couple were just innocent young people who intended matrimony and not having a sordid affair. They want Diane to keep her honest revelations to herself. A morally distasteful strategy that might guarantee a good outcome for them at the trial.
This scheme tries to offset any more scandal for the headlines framing it as two innocent people in love. And that explains them leaving the Tremayne house that day with plans to elope.
Another bad choice, Frank goes along with it, hoping to save his own skin not wanting to be convicted of the murders himself. He allows yet again an outside influence to manipulate his life. The idea of Frank and Diane getting married seems to push Diane further into the delusion that they will remain married and that she will have a future with Frank.
But Frank now wants nothing to do with the obsessive murderous Diane. D.A. Judson (Jim Backus) brings in the car’s mangled motor and drive shaft to demonstrate his theory how the transmission was jimmied to stay in reverse. The defense attorney Barrett manages to create a measure of reasonable doubt, supplied by with his own specialists who does create doubt in the minds of the jury and the trial ends with an acquittal. And the couple is now free to go. Frank wants a divorce.
Returning to the mansion Frank tells Diane he’ll go visit Mary to see if she’ll take him back. If she won’t he’ll leave for Mexico. Diane is devastated and in desperation makes him an offer. She’ll loan him her jaguar to go see Mary. If Mary takes him back, he can keep the car. If not he’ll bring the car back.
Here we are not sure whether Diane’s psychosis has broken up a little like a dark cloud getting clearer, as she appears more genuine at this point or is she is still manipulating Frank?
She shares a little history about her childhood and where her fixations might be coming from. She tells him that she was only ten years old when her mother was caught in an air raid in England, after which her father “became everything” to her. But once he married Catherine, Diane says she used to fantasize about what she and her father would do if her stepmother were dead.
She tells Frank that now she realizes that Catherine never meant any harm and she wants him to believe her when she says that she would give her life to bring them back. This is why she tells Frank that he cannot leave her because she wouldn’t know what to do without him. Now appearing just desperately lonely than viciously psychotic. But Frank isn’t ready to stay married to her, not even try at staying close, though he doesn’t hate her, he is “getting out all the same.”
After Frank leaves she closes up the house, dismisses the servants and wanders around the estate alone, before she goes to Frank’s room where she spends the night curled up in the armchair wrapped in his jacket.
Diane believes that she’ll never see him again. She goes to Barrett’s office, wanting to confess, and Barrett reluctantly agrees to take her statement. Diane details how she unwittingly got Frank to show her while giving the car a tune up how to rig the car to go in reverse. But he tells her she can’t be tried again due to double jeopardy. Her admission shows that she might not be totally delusional, just a regretful psychotic.
When Diane returns to the lonely mansion, Dimitri Tiomkin’s dark score swells dramatically around Diane as she appears to drift bereft with grief through the empty halls and rooms. But Diane’s hopes are sparked when Frank returns, Mary has by right rejected him, preferring the kind and loyal ex-partner Bill and Frank decides to leave for Mexico.
Diane pleads with him to let her go along. He says no way. Even though he’s called a cab, he decides to let her drive him to the bus station. They get in the jaguar, and Diane brings champagne and two glasses.
It might not be necessarily clear when the idea came to Diane, If it was the final realization that she’d be driving him to the station never to see him again. Maybe she thinks she can change his mind over that glass of champagne. But something clicks in her brain when Frank criticizes the way she puts the car in gear, as he exclaims. “Easy” that seems to spark her reaction…
He pours the champagne as she starts the engine. Then looking at him, she floors the car in reverse as the two go frighteningly backwards over that scary steep cliff…
And rockets them down the same cliff that killed her father and stepmother, the car smashing against the rocks mangled into the same kind of twisted metal sculpture.
Irony-a few minutes later the cab arrives…. Frank you idiot.
The scene is given it’s moxie by cinematographer Harry Straddling (Suspicion 1941, A Streetcar Named Desire 1951, A Face in the Crowd 1957)
Angel Face dramatically embraces the darker implications of noir.
I admit, I’d have a hard time saying no to Jean Simmons too… but Franks stupidity and Mitchum’s ability to play a tough guy (who smokes a cigarette sexier than any man I can think of) a guy just floating where the wind blows his pants is aptly described in Silver and Ursini’s book—FILM NOIR: THE DIRECTORS– on Otto Preminger
“One of the big achievement of Preminger his writers his cast and composer Tiomkin is to create a tone of amour fou in Angel Face that is realistic, poignant, delirious and suspenseful in equal doses. Frank is not the smartest guy, but he’s not a dummy, either. His lackadaisical attitude about life is embodied in Mitchum’s languid body language. Slow on the uptake about how dangerous Diane is, his problem is one of the noir anti-hero most common:thinking with his balls and not his brains. If he hadn’t given Diane a second chance, if Mary had taken him back;and if he’d realized Diane was willing to sacrifice her own life to be with him. A lot of ifs. Frank is always a half-beat behind trying to get in rhythm and he pays for it dearly. Preminger actually generates some sympathy for Diane when she tries to make up for the murders by confessing, only to realize the state will never punish her. Barrett’s assertion she may end up institutionalized if she presses the issue is more unpalatable to her than the gas chamber. When she comes home before seeing Frank for the final time, the romantic delirium builds to fever pitch, culminating in a bittersweet shot of her curled up in the shadows in Frank’s room. Frank’s coat wrapped around her. It is one of the most moving sequences… the character is completely self-aware of her own psychosis. Angel Face is Preminger’s finest noir.”
The remarkable Olivia de Havilland turns 100 years old today. And it tickles me deeply and sincerely that we share the same birthday July 1st, so while I should be celebrating my own turn of the wheel, I felt it important to join in with so many others who recognize de Havilland’s enormous contribution to cinema and whose lasting grace and beauty still shines so effervescently.
And so… I’d like to pay a little tribute to a few of my favorite performances of this grand lady!
Olivia de Havilland won the Academy Award for Best Actress in To Each His Own (1946) and The Heiress (1949) and nominated for her incredible performance in The Snake Pit (1948), Hold Back the Dawn (1941), and Supporting Actress as the gentle, stoic but powerful strong Melanie in Gone With the Wind (1939).
Olivia de Havilland never shied away from taking on challenging roles, whether she played the archetypal ‘bad’ woman or the ‘good’ woman this astonishing actress could convey either nature with the ease of a jaguar who stirs with inner pride and purpose.
She still possesses that certain inner quality that is a quiet, dignified beauty whose layers unravel in each performance. Consider her heart wrenching portrayal of the emotionally disturbed Virginia Stuart Cunningham thrown into poignant turmoil when she finds herself within the walls of a mental institution but doesn’t remember her husband (Mark Stevens) or how or why she is there. It’s an astounding performance in director Anatole Litvak’s The Snake Pit (1948)
The New York Film Critics awarded Olivia de Havilland Best Actress for The Snake Pit (1948). She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress in a leading role.
Olivia de Havilland threw herself into the role of Virginia by getting up close and personal with mental health treatments of the time. She observed patients and the various modalities that were used in these institutions like, doctor/patient therapy sessions, electric shock therapy and hydrotherapy and attended social events like dances within the institution.
Here’s just a mention of some of my favorite performances by this great Dame of cinema, who as Robert Osborne so aptly spoke of her “… the ever present twinkle in her eyes or the wisdom you sense behind those orbs.”
Reunited with Bette Davis she and Olivia play sisters Stanley and Roy Timberlake, in director John Huston’s In This Our Life 1942 where Bette steals Roy’s fiancée (George Brent).
In director Robert Siodmak’s psychological thriller The Dark Mirror (1946) Olivia de Havilland plays duel roles as dichotomous identical twins, one purely good the other inherently evil.
With Montgomery Clift in director William Wyler’s The Heiress 1949 Oilvia de Havilland plays the timid & naive Catherine Sloper who falls under the spell of opportunist Morris Townsend (Clift).
In director Stanley Kramer’s melodrama Olivia de Havilland plays doctor Kristina Hedvigson who gets involved with the egotistical Lucas Marsh (Robert Mitchum) in Not as a Stranger (1955)
George Hamilton, Olivia, Rossano Brazzi and Yvette Mimieux on the set of Light in the Piazza (1962) filmed in Florence Italy. de Havilland plays Meg Johnson whose daughter having suffered a head injury has left her developmentally challenged. Both mother and daughter are seduced by the romantic atmosphere of Florence.
Now we come to a very powerful performance that of Mrs. Cornelia Hilyard one of Olivia’s most challenging roles as she is besieged upon by psychotic home invaders, James Caan, Jennifer Billingsley, Rafael Campos, Jeff Corey and Ann Southern who hold the uptight American matriarch in her gilded house elevator when the electricity goes out and the animals get in, in Walter Grauman’s brutal vision of the American Dream inverted. Lady in a Cage (1964)
Olivia de Havilland replaced Joan Crawford when tensions built on the set of the follow up to What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? 1962, the Grande Dame Guignol psychological thriller. Olivia de Havilland brought her own wardrobe and was not a stranger to pulling out the darker side of her acting self, portraying in my opinion perhaps one of the most vile and virulent antagonists the cunningly evil Cousin Miriam in director Robert Aldrich’s Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte 1964
Audrey Dalton is exquisite, dreamy, even otherworldly. When I try to find the perfect words to describe the essence that makes her uniquely beautiful these are the words that come to mind. Part of her allure includes her clear and enchantingly liquid voice, a subtle vision of classical beauty with a light that shines from her deep and mercurial eyes. Make no mistake, she is not just a pretty face, Audrey Dalton is an extraordinarily genuine actress who has been one of my favorite unsung heroines for many years. In my opinion she possesses a transcendent kind of beauty and talent that can be seen in other screen idols, Jean Simmons, Jennifer Jones, Gail Russel Ella Raines Jean Peters and Joan Bennett.
Born in Dublin she was destined to become an actress from early on and once her family moved to London she joined the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Audrey is the daughter of Irish war hero and producer Emmet Dalton. She appeared in his film This Other Eden (1959) directed by Muriel Box, it’s the story of small town in Ireland during the 1920s who want to erect a monument to an IRA rebel, and the son of an English colonel who is against the plan. Audrey plays Maire McRoarty co-starring with fine British actor Niall MacGinnis.
It was while she was attending RADA that a Paramount executive saw her and arranged an audition for an upcoming picture The Girls of Pleasure Island (1953) She got the role as one of Leo Genn’s three daughters Hester Halyard along side the great Elsa Lanchester. Audrey also got a contract with Paramount Pictures, and so she came to the U.S. in 1952 to start shooting for “Pleasure Island’
Paramount studios would eventually loan Audrey out to 20th Century Fox to co-star in the adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel (1952) with Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton and in director Jean Negulesco’s Titanic (1953) with Clifton Webb, Barbara Stanwyck’s and Robert Wagner. Dalton was wonderful in both parts, giving a richly emotional performance as Annette Sturges.
In 1955 Audrey Dalton starred in The Deadliest Sin aka Confession a taut film noir where she plays sister Louise Nelson whose brother Mike (Sydney Chaplin) is a cold blooded thief and murderer.
She was wonderful in the romantic & feisty role as Jean whom Charles (Rod Taylor) has a hard time pinning her down for marriage. Co-starring in director Delbert Mann’s Separate Tables (1958) along side an incredible ensemble the likes of Deborah Kerr, Rita Hayworth, David Niven Wendy Hiller Burt Lancaster Gladys Cooper and Cathleen Nesbitt. Amidst the collection of wonderful characters from writer Terence Rattigan, Audrey Dalton’s portrayal of the independent Jean shines through brilliantly.
Now being a child of the 60s who earned the name MonsterGirl first as a way to tease me now I wear as a badge of honor, because I was so drawn to classical horror and sci-fi pictures, I can’t neglect the fact that Audrey Dalton starred in one of the most iconic giant creature features from the 50s-The Monster That Challenged the World (1957) where giant Mollusks terrorize a California coastline.
Not only is this one of my favorite sci-fi/horror films, Audrey Dalton brings a lot of class to the film, acting opposite the hyper-manly bratty Tim Holt ( I can’t stop thinking of him as Georgie Minafer! in The Magnificent Ambersons) This is one of the more superior giant creature films that ran amok during the 50s, and I’m sure many of Audrey’s fans will remember her as Gail MacKenzie whose little girl Sandy (Mimi Gibson) turns up the heat on one of the tubs in the lab and helps one of the giant mollusks to grow and break loose! It’s a hoot of a scene though I always find myself saying just before the monstrous mayhem, “Save the bunnies, save the bunnies!”
Audrey Dalton is marvelous, never becoming that clichéd ‘hysterical’ woman that screams frozen in terror, too overwrought to move a muscle to help. Nope! Gail crosses that scaly beasty and takes little Sandy in her arms while the mollusk is working it’s way through the particle board door, telling her to close her eyes. That’s courage and fierce motherhood, and Audrey Dalton makes it look like monster movie poetry. She added a bit of class and benevolence to the film, which happens to be ONE of my favorites of that nifty blend of sci-fi/horror that is an above average monster movie.
In 1961 the master of artful ballyhoo and gimmickry director William Castle cast Audrey Dalton as the woman in peril -the Baroness Maude Sardonicus who is a prisoner to the gruesome Baron Sardonicus/Marek Toleslawski played with a morbid conviction by Guy Rolfe in the Gothic Grande Guignol horror masterpiece Mr. Sardonicus. A man who’s face has been frozen in a terrifying grimace after digging up his father’s corpse to retrieve a lottery ticket, the death mask of his father causes his facial muscles to be stricken with a Sardonic grin… Maude is used as blackmail to persuade Sir Robert Margrave (Ronald Lewis) to try his new techniques in curing paroxysms of the muscles. Audrey’s character again in the midst of terrible circumstances maintains her sophisticated composure even whilst the sadistic Krull (Oskar Homolka) tortures young girls from the village with leeches. She brings that air of class and elegance to this better than average B-movie shocker!
There are times when you love film and television so much you are able to revisit episodes or memorable scenes because they never lose their power for you. In particular, I periodically watch Boris Karloff’s anthology show THRILLER because of the confluence of talent that manages to create something so beautiful, memorable, and burned into the psyche as it gives off innate sparks of genius. A show that today is still a work of art that is original and charismatic. One of the major influencers for me constantly revisiting the show, has been due to the incredible acting and characterizations that make this fantasy/horror/thriller/noir fusion come to life, including all it’s various actors who made their roles seem effortless and memorable.
Now, I have to mention the way I came to be struck by the talent and vast dimensions of Audrey Dalton. If you know me by now, you know that I sincerely wish Boris Karloff had been my grandfather. Hosting the groundbreaking anthology show THRILLER brought to light so many incredible actors who helped create a landscape of mystery, fantasy and horror. Audrey Dalton appeared in perhaps three of the best episodes of the series. The haunting and outré creepy The Hollow Watcher co-starring Warren Oates and Denver Pyle as the brutal & sadistic Ortho Wheeler.
Appearing as Meg O’Danagh Wheeler in the rustic boogeyman piece of Americana The Hollow Watcher, Audrey Dalton proves to be a mesmerizing beauty, at times vulnerable and at other times commands the screen as a hell cat. not over the top, but a believable young woman with desires and a sense of self preservation in the midst of the confining atmosphere of a slew of hillbilly neanderthals who would possess her like a pretty doll, with not much say about her life or her own body. Dalton, transmutes those cultural chains by emerging a strong woman, without cliché and keeps herself steps away from being a victim of judgement by the symbol of falsely righteous anger, the Hollow Watcher and the men who would deem her wicked yet simultaneously objectify her while ultimately trying to keep her down.
The Hollow Watcher was not only a rustic tale of the boogeyman in the form of a scarecrow, but it also brought out a few sociological implications, like fear of foreigners, as Meg was from Ireland, misogyny and small mindedness that leads to hate. Audrey’s character Meg, while at times plays a hell cat, okay and a murderess, though Ortho Wheeler was a belligerently evil bastard, balances this fiery role, with a delicate portrayal of vulnerability, self possession and self preservation. She gets my sympathy as an anti-heroine, and it takes true inner strength to project that perfect balance.
Beautiful and tragic, Audrey Dalton’s presence elevates the story to a higher level, than just a scary bed time story about a bumpkin boogeyman. I think the reason the episode never loses it’s potency, nor does the simplistic scarecrow appear sophomoric is perhaps the way it transforms these elements into pure revelation– that at times, the things that frighten us are truly very simple and primal fears.
In the episode The Prediction, Audrey performs with Boris Karloff in one of the few stories where Karloff doesn’t just lend his hosting prologues. Audrey plays Norine Burton assistant to stage mentalist Clayton Mace. Her father (Alan Caillou) is a drunken wretch and Clayton is more of a loving guardian to her. She wants to get married, but Clayton starts having real visions of danger and insinuates himself into the couples plans, resulting in a tragic end. Audrey is wonderful in the role, bringing that believable kindness and light that shines from her emotional eyes. I plan on covering both The Prediction & Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook as a continuing tribute to this series that was both far ahead of it’s time and timeless.
In director Herschel Daugherty’s Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook she plays Nesta Roberts who’s husband (Kenneth Haigh) is a Scotland yard detective trying to solve a murder in the Welsh moors where the people at The Inn of the Dark Woods are a closed community bound by superstition and fearful of witchcraft. They believe Nesta to be a witch because she is beautiful and that’s always dangerous and she has seen the elusive black dog.
Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook is another mysterious piece from THRILLER. Dalton plays Nesta a new bride to a police inspector who stumble onto a horrific murder case on the Welsh moors where there is a suspicion of witchcraft about. Nesta not only doesn’t sit idly by like a complacent pretty wife waiting to be protected by husband, Kenneth Haigh. The couple come upon the clues, and contend with the villagers frightened by superstition. Nesta assists her detective husband to solve the uncanny events, like the vision of a strange black dog and confronts the mystery head on, exuding a sense of smarts.
Dalton in all three episodes of THRILLER possesses a range of emotion that make her a perfect heroine, with a dimension of emotional fortitude, vulnerability and perseverance.
In Douglas Heyes’ Kitten With a Whip (1964), Audrey Dalton manages to avoid all that tawdry exploitation orgy that her husband John Forsythe gets tangled up when he befriends psychopath Ann-Margaret. She lends her lovely portrait to the film as counter-balance to Margaret’s wildly amoral Dvorak Jody who marks up the photo with lipstick by drawing a sloppy pair of lips mocking her lovely mouth. Audrey also lends her worried minute to a phone call that turns chaotic on the other end. Audrey is too classy to be mixed up in this mess Forsythe has got himself into…
In 1965 Audrey appeared with Dan Duryea in the gritty spaghetti western The Bounty Killer.
Audrey Dalton appeared in various television dramas and westerns to name a few, Kraft Suspense Theater, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Dragnet, The Wild Wild West, Bonanza, Wagon Train, episodes of Police Woman.
“Acting always seemed honest and straightforward. The characters portrayed had a purpose, and I loved the unspoken communication between the actor and his audience” -Audrey Dalton
Well that explains why every one of Audrey Dalton’s performances appear honest and with purpose. She manages to give a bit of herself with every role. Never the same, she taps into the part and becomes that person with grace and ease of movement. We can see it in her expressive eyes and with that candid smile of hers.
I get excited to see her every time I’m watching one of her films or television performances. It’s like seeing an old dear friend.
Actors like Dalton who frequented THRILLER , popular television shows and major motion pictures make us feel comfortable because she’s easy to like and appears to be a ‘real’ person, authentically accessible and believable.
A tremendous thank you to her daughter Vickie who was gracious enough to take the time to comment on my blog with kind words from she and her incredible mum!
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!
I just got myself this collection of goodies from Something Weird!
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.
James Caan- is the violent anti-social ruffian Randall Simpson O’Connell and a good choice for ‘The Great Villain Blogathon’ since I’ve covered two sympathetic antagonists, I thought it was necessary to write about a true villain in every sense of the word. He’s an *animal* as he calls himself. He is not an anti-hero, he is a sadistic, and violently wired punk a, a vicious hoodlum, a product of a modern age.
The young James Caan embodies such a sociopathic, undomesticated menacing rage that even through the cliché stocking on his face, it makes him all the more frightening. Randall is the axis of this amoral trio who are such anti-social, narcissistic degenerates that they do not evoke a smidgen of sympathy from the audience. Though he may come from trouble beginnings, his displaced rage pits him against Hilyard who represents everything he despises.
Randall is a misogynist brute who beats his girlfriend Elaine (we hear the blows from behind the door as she both screams and exults in sexual excitement), and would have probably sexually harassed Mrs. Hilyard but for the fact that he mentions how he hates his grandmother, an older and sexless figure. He is physically rough with her, feeling that she is an ‘old crow’ who is controlling and manipulative and has pushed her son to threaten suicide. Undertones of an Oedipal nature run through the plot line as Randall is raging against the devouring mother, that Hilyard represents in the story, which truly plays like a modern mythic tragedy. Randall traumatizes Hilyard until she is almost insane with fear.
Lady in a Cage is a grimy urban ordeal drenched in taboo, and inhabited by drunken derelicts, boozy dames, doped-up delinquents and a menacing cruelty that escalates until it is almost unbearable.
de Havilland’s lovely face distorts in the reflected mirrored panel of the elevator as she begins to unravel from the brutality and captivity she confronts, all within the vanilla white tonality of her quiet house. The interior shots alternating with the outer rat race, the urban grime and modern desolation.
As Tony Williams writes in his chapter Trying to Survive on the Darker Side in The Dread of Difference-edited by Barry Keith Grant-where he cites Grauman’s film “The monstrous adult child product of a traumatic family situation existed in earlier decades, as works such as Curse of the Cat People 1944, Psycho, The Strangler 1963, Lady in a Cage 1964, Marnie 1964, I Dismember Mama 1972, The Killing Kind 1973.”
James Caan had made an appearance as a soldier with radio in Billy Wilder’s Irma La Douce (1963)
Randall was James Caan’s first credited feature film role after getting his start with small television parts such as The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, “Memo from Purgatory” where he plays a writer who goes undercover in a street gang so he can get inspiration for his book. Kraft Suspense Theatre in 1963, Dr. Kildare, Death Valley Days, Combat!, and the ruthless Marty Feketi in ‘Bullets Cost Too Much’ episode of The Naked City 1961 extraordinary social commentary police procedural tv series that ran from 1958-1963. I’m still working through my new dvd box set, and let me tell you, there ain’t nothing like this show with it’s incredible cast of character actors, dramatic story telling and on location cinematography in New York City in the 60s.
A snippet of the exchange between Hilyard and Randall…
Mrs.Hilyard-“You’re from an asylum?”
Randall-“Asylum? Oh no, you don’t. Reformatory. Work farm. I been inside every way there is to be inside. I been some kind of inside since I was nine years old.“
Mrs. Hilyard-“Oh I see. You’re one of the many bits of offal produced by the welfare state. You’re what so much of my tax dollars goes for the care and feeding of.”
Caan, with his very ‘masculine’ hairy chest, was a much more subtle psychopath in Curtis Harrington’s psychological thriller Games 1967 where he gaslights the beautiful but emotionally delicate Katherine Ross with the help of sensual goddess Simone Signoret. BTW, I’ll be doing a special feature on the works of Curtis Harrington hopefully by the summer.
Randall even takes off on Marlon Brando’s Stanley Kowalski from Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named Desire, as he belches, shirtless (most of the film) and leers and smirks in his outre tight jeans.
This evokes “I think I’m going to be sick” from the respectable Mrs. Hilyard who voices her scorn. Randall is in control and enjoys the power struggle, sadistically amused by her indignation and repulsion, “Watch the human being be sick in a cage.” He’s looking for any excuse to lash out.
Randall says [to George Brady the bum] “We’re gonna kill you. First you, then the pig (Sade)… and then, the human being!”
It is suggested that Randall also likes to beat up on his girlfriend Elaine, as she has a black eye. As I stated earlier, off camera while up in the master bathroom behind closed doors, it is implied that she actually vocalizes pleasure when he hits her. Elaine herself is an angry and hyper-sexual oddity, perhaps even a sociopath as well, as she moves her body provocatively, quite aware of her seductive maneuvering. She enjoys watching violent acts and she dances to a small music box in a very sexually inappropriate way. Obviously she is wired to believe that sexuality and violence go together.
Olivia de Havilland as Mrs. Cornelia Hilyard is terrorized by James Caan as the violent Randall Simpson O’Connell and his gang of sociopathic miscreants.
de Havilland’s Cornelia Hilyard suffers from delusions toward the climax –that Randall is her son Malcolm. First when she faints after she speaks to Randall thinking he is Malcolm and then again when he reads the letter and uses the words ‘release’ – as the screen becomes all wavy, as she self-accuses that she is a ‘monster.’
de Havilland having taken the role after Joan Crawford turned down the part of Cornelia Hilyard, and then ironically stepping in a little later that year to fill Joan’s high heels in Hush Hush… Sweet Charlotte when personalities clashed on the set with Bette Davis and Robert Aldrich.
Walter Grauman (his first film obscure B cult classic- The Disembodied 1957, writing for television Peter Gunn, Matinee Theatre, Perry Mason, The New Breed, The Untouchables, Naked City, Twilight Zone (Miniature) Route 66, Burke’s Law, Kraft Suspense Theatre, Honey West, The Fugitive , The Streets of San Fransisco and Barnaby Jones- Directing tv movie horrors like Daughter of the Mind, The Man Who Cried Wolf, Crowhaven Farm, Paper Man, They Call it Murder and The Golden Gate Murders ’79, a terrific hard to find film with David Janssen and Susannah York.
I just love Grauman’s realist style– it’s raw and captivating mise en scène and here he directs this very taut thriller, that somehow seems to elude a definitive genre category as it falls into place amongst the transgressive noir-hybrids of the 60s, it’s been linked with Grande Dame Guignol cinema, and it’s every bit a suspense crime drama but there is little written about it in any of my books on the THRILLER or NOIR film genres. Film historian Kim Newman points out that the sub-genre that was a popular psycho trend of the 1960s where “the aging actress as *monster* was inaugurated” by Aldrich’s Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
It’s also showcases elements of the horror style rampant in the 60s and yet again, I’ve found it difficult to locate it in any index, and I’ve got a full library on that subject as you can imagine. The idea of home invasion and torture isn’t a subject that’s been missed this side of the 21st Century. It’s been a featured narrative on shows like Law and Order, Dexter and Criminal Minds comes to mind.
Gregory A Waller writes in the introduction in American Horrors: Essays on the Modern American Horror Film- “The 60’s provided a number of noteworthy horror films -still disturbing oddities like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?(1962), Lady in a Cage (1964) and The Haunting (1964) with it’s restrained ‘adult’ major studio, quasi Victorian terror.”
The idea of the home being invaded in an era which was coming off of the industrial age of suburban comforts, ice maker refrigerators, frozen dinners, air conditioners, appliances for an easier way to be a home-maker. the notion of this once safe, comfortable and innocent lifestyle is thus shattered by the intrusion of a doomed and violent world out of control. Even more stunning is that the action happens in broad daylight.
Martin Rubin sums it up in his book Thrillers-Lady in a Cage “epitomizes modern day social decay through the predicament of a cut-off shut-in Olivia de Havilland terrorized by lowlifes and juvenile delinquents”
The script was written by writer/produce Luther Davis The Hucksters 1047, B.F.’s Daughter 1948, Kismet 1965, Across 110th Street (1972, tv movies Daughter of the Mind 1969 with Ray Milland and Gene Tierney, The Old Man Who Cried Wolf 1970 with Edgar G. Robinson.
co-starring as Caan’s female sidekick is Jennifer Billingsly as Elaine, Rafael Campos is Essie ( very hard working character actor in the sixties and seventies, I especially loved him as Little Emanuel with one leg shorter than the other in All in the Family), William Swan as Malcom Hilyard, Scatman Crothers as the junkman’s assistant,
Lady in a Cage also includes Ann Sothern as the weary and wanton Sade, Jeff Corey as the derelict George L Brady/ who decries, “Repent, repent” the two outliers of society, taking advantage of Mrs. Hilyard’s predicament instead of helping her.
With art direction and production design by Hal Pereira who worked on such great Hitchcock thrillers as Rear Window ’54, Vertigo ’58 and Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s ’61
At times Glass underscores the world gone awry with sounds akin to the mechanism of social order having just snapped a spring, and becoming uncoiled and shorted out!
The opening credits are framed with the use of bar like graphics symbolic of not only the literal plot entrapment but the atmosphere of being caged in as well. The linear graphics that interplay with the rolling list of credits remind me of the work of title designer Saul Bass.
Leon Barsha takes care of the tense editing. Barsha knows how to create a claustrophobic chaos as he did with Joan Crawford in Sudden Fear 1952, Midnight Lace 1960, editing a few of the most outstanding episodes of The Twilight Zone– A Penny For Your Thoughts ’61, The Grave ’61 and Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up ’61.
Rudolph Sternad production designer/art director-died a year before the film was released. Just to mention a few of his credits-(Dead Reckoning 1947, Walk a Crooked Mile 1948, The Member of the Wedding 1952, High Noon 1952, The Wild One 1953, The Defiant Ones 1958, Inherit the Wind 1960, It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World 1963) Set designers were Sam Comer and Joseph Kish.
Cinematographer Lee Garmes has some list of credits, having started as a painters assistant and prop boy. He lensed some of the most beautifully visual films, The Garden of Allah 1927, Lilies of the Field 1930, Scarface 1932, Call Her Savage 1932, Strange Interlude 1932 then later uncredited for Gone With the Wind, Guest in the House 1944, and of course some of my favorite films, Nightmare Alley 1947, The Paradine Case 1947 and Portrait of Jennie 1948 onto noirs, Detective Story and The Captive City.
Garmes sets up certain shots that give the impression of a brutally grotesque modern masquerade fête of social misfits on a rampage in a woman-in peril film.
With various close ups on the players faces, in particular de Havilland as she begins to lose it. Often the trio are framed at angles where they look over Mrs. Hilyard who appears like a trapped animal in a cage, as they taunt her from above. She seems smaller and helpless. de Havilland begins to lose her coiffed appearance as she devolves, her hair becomes unkempt and she is drenched in perspiration. It’s quite visually disturbing and graphically unnerving. As these good shockers often are as Grauman and Garmes use extreme close ups of de Havilland’s mouth when she screams for help. The emphasized shots of the alarm bell ringing to no avail, reminds of the detail that cinematographer Ernest Haller paid toward elements of communication and non-escape (the myriad shots of the phone, the stairs) in Aldrich’s What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?
Lady in a Cage –Hal Pereira’s set is more modern, sterile and streamline, inharmonious and unwelcoming. There are many disturbing scenes with the subtle distinction of this hostility and inhumanity like the girl who runs her roller skates over the leg of an unconscious man, an evangelist spouts off about the evils of the world on the radio, a dog hit by a car that drivers keep passing by without stopping.
The date is the 4th of July, it is extremely hot day, people’s nerves are more sensitive and agitated during these heat waves which usually leads to more crime. There are exploding garbage cans in the street to mark the holiday.
Garmes focuses on Mrs Hilyard through the bars on her cage and the reflections in the mirrored panel. We begin as voyeurs. Malcolm is writing his letter, addressing his mother as ‘darling.’ Perhaps a little undeveloped sub-text to be discussed in a different kind of post. Considering that this one is in a series of ‘love notes’ he writes to her. “Darling” Hhmm???
It is made apparent though not explicitly, that Malcolm is in fact gay, and his mother’s domineering personality is at the source of his homosexuality, which is what films of the 60s & 70s would tend to illustrate.
de Havilland has a screen presence that is quite sophisticated and almost imposing with her sense of stylish intellect and decorum. This puts de Havilland’s Mrs. Hilyard in an interesting position on the graph of class struggle, as Randall and his gang aren’t just fighting amongst their own contemporaries, he is challenging an upper class society lady and mother figure to attack back.
Ironically what sets off the sequence of actions that ensue is Malcolm whose car hits a ladder, that tears out wires that short out the power lines. He causes the accident that creates the electricity going out leaving his mother stranded in her gilded prison. He is yet another character in the film who is distracted by his own agenda, self-absorbed carelessness and indifference. Played out like a tragedy, it is at the chance moment when Malcolm causes the power outage that his mother wearing a sheer negligee gets into her elevated cage locking herself inside like a sitting canary. The ‘cage’ has a mirrored panel by the buttons, that allow for de Havilland/Mrs.Hilyard to be seen from various angles and expressions.
With her in her gilded trap is a transistor radio, which is reporting about the uncovered murder victim, a woman who has been decapitated!
Mrs. Hilyard (Olivia de Havilland) is a poetess and a wealthy widow who lives in a stifling bourgeois mansion with her son Malcolm (William Swan) Cornelia, though she is never actually called by her first name, has had an elevator installed in her mansion after she breaks her hip. We see Malcolm writing a letter to his mother as he is about to go away for a weekend, leaving his mother all alone in the house. Malcolm appears to be stifled by his mother’s overbearing love, even to the point of her insisting that he drink his orange juice. As he leaves in his car, he backs into a ladder which nudges a wire that short circuits.
Through this subtle set of events triggering a negative chain reaction causing a power outage, it only sparks the larger series of violent circumstances that begin to spiral out of control. Of course Cornelia Hilyard is now trapped in her gilded cage of an elevator. She has an emergency alarm, which she uses while the electricity is out, but only one person is aroused by the alarm. A derelict wino named George L. Brady (Jeff Corey) hearing the alarm in the alley he ignores her cries for help, and instead helps himself to some of her things. Brady feigns muteness while he rummages around her things, as she is helpless to do anything about it. In desperation she tries to bargain with him to help her, “I will build a shrine to you.”
But Brady is only the first character who will prey on the weakness and vulnerability of Mrs Hilyard. The ferocious and unsympathetic opportunism is a theme that will carry through the film’s story telling. And none is likable and no one is safe from harm. While we might feel slightly ambivalent toward the poor souls who are down and out on their luck, or the proper and uptight Mrs Hilyard who is the central sufferer in the piece, the narrative doesn’t allow much time for us to feel compassion which only illustrates that the message of nihilism translates with an authentic sting. Mrs. Hilyard is every bit part of the testimony of elitist apathy and arrogance that comes along with a hypocritical and so-called civilized modern society.
The film begins to escalate with a real sense of urgency and smothering atmosphere of dread. The derelict Brady fences the goods and then pays a visit to his slovenly dame Sade (Ann Sothern). This sets off yet another ripple in the threatening current that is building in the narrative.
Following Brady from the junk dealer to Sade’s apartment the vicious trio learn about Mrs Hilyard’s house. The savage bunch of hoodlums Randall, Elaine and Essie hang back and wait for the right time to strike. The three lowlifes follow George and Sade to the mansion wearing stockings to obscure their identities, as they start ravaging the place. Eventually they kill the old bum George L Brady who is in a way the second catalyst for the crime of invading and tormenting the trapped Mrs. Hilyard. Hypocritical too as he decries, ‘repent’ though he not only ignores her pleadings for help, he engages the mechanism of ill-fate-he must also be the first to be disposed of. And although we do not see any of the gory details when they stab him to death, the murder is still quite gruesome, as the force of violence still permeates the screen with Paul Glass’ use of music box nuance to create contrast between the two experiences.