🚀 “Keep watching the skies!” Science Fiction cinema of the 1950s- The year is 1951- Part 1

History-Project-2016-oz

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BENEVOLENT VISITORS FROM SPACE, DREADFUL BEGINNINGS, UNKNOWN WORLDS, FUNNY MEN, LONE SURVIVORS, INVISIBLE BOXERS AND KILLERS GORILLAS.

Two Lost Worlds

2-LOST-WORLDS-

Directed by Norman Dawn the film stars James Arness as Kirk Hamilton, Kasey Rogers as Elaine Jeffries, Bill Kennedy as Martin Shannon, Pierre Watkin as Elaine’s father, Magistrate Jeffries, Gloria Petroff as Janice Jeffries, Tom Hubbard as John Hartley, Jane Harlan as Nancy Holden, Tom Monroe as Captain Tallman, Michael Rye as Captain Hackett, and Fred Kohler Jr.as sailor Nat Mercer.

In 1830, on the American clipper ship named ‘The Queen’ first Mate Kirk Hamilton is assailed by bloody pirates led by Captain Hackett. Kirk is brought ashore to treat his wounds, where he meets Elaine Jeffries and the two fall in love. But Elaine is engaged to rancher Martin Shannon and of course a the male rivalry begins. Once again the ruthless Captain Hackett raids and plunder the colony and kidnap Elaine and her little friend Nancy Holden. Which leads Kirk and Martin Shannon to rescue them from the pirates and various dinosaurs that inhabit the volcanic island!

two lost worlds the dinosaurs

Two Lost Worlds Nancy Holden and a dinosaur this aint Alice through the Looking Glass

This ain’t Alice through the looking glass!

Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man

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Directed by Charles Lamont a satirical look at H.G. Wells’ story with our two funny men Bud Abbott and Lou Costello at the center! The film also stars Arthur Franz as boxer Tommy Nelson, Nancy Guild as Helen Gray, Adele Jergens as Boots Marsden, William Frawley as Detective Roberts and Sheldon Leonard as Boots Morgan…

Comedy didn’t escape the horror genre so it certainly didn’t lose time letting Abbott & Costello have a crack at The Invisible Man! By the 1950s they needed gimmicks to seduce their fans into adoring them again. The pair play Bud Alexander and Lou Francis amateur private eyes, hired by boxer Tommy Nelson (Arthur Franz) who’s been accused of killing his manager, to clear his name of the murder. Tommy takes scientist Helen Gray’s serum that produces invisibility. In a hilarious scene Lou poses as a boxer while the invisible Tommy is really doing all the slugging. Of course the duo find the real killer!

Abbott and Costello meet the Invisible Man 1951

ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN, Bud Abbott, Arthur Franz, Lou Costello, 1951
ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN, Bud Abbott, Arthur Franz, Lou Costello, 1951
ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN, Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Arthur Franz, 1951
ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN, Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Arthur Franz, 1951

Det. Roberts: [Tommy Nelson is gone] How did he get out?

Lou Francis: Installments.

Det. Roberts: Installments?

Lou Francis: Yeah, he did a Gypsy Rose Lee, come here!

[they find Tommy’s clothes lying about]

Lou Francis: That, that’s all that’s left of him.

Det. Roberts: Evidently Nelson changed clothes… what was he wearing when you last saw him?

Lou Francis: Air… nothing but air… and then he asked me how he looked.

Det. Roberts: Wearing air? What are you talking about?

Lou Francis: I went to shake his hand, his hand was gone, I looked up to speak to him, his head was gone. Then he took off his shirt, his body was gone, he took off his pants, his legs were gone! Then he spoke to me, I was gone.

Bride of the Gorilla

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Director Curt Siodmak, (director The Magnetic Monster 1953 & Curucu The Beast of the Amazon 1956, Black Friday, The Ape and The Invisible Woman 1940-story/screenplay, The Wolf Man 1941-screenplay, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman 1943, Son of Dracula 1943-screenplay, I Walked with a Zombie 1943-screenplay )

Bride of the Gorilla stars the gorgeous Barbara Peyton as Mrs. Dina Van Gelding, Lon Chaney Jr. as Police Commissioner Taro, Raymond Burr plays it cool as Barney Chavez , Tom Conway as Dr. Viet, Paul Cavanagh as Klaas Van Gelder , Giselle Werbisek as Al-Long, Carol Varga as Larina, Woody Strode as Nedo the Policeman. and Steve Calvert as the Gorilla.

Bride of the Gorilla lobby card Burr and Payton

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“The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked!Klaas Van Gelder

Bride of the Gorilla ape and burr

Raymond Burr plays Barney Chavez who manages a plantation in the jungles of South America. He desires his boss plantation owner Klaas Van Gelder’s wife and in order to get his wife Dina he murders him in cold blood. But he is vexed by the old witch Al-Long who has seen his crime, he believes that he has been cursed to become a nocturnal gorilla run amok

Deep in the South American jungle plantation manager Barney Chavez (Raymond Burr) kills his elderly employer in order to get to his beautiful wife (Barbara Payton). However, an old native witch witnesses the crime and puts a curse on Barney. Does he really transform into a killer ape by night or is the curse just a matter of suggestion, and psychological head games pressing on his guilt. He is driven mad believing that he is the ‘jungle demon-the succarat’.

Bride of the Gorilla old witch Al-Long

Bride of the Gorilla Long Chaney as Taro

Police Commissioner Taro: [narration] This is Jungle – lush, green, alive with incredible growth – as young as day, as old as time. I, Taro, Police Commissioner of Itman County, which borders the Amazonas River, know it as well as any man will ever know it. Isn’t it beautiful? But I have also learned that beauty can be venomous, deadly, something terrifying, something of prehistoric ages when monstrous superstitions ruled the minds of men, something that has haunted the world for millions of years rose out of that verdant labyrinth. Let me tell you how the jungle itself took the law into its own hands. This was Van Gelder Manor, built to stand against the searing sun, built to shelter generations of Van Gelders, it also has become prey to the powers of the jungle, that terrifying strength that arose to punish a man for his crimes.

The Day the Earth Stood Still

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🚀 KLAATU BARADA NIKTO

day the earth stood stil klaatu and gort arrive

Directed by the master who started out as an editor working with Val LewtonRobert Wise, created this iconic film which gave the science fiction genre a level of artistic authenticity. It’s memorable and sensational for so many of us because of  Wises’ directing, Leo Tover’s photography, acting by a stellar cast led by Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal and the art direction, set design and spectacular visual effects.

Day_The_Earth_Stood_Still 1951 on the set

Day the earth Stood Still the ship shows up in the sky

Day the Earth STood STill the saucer in Washington

Day the Earth Stood Still-Klaatu emerges

Day the Earht Stood Still miliary

Day the Earth Stood Still Klaatu with offering looks like a weapon

Michael Rennie plays Klaatu a visitor from another world, millions of miles away from Earth who brings a very dire yet hopeful message to us earthlings. “We have come to visit you in peace and with goodwill.” Klaatu appears essentially as a heavenly angel on a mission of mercy.

Klaatu has been sent as a representative by an organization of planets who have found a way to curb their tendencies toward war by installing other powerful robots like Gort to police them, “In matters of aggression we have given them absolute power over us!” Well, that’s a very provocative statement to make coming from Hollywood in the midst of The Cold War, but hey it’s one method, albeit a dangerous one, as Klaatu explains that “This power cannot be revoked. At first signs of violence they act automatically  against the aggressor. The penalty for provoking their action is too terrible too risk.” The violation implies that their planet will be destroyed, which is what Klaatu warns the Earth about. Yes, Klaatu you haven’t achieved perfection with this system but you say it works. So does every dictatorship and totalitarian state.

Of course Michael Rennie is also not at all difficult to listen to as he isnt’ a 10 foot one eyed amorphic blob or a grotesque pants monster. Writer/Film historian Bill Warren mentions this inaccuracy in his book and cites Erich von Däniken. He was an ancient alien theorist claimed that if aliens had visited before they could come again. Perhaps they left a few travelers behind who shacked up with earthlings and voilà thousands of years later you have a very sophisticated and silky talking Brit who looks smashing in a custom tailored suit.

Day the Earth Stood Stilll-Klaatu comes in peace

Day the Earth stood still people watch as Klaatu approaches more crowd

Patricia Neal is beautiful in that retiring style of  hers as widow Helen Benson, Hugh Marlowe plays insurance man Tom Stevens, the wonderfully sage Sam Jaffe plays Professor Jacob Barnhardt, Billy Gray plays Bobbie Benson, Frances Bavier runs the rooming house (another Aunt Bea) as Mrs. Barley, and Lock Martin is lurking inside that great robot silver pants-suit called Gort!

There are tiny bitty part for Stewart Whitman plays a sentry, Olan Soule has a bit part as Mr.Krull, Dorothy Neumann as operator Margaret and Richard Carlson as Thomas Stevens Jr. and few more familiar character actors we all love!

Part of the charm of this film for me on a side note is seeing three of The Andy Griffith Show players like Dorothy Neumann who plays Otis Campbell’s wife, Olan Soule who plays hotel clerk / prissy choir leader Mr. Masters, and of course Francis Bavier the lovable Aunt Bea.

Neumann on the line

Dorothy Neumann as Rita Campbell isn’t always just barking at Otis or pouring his hootch down the drain. She’s been a hard working character actress in so many television shows and films you probably love! (The Snake Pit 1948, Sorry, Wrong Number 1948, she was Helen Lawson’s maid in Valley of the Dolls 1967

Leo Tover is at the helm of the camera, and captures the feeling of a world in befuddlement as well as framing many scenes with a noir sensibility as he had shot so skillfully before with The Snake Pit 1948, The Secret of Convict Lake 1951, and A Blueprint for Murder 1953. Art direction by Addison Hehr and Lyle R. Wheeler (Gone with the Wind 1939, Rebecca 1940, All About Eve 1950, Compulsion 1959) The post-modern expressionist Art Deco interior ship design is out of this world by Set direction by Thomas Little (The Grapes of Wrath 1940, All About Eve 1950)

The flying saucer or space-craft which allegedly cost $100,000 was modeled after actual sightings that were very popular and becoming rampant during that time in the 1950s And of course there’s always Bernard Herrmann’s use of the theremin that just quivers my strings.

Thanks to the direction of Robert Wise (one of my personal favorite directors), The Day the Earth Stood Still is considered one of THE best and most beloved American Science Fiction films of the fifties. One of the interesting themes that runs through the movie is how Christ-like or archetypal Savior figure Michael Rennie’s character Klaatu is– as he comes to save the Earth from their violent ways, and from themselves–in the end only to sacrifice his own life for the cause, then to be resurrected –moving on leaving his grave warning in our laps.

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Day the Earth STood Still Lincoln

Day the Earth stood Still at the monument washington SAVIOR IMAGE

Day the Earth Stood Still People Watch as Klaatu approaches crowd

Day the Earth stood STill the army aims

Day the Earth Stood Still 1951 Klaatu is shot by the army

Day the Earth stood still the miliary waits

Day the Earth Stood Still Klaatu is down

Day the Earth stood Still Gort comes out of ship after Klaatu is shot

Day the Earth Stood Still Klaatu gets up atfer shot meets the military

The film does work as a allegory during the Cold War era which warns us against our transgressions and wicked tendencies toward violent aggression. Klaatu arrives in his spacecraft with his robot companion a gleaming and imposing silver giant named Gort. Klaatu has been sent by an inter-planetary federation that fears Earth will use the atomic-bomb to destroy the universe in the not too distant future, and warns that if they do not stop their aggressive behavior, they will be blown to bits. Met by the military Klaatu extends an olive branch in the form of a gadget that they interpret as a weapon even though he tells the people of Earth “We have come to visit you in peace and in good will”. But they begin firing upon him wounding him and imprisoning him in a hospital where he escapes and assumes the identity of a gentlemanly earthling. Bernard Herrmann’s signature melodic motif of tumult underscores a wonderful scene as authority figures search frantically for Klaaut, and Wise shows the public in various rapt by their radios and television set, reading newspaper headlines about the missing space man!

day-the-earth-stood-still-prisoner at the hospital

Day the Earth Stood Still-lets just say we're neighbors Mr Hardy-it's hard to think of another planet as neighbors

After Mr. Hardy who comes to interview Klaatu asks where he comes from Klaatu tells him that he’s traveled millions of miles to this planet Klaatu –“lets just say we’re neighbors” Mr Hardy-“It’s hard to think of another planet as neighbors.”

day the earth stood still Klaaut is missing from the hospital

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Day the Earth Stood Still the roomers see Mr.Carpenter in the doorway of the rooming house

Day the Earth Stood Still Maj.Carpenter arrives at the rooming house

In the meantime Klaatu takes a small Washington boarding house as a mild mannered Maj. Carpenter where he meets Helen Benson (Patricia Neal) and develops a poignant relationship with she and her son Bobby (Billy Gray). Helen is being wooed by insurance agent Tom (Hugh Marlowe) who turns out to be as aggressive and dangerous as the majority of antagonists in the film.

Taking the name from the tag on a borrowed jacket he’s wearing, Klaatu takes the identity of Major Carpenter. When he arrives at the rooming house everyone is stunned at first, as he stands in the shadows.

Day the Earth Stood Still Maj. Carpenter Arrives

Day the Earth Stood Still rennie neal and marlowe

Day the Earth Stood Still a meal at the rooming house

Mr. Krull “It’s enough to give you the shakes. He’s got that robot standing there, 8 feet tall just waiting to just waiting for orders to destroy us!”

Day the Earth Stood Stil at the dinner table

Helen- “This space man or what ever he is, we automatically assume he’s a menace. Maybe he isn’t at all… {…after all he was shot the minute he landed here } I was just wonder what I would do?” Maj. Carpenter-Well perhaps deciding on a course of action he would want to know more about the people here. To orient yourself in a strange environment.”

Day the earth stood still Mrs Barley -he comes right here from earth

Mrs. Barley-“If you want my opinion he comes from right here on Earth!”

Olan Soule , John Brown as George Barley and Francis Bavier, Patricia Neal and Michael Rennie as Maj. Carpenter are having a meal at the rooming house.

Day the Earth Stood Still Maj Carpenter sits with PAtirica Neal 3

Klaatu wants to walk among the people of earth to try and understand their, ”strange, unreasoning attitudes.” As Phil Hardy says Robert Wise’s film works so well because of his masterful balance of the ‘ominous allegory with the sub-plot of Rennie’s attempt to discover what humans are really like.’

Day the Earth stood Still Klaatu in Bobbys room with Patricia

In an amazing scene, where he shows his benevolent nature, Bobby catches his new friend at the blackboard in the Professors lab and solving a complex equation that he had been struggling with, in a few seconds. Bobby asks if the Professor had done it wrong, Klaatu tells him “It just needs a little help.”

benevolent Klaatu solves a problem

Klaatu also is befriend by the kindly, wise and brilliant scientist Professor Jacob Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe) who recognizes that Klaatu is not a threat nor a false prophet and reflects the better nature of humankind.

You have faith, Professor Barnhardt?- Klaatu

“Our problems are very complex Klaatu, you mustn’t judge too harshly”Professor Barnhardt

“I can judge only by what I see.” –Klaatu

“ Your impatience is quite understandable’ –Professor Barnhardt

“I’m impatient with stupidity” –Klaatu

Day the Earth Stood Still Sam Jaffe at the blackboard

Professor Barnhardt: It isn’t faith that makes good science, Mr. Klaatu, it’s curiosity. Sit down, please. There are several thousand questions I’d like to ask you.

Day the Earth Stood Still Klaatu and Patricia noir frame hiding from the miliary

Robert Wise and cinematographer Leo Tover know how to paint a film noir canvas within the realm of science fiction The Day the Earth Stood Still bares a striking resemblance to many great noir pictures and their familiar tropes… not the least the misunderstood man on the run forced into the shadows, aided by a good women who has faith in him!

Day the Earth Stood Stil Patricia Neal and Michael Rennie

"The Day the Earth Stood Still" Michael Rennie, Hugh Marlowe, & Patricia Neal 1951 20th **I.V.
“The Day the Earth Stood Still”
Michael Rennie, Hugh Marlowe, & Patricia Neal
1951 20th
**I.V.

Day the Earth STood Still Bobby discovers Klaatus secret

Bobby follows his friend Maj. Carpenter/Klaatu and discovers his secret! In a panic he runs and informs his mother all about it. She tells him he’s been dreaming again, but she also happens to be with Tom (Hugh Marlowe) who is just waiting to get Maj. Carpenter out of the picture and sets the end in motion.

day the earth stood still bobby sees Klaatu with Gort go into his ship

Day the Earth stood still Klaatu goes into ship to stop the earth

Day the Earth Stood Still stunning visual inside ship to stop the earth

The set design and use of lighting lends to the magnificent & moody atmosphere of the film.

Day the Earth Stood Still-Annex - Rennie, Michael

As the title of the film suggests… it’s striking when the moment emerges and everything stops, or stands still.

Klaatu sets the wheels in motion to stop the motion all over the earth! And so everything grinds to halt not only all means of transportation in this modern world, trains, ships, automobiles and buses, tools of industry cease like– farming machines that milk the cows, power stations and factories. Even the creature comforts people take for granted, like washing machines which are left with puddles of sopping clothes, milkshakes that don’t get shook and those poor people at the top of the roller coaster at the amusement park … A nation wide man hunt for the space man begins!

Day the Earth stood Still paper Are we long for this world

New York the streets have clammered to a halt

London all has stalled

London piccadilly circus is shut down people in the streets

Russia nothing works the roads filled with cars

Russia the people stand around

traines stop working

cars in the street and buses wont start

washing machines leave soaking messes

stuck on a rollercoaster

stuck on a rollercoaster 2

Day the earth stood still after thing stop people gather by the ship and GORT

Day the Earth STood Still the reporter

Reporter: I suppose you are just as scared as the rest of us.

Klaatu: In a different way, perhaps. I am fearful when I see people substituting fear for reason.

Day the Earth Stood Still the army plans

day-the-earth-stood-still-Patricia Neal and Michael Rennie

He tells Helen “If anything should happen to me, you should go to Gort… You must say these words, Klaatu Barada Nikto. You must remember these words.”

Day the Earth Stood Still GORT blasts two soldiers

day the earth stood still GORT blasts two soldiers decompose into light

day the earth stood still patricia neal encounters GORT

day the earth stood still patricia neal gets frightened of GORTS imposing nature

day the earth stood still GORT stands at the ready lit up

day the earth stood still patricia neal cowers as GORT hovers

day the earth stood still GORT stands before patricia neal viser closed

day the earth stood still patricia neal cowers in corner noir frame fear

Day The Earth Stood Still Gort Carries

day-the-earth-stood-still-GORT on ship with Patricia Neal

Day the Earth STood Still -the resurrection of Klaatu:Christ

Gort resurrects the Christ-like Klaatu

Day the earth stood still GORT close up

In the end, he is gunned down which summons the ire & wrath of Gort who opens up his metallic visor and lets loose a laser beam killing the soldiers. Consistent with the theme of deliverance and resurrection Gort brings Klaatu back to life and ascends like an other-worldly angel from the Earth to return to his delegation leaving behind the message that they either learn to live in peace or be destroyed that we do not have the temperament to be in control of atomic weaponry.

Day the Earth Stood Still Klaatu ship in the park night shot

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Day the Earth STood Still Gort close up

Day the Earth Stood Still-Gort outside the ship

“I will not speak with any one nation or group of nations I don’t intend to add my contribution to your childish jealousies and suspicions. —Klaatu

Day the Earth Stood Still Klaatu and Gort 2

Day the Earth stood Still nations

Day the Earth Stood STill-It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet

“It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet, but if you threaten to extend your violence this earth of yours will be reduced to a burned out cinder… your choice is simple… join us and live in peace or pursue your present course and face obliteration!… We shall be waiting for your answer… the decision rests with you.”–Klaatu

Day the Earth Stood STill ship takes off night

Klaatu and Gort take off in the ship, he ascends back into the heavens our future rests with us!

An ‘ominous allegory’a reflection of our fears and mistrust– a message that it’s not too late to be overseen by giant soulless robots that might malfunction and reduce you to a cinder if you have an angry outburst about your $6 coffee tasting like mud!.

Day the Earth Stood Still Gort

Klaatu’s command to —“Gort! Klaatu barada nikto!”

Gort, Patricia Neal and Michael Rennie

Five

Five_Poster

Directed by Arch Oboler (Strange Holiday 1945 starring Claude Rains, Bewitched 1945 starring Phyllis Thaxter, Bwana Devil 1952 in 3D, The Twonky 1953 and another 3D film The Bubble 1966)

Arch Oboler had been regarded very highly for his work in old time Radio primarily on “Lights Out” another show about fantasy/horror & science fiction themes.

Stars William Phipps, Susan Douglas Rubes, James Anderson, Earl Lee and Charles Lampkin.

This independent film has all the trappings of a low-budget art-house film with science fiction over-tones that’s rather dreary and nihilistic in tone. It’s deals with the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust that wipes out the entire civilization except for five survivors. The story has been dealt with either viewed through a campy lens as with Roger Corman’s amusing vision of radioactive fall-out Day the World Ended (1955) with it’s cast of diverse survivors stuck in a canyon who are at risk of mutations out in the eerie fog, some turning on each other as their limited resources.

As with Corman’s beloved cult foray, Five’s characters are also victims of radioactive dust clouds, that kills off the animal life on the planet and essentially vaporizes people down to their skeletons.

William Phipps (Crossfire 1947, War of the Worlds 1953, The Brothers Rico 1957 & a slew of television appearances) plays Michael, a man who survived the nuclear disaster because he was stuck in an elevator at the top of the Empire State Building high enough to shield him from the atomic clouds (perhaps I should re-think my fear of elevators and my fear of heights -hhm) He encounters the only other survivors up in the mountains, Rosanne (Susan Douglas) who is going to have a baby, another recognizable actor from the 50s is the handsomely intense James Anderson, who plays an aggressive neo-Nazi named Eric, a black doorman named Charles (Charles Lampkin, another familiar face and busy television & film actor) and Mr. Barnstaple (Earl Lee), a bank clerk who is complete denial about what has happened, of course he succumbs to radiation poisoning.

With the mixture of personalities left to band together it isn’t any wonder that tensions build especially because there is only one woman left to go around. Eric cannot help but antagonize Charles and try to make an object out of Rosanne. Roxanne is still waiting for her husband to return, safely to her. The film has a filthy strain of meanness in it, as Oboler wants us to feel the desperation and detestable situation for ourselves. Eric kills Charles and grabs Rosanne with her newborn baby telling her that they are going to search for her missing husband in the city. It’s gruesome and dismal as they stumble upon skeletons in mid pose, in doorways, in their cars trying to escape. When she finds out that husband has perished she wants to go back up to the mountains. The two struggle and Rosanne tears his shirt exposing the fact that Eric has radiation burns all over his chest. In yet another very bleak turn of events, Rosanne’s baby dies while she’s making her way back to the mountains. All that are left now are Michael and the distraught Rosanne to be the archetypal Adam & Eve in a not so paradisiacal Eden drenched in atomic fallout.

The New York Times review said of Oboler’s Five- “Mr. Oboler spends so much time scanning the landscape, the sky, the sea and clouds that he can’t seem to bring himself to tangle with the problems fo his meek and baffled crew. And when he does he contents himself with fashioning a little drama of left-over racial hate in a world virtually empty of people, rather than seek the terror in a human void.”

STAY TUNED FOR PART II OF KEEP WATCHING THE SKIES -THE YEAR IS 1951

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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)

Faster Pussycat
Tura Satana, Haji, and Lori Williams in Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! 1965
Cul-de-Sac
Françoise Dorléac and Donald Pleasence in Roman Polanski’s Cul-de-sac 1966
the Naked kiss
Constance Towers kicks the crap out of her pimp for shaving off her hair in Sam Fuller’s provocative The Naked Kiss 1964
Shock Corridor
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.

THE DARK PAGES NEWSLETTER  a condensed article was featured in The Dark Pages: You can click on the link for all back issues or to sign up for upcoming issues to this wonderful newsletter for all your noir needs!

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.”

Glen or Glenda
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”

A Symphony of Dark Patches- The Val Lewton Legacy 1943

This post is a feature…As part of the CLASSIC MOVIE HISTORY PROJECT BLOGATHON hosted by the fantastic gang over at- Movies Silently, Silver Screenings & Once Upon a Screen– Visit these wonderful blogs during this historic event and fill your head with a collection of fascinating movie memories.

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From Dreams of Darkness-Fantasy and the films of Val Lewton by J.P. Telotte:
“{The audience} will populate the darkness with more horrors than all the horror writers in Hollywood could think of… if you make the screen dark enough, the mind’s eye will read anything into it you want. We’re great ones for dark patches.” – Val Lewton

Swimming pool scene Cat People '42
Jane Randolph as Alice Moore in Val Lewton’s Cat People 1942 directed by Jacques Tourneur
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A scene from Bedlam (1946) directed by Mark Robson 

During the 1940s Val Lewton and his ‘Lewton Unit’ used the essential vision of fantastic darkness to recreate a very unique style of horror/fantasy genre, one which challenged Hollywood’s notion of the tangible monsters Universal studios had been manufacturing. Lewton, while working at RKO Studios, produced an exquisite, remarkable and limited collection of films that came face to face with a ‘nightworld.’ Lewton used our most deepest darkest psychological and innate fears that dwell within the lattice of shadows of our dreams and secret wish-fulfillment.

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“Our formula is simple. A love story, three scenes of suggested horror and one of actual violence. Fade out” -Val Lewton

Lewton worked at MGM between 1926 and 1932 and then served eight years under David Selznick. He had published nine novels and a number of short stories. In addition he produced regular radio show versions of MGM films. He also had ties in the industry as his aunt was the the very influential silent actress Alla Nazimova.

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the great stage and silent screen actress Alla Nazimova-Val Lewton’s very influential aunt…

But Lewton had left his mark with Selznick and in 1940 rival company RKO was interested in hiring him..It was actually Selznick who negotiated Lewton’s contract.

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“My task is to initiate a programme of horror pictures to be made at the comparatively low cost of 125,000 each. Which should compete successfully with Universal horror films. Which cost anywhere from 300,000 to a million dollars. I feel I can do this quite easily and the Universal people spend a lot of money on their horror product. But not much on brains or imagination.”-Val Lewton

Frankenstein-Meets-The-Wolf-Man-1943

Lewton put together a team of collaborators with whom he would work closely. He chose Mark Robson to edit. Robert Wise and Lewton worked together on Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons. DeWitt Bodeen had worked him during his time with David O’ Selznick was to write the first screenplay for Cat People.. His old friend Jacques Tourneur whom he became friends with while working on A Tale of Two Cities. was brought on board to direct. He chose Nicholas Musuraca as his director of photography and Roy Webb to compose the musical scores.They all worked on countless RKO films. It was Lewton’s intention to create quality pictures though he was constrained with a low budget. Jacques Tourneur had said that Lewton was an idealist who had his head up in the clouds who would come up with impossible ideas. However for Tourneur his feet were planted firmly on the ground, yet somehow they complemented each other perfectly, Tourneur claims it was a very happy time in his life, and that Lewton’s gift to him was the filmic poetry that he was able to carry with him forever.

Jacques Tourneur is perhaps one of my favorite directors, with his use of shadow and and all together dreamy lens of the world, he’s responsible for one of THE best classic horror films Curse of the Demon & film noir tour de force Out of the Past. 

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Jacques Tourneur directs Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer in Out of the Past 1947
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Jacques Tourneur’s moody horror with Niall MacGinnis and cat Curse of the Demon 1957
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Part of the Lewton Unit- image from the documentary The Man in the Shadows from top left Roy Webb composer, Val Lewton, Nicholas Musuraca Cinematographer, Mark Robson editing/directing, DeWitt Bodeen writing and Robert Wise-director.

“Horror is created in the mind of the spectator. It’s necessary to suggest things. In all my films you never saw what caused the horror. I saw people screaming in the theater when there was a young girl in a swimming pool, but you never saw the black leopard. The lights blaze up at the end. And there’s Simone Simon. Something has definitely happened. -Jacques Tourneur

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Jacques Tourneur looking over the film sketches
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Jacques Tourneur on location for Berlin Express 1948

“Lewton gave us something quite different than what’s known as Hollywood craftsmanship you can say that he presented us with a parallel world in which everything feels both real and a little unreal-familiar but strange. The characters and the viewer slip into a mysterious, troubling gray zone. Where real life and dream life come face to face. And where beauty and destruction merge. Lewton and Tourneur really created a new kind of cinematic beauty”-from The Man in the Shadows Val Lewton documentary

The Golden Boy in Bedlam
the golden boy from Bedlam

Learning from his last employer Selznick he made sure to supervise absolutely every aspect of the film’s production, from casting, set design, costumes, the direction, and editing. He even rewrote every script himself without taking credit or under a pseudonym. In this way he developed his own visual style of storytelling, having prepared each detail before shooting.

“My feelings are generated, however by more than my gratitude for that first opportunity. They come from the warm and highly stimulating creative experience I had working with Val. He taught me so much about directing and filmmaking in general…Val Lewton was one of that fairly rare species, a truly creative producer. As such, he was able to achieve an outstanding reputation for the high quality, unusual and interesting “B” pictures he produced at RKO Studios starting in the early 1940s” – Robert Wise, March 1994

Robert Wise behind the camera
Robert Wise behind the camera
Wise, Robson & Lewton
Robert Wise, Mark Robson & Val Lewton

“I remember him staying up until all hours of the night working on screenplays. He enjoyed having his hand in the writing. I used to that that he went out of his way to pick inept writers so that he’d have to redo their work. He used to write on a Royal typewriter;he used only two fingers but he was very fast. He’d talk out the different parts as he wrote them and, since my bed was just on the other side of the wall, I’d fall asleep listening.”Nina Lewton Druckman from the Reality of Terror by Joel Siegel

Robert Wise was part of the Lewton Unit, one of my favorite directors who would go onto direct some of the most outstanding films in a variety of genres, from musicals like West Side Story 1961, Sound of Music 1965, to Lewton’s Curse of The Cat People 1944 and The Body Snatcher 1945, noir masterpieces, Born To Kill 1947, The Set Up 1949 and The House of Telegraph Hill 1950, I Want to Live! 1958, Odds Against Tomorrow 1959,to sci fi and Gothic ghost story masterpieces Day the Earth Stood Still 1951, The Haunting 1963 and The Andromeda Strain 1971.

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Michael Rennie and Gort in Robert Wise’s Sci-Fi masterpiece The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
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Robert Wise’s boxing noir The Set-Up 1949

Lewton drove himself very hard trying to achieve something beautiful of quality. He and his team were given a very small budget, a cast of veritable unknowns, and evocative titles that were sensationalist and lurid in nature and did not truly represent an accurate account of the narrative. There were no gruesome fiends nor even evidence of malevolent forces at work in his ordinary everyday environments. Yet RKO’s studio head Charles Koerner  dictated such titles as Cat People 1942, Curse of the Cat People 1944, Bedlam 1946, Isle of the Dead 1946, The Body Snatcher 1945, I Walked With A Zombie, The Ghost Ship and The Leopard Man in 1943 and The Seventh Victim.

“If you want to get out now, Lewton told Bodeen, I won’t hold it against you”

The sensationalistic titles lead viewers to expect corporeal horrors, grotesquery and accustomed chills. As critic Manny Farber points out that while Lewton got nicknamed the “sultan of shudders” or the “Chillmaster” they were missing the point entirely. Lewton’s films were purposefully inhabited by the average, the bland, the pedestrian all, so as to populate his world with normal characters. People you’d see on the streets, or doing menial jobs. And amidst this population of ‘normal’ stirred interesting pulp stories that were unorthodox, otherworldly and often grim. Themes like zoanthropy. a derangement in which someone believes they are an animal as in Cat People or the pervasive fear of the Vorvolakas, an undead creature in Greek folklore that drinks it’s victim’s blood in Isle of the Dead. Even when dealing with dreadful English asylums and the sacrilege of body snatching.

Val Lewton with Boris Karloff set of Bedlam
Boris Karloff and Val Lewton on the set of Bedlam

By the way… Bedlam 1946 is perhaps my favorite of the Lewton series. I’ll be doing a follow up to this piece and with an aim at covering the magnificent piece of filmic art that is Bedlam. I’ll also include the remaining films I love, Isle of the DeadThe Body Snatcher and his first Cat People.

Films with subversive themes like zoanthropy. a derangement in which a person believes himself to be an animal as in Cat People or the pervasive fear of the Vorvolakas is an undead creature in Greek folklore that drinks it’s victim’s blood in Isle of the Dead.

Karloff and Thimig in Isle of the Dead Lewton
Karloff and Thimig in Isle of the Dead 1946

One of the things I love about Lewton’s films is that he used many either lesser known actors or those who never quite attained stardom yet lived on the fringe. Wonderful character actors such as Ian Wolfe & Edith Barrett (whom I both adore) actor/director Abner Biberman, Theresa Harris, Edith Atwater Sir Lancelot former calypso singer from Trinidad, the unusual beauty of Elizabeth Russell who was a former fashion model. The portly Billy House who played Lord Mortimer in Bedlam had been a star of vaudeville or Skelton Knaggs (Terror By Night, House of Dracula) British actor worked on the stage. The handsome Richard Dix ,Tom Conway, James Bell, Anna Lee, Evelyn Brent, Helene Thimig, Dewey Robinson and Ben Bard.

Lord Mortimer's new pet with Skelton Knaggs
Billy House as Lord Mortimer in Bedlam
Ian Wolfe in Bedlam
The marvelous Ian Wolfe in Bedlam
Knaggs as Finn in The Ghost Ship
Skelton Knaggs as the mute Finn in The Ghost Ship
Leopard Man angry mother
Kate Drain Lawson as Señora Delgado in The Leopard Man
Edith Barret the ghost ship
Edith Barrett and Richard Dix in The Ghost Ship
Anna Lee in Bedlam
Anna Lee in Bedlam
Helene Thimig in Isle of the dead
Helene Thimig in Isle of the Dead
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Julia Dean and old Mrs Farren in The Curse of the Cat People

These characters seems to transcend their positions in the background and add layers of depth and a quiet simplicity or realism that made the storytelling more rich. They possessed a certain unique expressiveness that at times eclipsed the lead actors.

RKO known for their capacity to release films that were of the fantastic and original, initially who hired Lewton to organize and run their ‘B’-Film unit. RKO had a reputation for ingenuity and artistic innovation, paying careful attention to the shaping of the narratives. What he endowed them with was his deep understanding of the subtle patterns and symbols that lie within our dreams, psyche and fantasy world. Lewton satisfied the audience’s desire for horror yet what he delivered was swathed in a strange and poetically beautiful style.

At his disposal he had some of the best writers who knew how to tap into this process. Writers like DeWitt Bodeen, Donald Henderson Clarke, Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray art director Albert D’Agostino (Notorious 1946, Out of the Past 1947, The Thing from Another World 1951) cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca & J. Roy Hunt (Crossfire 1947, Might Joe Young 1949) and directors Jacques Tourneur (Out of the Past 1947,Curse of the Demon 1957), Mark Robson and Robert Wise all contributed and helped shape the vision that became the Lewton film.

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Nicholas Musuraca and Jacques Tourneur

And while Val Lewton didn’t direct any of the eleven films he produced for RKO, (in two cases only taking screen credit for his contributions as writer), it’s rather irrelevant in terms of authorship -as collaboratively infused with talent of vision these films possess a distinct frame of reference that lead you into the fantasy realm or genre with an artistic unorthodoxy like no other. Director Jacques Tourneur directed the first three Lewton films produced by the Lewton Unit. He gave Lewton the soubriquet “The Dreamer.”

Joel Siegel from his 1973 book Val Lewton tells us, “His production unit would make only horror movies with budgets limited to $150,000 per picture. The films were to be ‘programmers’ slated for placement on double features in less than key theaters, with a running time not to exceed 75 minutes. {Production Chief Charles Koerner’s office was to dictate the titles of these films, based upon a system of market pre-testing.”

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Mark Robson and Val Lewton

Lewton hid much of the story in his shadow-plays and this allowed his crew to work the landscape by creating symbolism, key sounds (natural ordinary sounds become ominous premonitions and are fatalistic in tone), haunting textures, abstract shadow and a sense of dark absences. Within the more focused frames of the films are incidental point of view shots that fill in the spaces with a rich texture of realism within the fable-like quality, relying on shadow and suggestion to deliver the desired effect.

Lewton himself would usually write a rough draft, an idea adapted from a property to be filmed. Then using his grand ability to visualize a formula, manipulate the structures of conventionality so that he could compose a landscape and narrative that would best articulate his observations. Tourneur emphasized Lewton’s “structure, construction, progression of high points, low points” in the narrative. Director Mark Robson suggested that Lewton had already ‘thought everything out’ in such detail so as not to miss a thing. Jessie Ponitz, Lewton’s secretary relates, “the last draft was always his.”

Lewton and typewriter
Lewton at his typewriter

Lewton’s brilliance and vision are partly due to his understanding of how psychoanalytic symbolism, myth, dreams and archetypes influence our intimate fear of what lies invisible to the eye. The Lewton Unit embraced the collective nightmares of the human experience, bringing our dream-work into the cold light of daily life bounded to the material world. He presents us with irrational unseen forces, in particular those that lurk in our subconsciousness or dream world. His films transport his protagonists by contrasting them from the open, sense of security from daylight- immersing them into the dark regions of shadows, and the black patches of uncertainty. They do not confront conventional monsters, vampires, ghouls and malevolent spirits of the classic Universal plots- but actually come face to face with their own internal nightmares. A mechanism that emerges from the shadows of the mind. We see these images of fantasy and it triggers our most basic and personal need to belong to that which is created, however disturbing those visions are, these fantasy/horror films possess an enigmatic kind of darkness. His characters never ran away from the darkness and dread that was so pervasive they actually ran head on into it, in order to demystify it and lead themselves & us to understand it a little better.

PSYCHE OR SOUL- THE LEGACY OF THE FANTASTICAL

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Jean Brooks as the mysterious Jacqueline in Val Lewton’s The Seventh Victim

Lewton and his associates understood the principles of fantasy, and utilized them in the complex visual structures they created in their series of films. In writing about Lewton’s use of fantasy, J.P. Telotte informs us that these films “are not mere horror stories or exercises in terror, yet ‘redeem’ or reunite us with a repressed side of the human experience.” And this is what makes Lewton’s fantastical work so unique.

As in his book America in the Dark, Thomson implies that unlike the films that consist of vampires, werewolves, and other alien presences “The Fantasy genre {…} draw fundamentally on a realm of darkness and psychic imagery for it’s existence. Such films typically evoke a dreamlike environment or nightworld in which, as if it were our own sleep, we can pleasurably and profitably immerse ourselves. {…} I wish to call attention to their ability to reveal how we also might come ‘to life with the dark’ finding an important, even life enhancing meaning in the fantastic’s dream realm. {…}”

The Body Snatcher
The Body Snatcher 1945
A Palladist The 7th Victim
a Palladist from The Seventh Victim

Lewton’s fantasy reworks our perspective to let us ‘see’ the dark spaces even within the light. As Todorov writes in The Fantastic 1975, fantasy evokes an ‘indirect vision’ that allows us to see what is usually not visible in the ordinary world. Lewton uses this ‘indirect vision’ to transgress and transcend normal perception. Lewton’s works suggest a disparity between the expected and reality. From this disparity, the greatest threats come from the most ordinary occurrences, objects, and the commonplace.  He populates his films with figures of authority who interpret their world incorrectly, harshly or inharmonious. The sudden revelation of the ordinary frightens and disorients the viewer in unexpected ways, forcing them to be more reflexive, to show the menace in the every day. As Carl Jung believed, fantasy precedes our normal sense of reality- “The psyche creates reality everyday. The only expression I can use for this activity is fantasy.”

Drawing on the psychologist James Hillman who specialized in archetypes, Lewton’s films evoke a dream-like nightmarish world in contrast to the realm of truth. The style of these films are often lensed as seductive and mysterious journeys, where the audience can escape the ordinary for a while. They seduce us by taking a path which follows our hidden desires within the psyche.

This is the proper aim at fantasy, as James Hillman explains; it should challenge our normal “literal perspective, its identity with material life,” since that perspective is usually “stuck in coagulations of physical realities. This perspective of reality needs to break down and fall apart, to be skinned live and sensitized, or blackened by melancholic frustration.”

Isle of the Dead-Karloff
Isle of the Dead 1946

This fantasy forces us to look at our own limitations of vision, and how difficult it is to describe the structure of something that has no’ structure’ It’s easy for the grey areas of fantasy to ‘lapse’ into absence and dissolve from a narrative field of a nightworld/dreamscape using the device of voice-over narrative or subjective camera. Lewton’s images make us ask are we seeing what’s really there, or are we merely informed by the dark spaces both inside the film and tapping into our individual and collective psyches. As Telotte cites Rosemary Jackson– 

“Objects are not readily appropriated through the look; things slide away from the powerful eye/I which seeks to possess them, thus becoming distorted, disintegrated, partial and lapsing into invisibility.”

Val Lewton had a special insight and grasp of formulas and mythic structures so that he could envision within the complex narratives, the presence of the most significant archetypal patterns. Lewton said “If you make the screen dark enough, the mind’s eye will read anything into it you want! We’re great ones for dark patches.” What those ‘dark patches’ suggest is something innate in all of us, a dark region within the ‘self’ that gets lost, or hidden away, or even denied as we go about our daily lives doing ordinary things in the guise of normalcy.

DARK PATCHES AND THE ABSENCE OF KNOWING

The Seventh Victim

In a Lewton film there is a sense of ‘Lack’ as an absence in the lives and environments seems to be at the core substance of these films. This play of absence and presence operates as a structural principle in Lewton’s films. For the benefit of this post I will point particularly to I Walked With a Zombie, The Leopard Man  and The Seventh Victim, the prior both directed by the great Jacques Tourneur. In his two films that ‘lack’ translates into a disturbing landscape of openness in the narrative style.

The everyday, whether it be modern urban city streets, islands in the Caribbean or the nineteenth century, there is an attentive eye for detail that weaves a texture of daily life that the Lewton unit worked so hard to achieve. Be it the costumes, the architecture and the general look of the place during it’s particular time period. So much research went into developing the landscape of reality with a distinct verisimilitude. By looking at books, paintings and photographs they would try to capture the perfect light and shadow of the piece.

Although I won’t be covering Bedlam in this piece, the film is a perfect example of how The ‘Lewton Unit’ employed this research approach prior to filming. Several shot compositions were based on William Hogarth’s illustrations. Much emphasis was placed on ‘context’ as Lewton characters can so evidently be characterized by their station in life or occupations living in the seemingly natural world that is commonplace. Writer DeWitt Bodeen notes that Lewton “always insisted that all his characters have special occupations or professions and be shown working their jobs.”

Lewton’s films are populated with a texture of normalcy, people living in a visibly conspicuous and commonplace field of reality so that when the presence of the mysterious, and irrationality poke through it shatters the veil of normalcy and settles down to become abnormal and disturbing for the protagonist and us the viewer. These characters must journey through a field that is rife with coded messages, where they are not believed by the people around them.

Telotte explains, “What results is a subtle dialectic between ‘substance and lack’, presence and absence, replacing that of the more traditional horror films, where in the ‘self’ as the audience’s surrogate, is opposed by a threatening otherness in the shape of a monster or murderous apparition. The tension is no less. Though it’s source is different it is more disturbingly lodged in the individual  and the way in which he perceives and conceives of his world.”

The Body Snatcher Karloff

Like the protagonists, we are laid bare with our vulnerability to the abnormal. The threat comes as an external challenge to our lives, exposing our human weakness and fears and forces us to see life in an unsettling way. Everything falls out of harmony that which is usually so ordinary. And the sense of ‘otherness’ fills the screen and taps into our own psyche as the formidable shadows move about with an anima. The dark patches set themselves outward as props, while strange sounds and eerie low key lighting color the screen’s canvas as dark and mysterious.

Psychoanalyst Hillman refers to a ‘vesperal’ motion that leads us into the darker regions of the self and the human psyche with it’s ‘fantasizing impulse.’ Lewton’s Curse of the Cat People (you can read an earlier feature I did on this film-click on the link) is a more conventional initiation story focusing on the nature of innocence and ‘otherness’ and how it often challenges our rational perspectives of the world because it evokes the ‘unknowing.’

All of Lewton’s films are structured with a careful eye on the sequential narrative. Val Letwon referred to scenes heightened by shadows as signifier of something foreboding he called them “horror spots.” These “horror spots’ were carefully spaced through out his films in sequential scenes, as if each frame were its own visual narrative. Many potent moments though brief partly due to the limited time constraints yet remain with you forever.

I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE

These scenes were preceded by scenes of an alternating tone designated to bring relief to the audience, utilizing some form of imagery that could be very beautiful or lyrical. Joel Siegel talks about this approach as “fragmented, mosaic-like structure” of the films, with their dependence on a “series of tiny, precise vignettes which do not so much tell the story as sketch in its borders and possibilities. For film historian Robin Wood in his “Return to the Repressed,” Lewton’s series of films is distinct for their “often illogical poetic structure.” 

Early Lewton films display a narrative style which recalls Jean-Paul Sartre’s prescription for fantasy storytelling: “In order to achieve the fantastic, it is neither necessary nor sufficient to portray extraordinary things. The strangest event will enter into the order of the universe if it is alone in a world governed by laws.”

Frances Dee, Tom Conway, Edith Barrett in I Walked with a Zombie (1943)

Lewton films do not simply strip the world of the laws which Sartre describes, as many horror films do, rather they manipulate the context within which even the most commonplace actions are perceived. In I Walked With a Zombie, the players are often viewed through a veil of elaborate shadows cast by wooden lattice, brush and thicket, Very sensual images and very flowing. The eye for detail… every frame is so well thought out. And while we as spectators have truly seen nothing tangible, there is that ‘lack’ reinforced by structural repetition. Drawing us in depends on our ability to fantasize and tap into the deep-rooted fears that we unconsciously embrace. This portrayal of Lewton’s mysterious yet mundane environment becomes utterly frightening. Lewton explained how this process reveals the viewer’s participation in that which he sees, establishing that given these kinds of visual narratives man himself “will populate the darkness with more horrors than all the horror writers in Hollywood could think of.”

Robin Wood’s The American Nightmare chapter of Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan.–
It is built on elaborate set of apparently clear cut structural oppositions : Canada-West Indies, white-black, light–darkness, life-death, science-black magic, Christianity -Voodoo, conscious -unconscious, , etc–and it proceeds  systematically to blur all of them. JEssica is both living and dead.; Mrs. Rand mixes medicine, Christianity and voodoo, the figurehead is both St. Sebastian and a black slave, the black-white opposition is poetically undercut in a complex patterning of dresses and voodoo patches; the motivation of all the characters is called into question; the messenger-zombie Carrefour can’t be kept out of the white domain.”

Lewton’s work absolutely inspired and trained Robert Wise to scare the hell out us with his adaption of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting in 1963, when in reality we never see a malevolent presence. Wise’s use of absence and presence, sequential stages of darkness and shadow, odd angles, and the process of what we ‘don’t see’ became one of the greatest ghost stories on film and I would dare to say one of the best films ever made. Wise learned this film philosophy from his time working as part of the Lewton Unit, whose contribution to film rippled outward for decades.

Robert Wise The Haunting Julie Harris
Julie Harris climbs the menacing spiral staircase in Robert Wise’s masterpiece of Gothic ghost storytelling The Haunting 1963

Lewton’s most accomplished manoeuvre was making the audience think much more about his material than it warranted. Some of his devices were the usual ones of hiding information… he hid much more of his story than any other filmmaker and forced his crew to create drama almost abstractly with symbolic sounds, textures and the like which made the audience hyper-conscious of sensitive craftsmanship… He imperiled his characters in situations that didn’t call for outsized melodrama and permitted the use of  journalistic camera. {…}Je would use a spray-shot technique that usually consisted of oozing suggestive shadows across a wall, or watching the heroines’ terror on a lonely walk {…} The shorthand allowed Lewton to ditch the laughable aspect of improbable events and give the remaining bits of material the strange authenticity of a daguerreotype.” Manny Farber criticquoted from 1951 in Jeremy Dyson’s book Bright Darkness

There is an overall unsettling revelatory pattern to each of the Lewton narratives. While I’m only covering the 4 contributions Lewton made during the year 1943, all of his 9 fantasy/horror films isolate the commonplace through the story, the patterns, the symbolism of innocence, and the rigidity of authority. In his films our roots in proven reason and sanity are given a different value. This contrasting shadowplay create the ultimate texture and environment of fantasy/horror.

A SYMPHONY OF DARK PATCHES :

Continue reading “A Symphony of Dark Patches- The Val Lewton Legacy 1943”

The She Creature (1956) Bridey Murphy’s Reincarnation meets Beulah the Busty Crusty ‘She Creature’ from Paul Blaisdell’s imagination.

“Hypnotized! Reincarnated as a monster from hell!”

THE SHE CREATURE 1956

In 1952 the world celebrated the famous Bridey Murphy regression case. It began when one Morey Bernstein hypnotized a Colorado housewife named Ruth Simmons. Under a trance, emerged the personality of Bridey Murphy an 18th Century Irish woman.

from the film The Search For Bridey Murphy

In 1956 Bernstein published his book The Search For Bridey Murphy. Eventually the story made it onto the screen by Paramount Pictures, starring Teresa Wright and Louis Hayward, a film which is on my short list of things to watch.

And if you have a guilty pleasure for musicals as I do, you’ll see the story retold in Vincente Minneli’s On A Clear Day You Can See Forever 1971 starring musical diva Barbara Streisand, Yves Montand and Jack Nicholson. With some of the BEST music by Burton Lane and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner.

Barbara Streisand as Daisy Gamble in Vincente Minneli’s 1970 On A Clear Day You Can See Forever.

Now in 1956 when A.I.P was churning out goodies like It Conquered The World 1956  for Roger Corman, the idea of past life regression became of some interest to producer Alex Gordon.

The She Creature incorporated the concept of a lovely girl harboring a past soul or souls, but due to the fact that A.I.P. wanted monsters in their pictures, they used the best of both worlds and mixed an unconventional idea that was all the rage at that time, and threw in an ancient busty crusty beastie that rose from the sea, whenever the girl was in a trance.

So you have it, a girl from the 20th century inhabited by a female creature from the primordial edges of time’s beginning. Schlocky fun from Samuel Z. Arkoff, Alex Gordon and one of my favorite directors who can take a b-movie sci-fi/horror picture and bring a bit of grimy noir sensibility to it the great Edward L. Cahn.

Jerry Zigmond’s contribution was coming up with the title THE SHE CREATURE and the screenplay was written by Lou Rusoff. The film stars Chester Morris as Dr Carlo Lombardi, Marla English as his subject Andrea, good ole Tom Conway as Timothy Chappel, Cathy Downes as Dorothy Chappel, Ron Randell as Lt. Ed James, Lance Fuller as Dr. Ted Erickson Frieda Inescort as Mrs Chappel and of course Paul Blaisdell as Beulah!

Chester Morris (Alibi 1929, The Big House 1930, Five Came Back 1939) plays the smarmy Dr. Carlo Lombardi, carnival hypnotist and prognosticator extraordinaire. Morris brings smarmy to a whole new level here, that it even makes Jack Cassidy‘s villains’ seem Christ like. Lombardi travels around rich circles impressing the affluent patrons, with his ability to regress his female hostage, oops I mean patient back in time, probing old memories of their past lives, thereby proving that reincarnation is real.

Another nifty trick is the claim that he can summon forth the incorporeal spirit or soul from the past and manifest it into a physical form.

It starts out on the desolate beach at night where the mustachioed mad hypnotist Lombardi is standing in silhouette , then walking along the shore, dressed in black like a villain from a silent movie, about to tie a maiden to the train tracks. He’s staring out at the sea, a distant shape is forming in and out of the breaking tides.

Dr. Carlos Lombardi communing with the ancient she creature that is waiting out in the misty turbulent ocean.

“Now on This very night I have called into the unknown depths of time itself. She is here. And with her coming, the world will never be as it was. Neither man nor animal will be the same. This, I, Dr. Carlo Lombardi have brought into being!”

Suddenly the camera focuses on a monstrous invisible foot print in the sand. The moment is broken when King the loyal dog of Dorothy Chappel, starts barking and breaks Lombardi’s concentration. Dorothy’s father Timothy Chappel a promoter, is hosting a party this particular weekend at their fancy beach house. Invited to the party is Dorothy’s boyfriend Dr. Ted Erickson who is a notable expert on the subject of psychic research. He’s not comfortable mingling with the idle rich, he’s basically just a ‘farm boy’ and just doesn’t fit in with Dorothy’s father’s crowd.

Mrs.Chappel believes in the powers of the supernatural She tries to convince her husband that Lomardi’s prediction that something terrible is going to happen along this part of the coast tonight, they’ll be ‘a visitation from the occult world’ and tells him seriously that he must meet him. Tim Chappel laughs at his wife, and remarks, that “Some women keeps pets, or grow roses for kicks, my wife supports quack occultists.”

Mrs.Chappel tells her husband that he puts this girl in a deep trance and sends her back over 300 years. When she was a girl in England. ” I tell you it’s uncanny!” Mrs.Chappel is vehement!

Continue reading “The She Creature (1956) Bridey Murphy’s Reincarnation meets Beulah the Busty Crusty ‘She Creature’ from Paul Blaisdell’s imagination.”