BRIDES OF HORROR – Scream Queens of the 1960s! 🎃 Part 4: The Dark Goddess-This Dark Mirror

 BARBARA STEELE   – BLOODY WELL BELOVED

The role Barbara Steele plays in the legacy of Italian Gothic cinema of 1960s achieving cult status, is arguably her most recognizable contribution to the sub-genre of the horror film. She’s been christened The High Priestess of Horror, Queen of Horror and The Dark Goddess, the latter, the implication being her prowess is proof there’s a link between beauty (a woman’s power) and evil. Steele’s persona suitable as a femme fatale, and the sum of her work extremely feminist.

According to journalist Maitland McDonagh, she is The Face that Launched a Thousand Screams. She is the sadomasochistic Madonna of the “cinefantastique”; the queen of the wild, the beautiful and the damned.”

“Of all the stars of horror cinema, Barbara Steele may have come the closest to pure myth {…} she suggests a kinky and irresistible sexual allure” – (David J Hogan)

“With goldfish-bowl eyes radiating depraved elfin beauty, and what she calls herold, suspicious Celtic soul’burning blackly within, Steele played the princess in a dark fairytale.” ‘They sense something in me’ she once said of her fans, but surely it was true of her directors also. Steele followed with ‘Maybe some kind of psychic pain. The diva dolorosa of the 1910s, reincarnated as voluptuous revenant.’ – (from David Cairns and Daniel Riccuito for Sight and Sound)

“Angel Carter (1982) named the three surrealist love goddesses as being Louise Brooks first and foremost followed by Dietrich and third Barbara Steele. With regards to Steele however, not all the following descriptions emanate from surrealists caught in the grip of amour fou” (obsessive passion).- (The Other Face of Death: Barbara Steele and La Maschera Del Demonio by Carol Jenks from NECRONOMICON edited by Andy Black)

“The very symbol of Woman as vengeful, alien and ‘other’.” (Nicholls 1984)

“Steele perfectly embodies both the dread and the desire necessary to imply alluring and transgressive sexuality.” (Lampley-Women in the Horror films of Vincent Price)

“It’s not me they’re seeing. They’re casting some projection of themselves, some aspect that I somehow symbolizes. It can’t possibly be me.” Barbara Steele quoted-(Warren 1991)

“You can’t live off being a cult.” Barbara Steele

“When did I ever deserve this dark mirror?”

 

Continue reading “BRIDES OF HORROR – Scream Queens of the 1960s! 🎃 Part 4: The Dark Goddess-This Dark Mirror”

31 Flavors of Noir on the Fringe to Lure You In! Part 1

“A man could spend the rest of his life trying to remember what he shouldn’t have said.”- Force of Evil

“All that Cain did to Abel was murder him.” –Force of Evil

“He pushed me too far!… So I pushed him just far enough.” –The Lineup

“You’re like a rat in a box without any holes” – I Wake Up Screaming

“From now on, no one cuts me so deep that I can’t close the wound.” – I Wake Up Screaming

“I’m gonna give you a break. I’m gonna fix it so you don’t hear the bullets!”- The Big Combo

“I was born on a Monday, I might as well go out on a Monday. Like dirty laundry.”- Man in the Dark 

Heads up… this feature includes spoilers…💣

1-I Wake Up Screaming 1941

I Wake Up Screaming is the first official noir produced by Fox, directed by H. Bruce Humberstone (he worked on Charlie Chan programmers and B-movies) who was not considered a noir director. With a screenplay by Dwight Taylor based on the novel by Steve Fisher. Eddie Muller said it personified film noir, and calls the 1941 film – Proto-noir, as it was the first of it’s kind.

Darryl F. Zanuck wanted the film’s location changed to New York City, so it wouldn’t reflect badly on L.A. There are a number of sleazy characters involved and he wanted to shift the story from Hollywood to Broadway.

The film was remade as Vicki in 1953 (with Jeanne Crane and Jean Peters, though it lacked the highly stylized artistry) Photographed by Edward Cronjager (Seven Keys to Baldpate 1929, Hell’s Highway 1932, The Monkey’s Paw 1933, Island in the Sky 1938, The Gorilla 1939, Heaven Can Wait 1943, Desert Fury 1947, Relentless 1948, House by the River 1950, The Girl in Lovers Lane 1960) pours out murky noir shadows, darkened streets, unusual camera angles, low key lighting and the high contrast, onepoint lighting that illuminates the ink black threatening spaces. The film is stark yet dynamic.

With music by Cyril J. Mockridge, you’ll hear the familiar often used noir leitmotif, the melody Street Scene by Alfred Newman. I Wake Up Screaming stars Betty Grable as Jill Lynn, Victor Mature as Frankie Christopher, Carole Landis as Vicki Lynn, Laird Cregar as Ed Cornell. The film also co-stars Alan Mowbray as Robin Ray and Allyn Joslyn as Larry Evans. Quirky character actor Elisha Cook Jr. plays Harry Williams the desk clerk in Vicki’s apartment building who’s a real weirdo. William Gargan plays Detective Jerry ‘Mac’ MacDonald.

Cook is great at playing quirky oddballs (Cliff the crazed drummer in Phantom Lady 1944, George Peatty in The Killing 1956, anxious trench coat wearing Wilmer in The Maltese Falcon 1941, Watson Pritchard in House on Haunted Hill 1959).

I Wake up Screaming bares a resemblance to a whodunit, as the killer is chased down with the story playing a bit of a shell game with us. There are common noir themes of obsession, perverse lust, corruption and homicidal jealousy. The film is also has a preoccupation with images and artifice, tossing up flashbacks like a circus juggler.

Right before model Vicki Lynn heads to Hollywood to reach for her rising star, she is brutally murdered. Delicious Betty Grable in her first non-music role, plays Jill Lynn, Vicki’s sister, who is drawn to the man (Victor Mature) who is presumably her sister’s murderer.

Vicki functions as an essential part of the narrative early on in the film and is resurrected by way of flashbacks. Frankie knows that while there are images that still exist of Vicki she is no longer present. In fact Vicki is a myth and a manufactured deception in some ways. Jill on the other hand is genuine, unpretentious and warmhearted.

Carol Landis who died at 28 from an overdose, plays murder victim Vicki Lynn. I Wake up Screaming back flips into the weeks leading up to her death. The film is also somewhat of a noir variation on Pygmalion, as Victor Mature who plays Frankie Christopher, sports and show business promoter, discovers a beautiful girl waiting tables and gets the hot idea of turning Vicki into a celebrity and society girl. Vicki’s appeal, is the sphere of influence that drives the plot. Mature always makes the screen sweat with his sexy brawny build, swarthy good looks, strong jaw line and the aura of his glistening obsidian hair.

The film opens with a sensational news headline ‘MODEL MURDERED’ right from the top Frankie is being grilled by the cops in the interrogation room. Burning white hot lights are up close in his face. He says to the shadow of Cornell (Cregar) who’s a bulky shadow shot with single source lighting) to his opaque figure, “You’re a pretty tough guy with a crowd around.”

The flashbacks begin. Frankie goes back to the first time he meets Vicki at the lunch room on 8th Avenue while eating with Larry Evans (Alan Joslyn) and Robin Ray (Alan Mowbray). Vicki asks “Is that all?” Lary Evans says “No, but the rest of it isn’t on the menu.” She handles his come on, “You couldn’t afford it if it was.” Frankie pours on the charm. He gets the notion to take Vicki and mold her into a celebrity. “You know I bet in 6 months I could take that girl and put her on top of the ladder.” Mature and Landis worked together in One Million Years B.C.

Has-been actor Robin Ray (Mowbray) and ruthless gossip columnist Larry Evans (Joslyn) decide to get involved in developing Vicki Lynn’s mystique and cultivate her glamour on the road to fame. Of course both men wind up having a yen for her. A cynical Ray (Mowbray) complains that all women are alike. Evans (Joslyn) tells him,“For Pete’s sake, what difference does that make? You’ve got to have them. They’re standard equipment.”

Frankie takes Vicki Lynn out into New York cafe society – All three schemers, the columnist, the washed up actor and Frankie, bring her to the cafe and make a big noise, grabbing the attention of Lady Handel (May Beatty) who invites them over to her table. In order give the impression that Vicki will now be a new sensation, Larry Evans brags in front of the table, that he’ll plug her In his column. They also think that it’ll help Vicki to get noticed if she’s seen on Robin Ray’s arm. The outing is a success. When they bring her home to her apartment building they meet the squirrly desk clerk Harry Williams (Elisha Cook), who takes his sweet time, getting up for Vicki. Frankie gives him a hard time after being so disrespectful. Williams sneers, “She ain’t nobody.”

Back to the present and Frankie’s still in the sweat box. They’re questioning Jill too. She’s telling the cops about Vicki’s plans. She’s got, “Grand ideas about becoming a celebrity.” They ask about Frankie’s involvement. Another flashback – the sisters are talking about Vicki’s new venture. Vicki tells Jill, “They’re gonna glamorize me.” Jill tells Vicki that she doesn’t trust Frankie’s promises, and apologizes for sounding stuffy. She warns Vicki about having unrealistic aspirations. Flashback even further. Frankie shows up at the cafeteria. Vicki keeps dishing out the wise cracks. He shows her the newspaper article about her making a splash at the El Chico Club.

“Why all the cracks you don’t even know me?” “I don’t know anything about art, but I know what I like.” Back at the present day, at the police station. Jill continues to tell the cops how successful Vicki’s climb was. Backwards once again-

Jill Lynn I don’t want to tell you your business, but don’t you think you’re making a fool of yourself?
Vicki Lynn What do you mean?
Jill Oh, this Frankie Christopher. People like that, what have they got to do with people like us?
Vicki Jill, they’re going to help me!
Jill In what way?
Vicki They’re gonna’ glamorize me. They may have started this thing as a gag, but, after taking one look at those million-dollar debutantes tonight, I realized I can give them cards in spades and still come out on top.
Jill Vicky, you’ll never come out on top by any shortcuts. One week your picture’s on the cover of a magazine, the next it’s in the ash can.

Frankie arrives at the girls apartment, and Vicki breaks the news to Frankie that she’s going away to Hollywood. She’d done a screen test and signed a long term contract. He’s angry. She went behind Frankie’s back after everything he did for her. She defends herself “Some people think I’m a pretty attractive girl. I’m no Frankenstein you know!” Frankie comments, “I wonder.”

Jill tells the cops she was pounding a typewriter breaking her finger nails, and Vicki did get the Hollywood contract, so she might have been right about taking the risk with an acting career and becoming a star.

Another flashback The three men are sitting around the bar..

Robin Ray [indignant] Can you imagine her walking out on me, after all that I’ve done for her? Me!

Larry Evans [slightly incredulous] “You’ve” done for her? What have *you* done for her?

Robin Well, I took her out to all the bright spots, I let her be seen with me everywhere… It made her feel important.

Larry Why, you parboiled old ham! You don’t think anybody thought there was anything between *you* two, do you? If it hadn’t been for my plugging in the column, people would’ve thought she was your trained nurse.

Robin Why, you ink-stinking word slinger! I was famous when they were changing your pants 20 times a day!

Jumping to the present again, Jill is still being questioned by the cops. They want to know if Vicki had anyone in her life. Jill remembers a peculiar thing that happened. She tells them she was sitting at the table in the cafeteria waiting for Vicki to get off work. The peeping prowling, Ed Cornell’s giant shape stares at Vicki through the window. He has a queer look on his face. Jill maintains her stare, holding her coffee cup, she is unable to put it down as she studies him, uncomfortably. Once he notices Jill catching him ogling Vicki, he skulks away. Mockeridge’s score undergoes a sinister change, emphasis on the rhythmic accents of a classic horror picture.

Jill tells her sister, “You seem to have an admirer there’s some guy looking through the window like the wolf looking for the 3 little pigs.” The girls are walking on the street, Cornell is leaning against a wall, Jill points out to Vicki that he’s the one. “He gives me the creeps” Vicki says, “You’ll have to get used to that, they’ve got more wolves in New York than they have in Siberia” She tells the cops she saw him several times after in odd places. He never said anything but watched Vicki, it frightened Jill. There was something strange about him, the way he looked at Vicki. Always turning up in strange places. The cops look skeptical about her “mysterious stranger.”

The cops think Jill is trying to protect Frankie “I just don’t believe he did it, that’s all” They ask if she’s involved with him, and accuse her of being in love with him and wanting Vicki out of the way. Jill demands to see someone in authority, so they tell Mac to get Cornell. Who walks in? The creep who watched Vicki through the plate glass!

Enter rabid, self-righteous homicide Detective Ed Cornell (Cregar). Once he sets his sights on Frankie he begins to mercilessly hound him to the ends of hell if necessary, going after him with a flaming vengeance, trying to pin the murder on him. Cornell knows that Frankie is innocent but he is determined to persecute him. Cregar made an all too short career out playing imposing characters. He died at 28 in 1944 due to complications from a crash diet, always struggling with his weight, striving to obtain leading man status.

Jill is startled, the room is smoky and this massive shape looms over her with his girth “That’s him, that’s the man!” They think she’s crazy. First it’s a mysterious stranger peeking through windows and now it’s Ed Cornell. “Thats my job to look at people.” Leaving the dark corner of the sweat box into the smoke factory with Frankie, things become more visible as Cornell emerges as a menacing force. She insists, “I did see you.” “Alright Alright I’m a peeping tom.”

Jill Relates what happened on the car ride with Frankie, the night he learned Vicki was leaving, and she tells him he’ll be glad to get rid of her, because Jill is in love with him. That Jill is just covering up her feelings. Frankie says Jill being in love with him, never entered his mind. Vicki is sure, “I know it’s much deeper than that. That’s why its so dangerous. Anything might happen.”

Cornell writes down everything in his pad. Jill says that Vicki didn’t mean the line about being glad to get rid of her, but he corrects her, “What she meant doesn’t count. It’s what she said.”

The night Jill found Vicki, as soon as she came out of the elevator she got a feeling something was wrong. There was  music blasting from the radio. Frankie was there already – ”Jill you don’t think I did it, do you?” Jill is in shock.

Cornell goes back into the interrogation room with Frankie and tells him he knows about Vicki’s ‘get rid of me’ statement. The obessed Cornell comes up with a scenario. Frankie’s mind got more and more inflamed with jealousy and hurt pride. Went up there and killed her in cold blood. Cornell loses his cool and lunges at Frankie, ”I’ve got a mind to kill you right now.”When Cornell gets rough, the other cops have to break it up. They all like Frankie and ask if he’s got any tickets to the fights. They ask Cornell “What’s the idea of riding him, so hard?” “I have years of experience in this racket. If that isn’t the look of a guilty man, I’ll take the rap myself.” The District Attorney winds up getting his back up with Cornell when he focuses so much on Frankie’s guilt.

The District Attorney (Morris Ankrum) apologizes to Frankie. Jill is in the office too, and tells him they think they know the identity of the killer. It’s the switchboard operator at the sisters’ apartment building. They think it’s Harry Williams. Jill leaves the police station and Frankie asks why they think it’s Williams. The D.A. tells him, William’s been missing since 5pm last night, probably hiding out scared and shaky.

Frankie is released and later that night, Mature wakes up to find the huge, menacing Cregar sitting beside his bed, “Well that’s the first time, I had a bad dream with my eyes open.” “Someday you’re going to talk in your sleep, and when that days comes I want to be around.” The scene hints at Cornell’s repressed homosexual passion.

Cornell tells him he’ll get all the evidence he needs and tie him up like a pig in a slaughter house. Frankie unrattled, tells him, ”You’re the bright boy” and reminds him that they think Williams murdered Vicki. Victor Mature is so smooth, so mellow when he’s playing at being sarcastic, He says, “You’re like something out of a museum you ought to have a magnifying glass and one of those trick hats with the ear flaps” Frankie throws Cornell out after he calls him cocky, and has had it his way too long. First with Vicki, then Jill. Cornell’s resentment is showing.

Jill finds Harry Williams who’s returned to the apartment building. She’s moving out, but he has already packed up her bags and taken them down to the lobby. Williams is a suspiciously hollow little insect who Jill finds strange. Frankie meets up with Robin at the police station. The cops show a reel of Vicki singing at a night club. Cornell watches her longingly which gives Frankie a window into Cornell’s longing for the dead girl. Cornell looks at Frankie with contempt.

The film of Vicki appears in the dark room filled with cigar smoke that makes wispy clouds float, and the rays of light from the projection booth. The light cast on Frankie’s eyes are like an illuminated mask, it accentuates his epiphany — that Cornell is obsessed with Vicki. He catches something in his stare. The light on Cornell’s face as HE stares back at Frankie, unmasks only half of his face, revealing the duplicity Cornell projects throughout the picture. It’s a brilliantly framed shot by Cronjager.

The film reel resurrects Vicki from the dead, like a ghost haunting the room. Robin Ray squirms in his chair and runs to get out. The door is locked. His behavior hints at his guilt. They put the lights on and bring him into the D.A.’s office. Ray tells them how he felt about her. She laughed at him. Called him “a has-been and didn’t want to hitch her wagon to a falling star.” He’s the one that arranged the screen test but she went down there alone. He is obsolete, they decided they didn’t need him. While he talks about her, Cornell looks out the window. Daylight casts patterns from the venetian blinds that cut across his face. Odd angle profiles tilt the two-shot of Cornell and Mac off kilter. Ray has an alibi. He was at a sanitarium. Cornell checked it out already and is gleeful that it rules out yet another suspect. He wants Frankie to fry for it. Cornell would have Frankie in the death house by now. “That won’t prevent you from going to the hot chair.” 

As Frankie is leaving the police station Cornell asks him for a lift uptown “Sure, always happy to oblige a goon”

Ed Cornell [bumming a ride in Frankie’s car] “I’m sorry to have to ask you to do this, but I’m a little short on cash lately. You see, I’ve spent so much of my own dough, trying to build up this case against you.”

Frankie Christopher (Victor Mature) Well, if there’s anything you need, just let me know.”

Ed Cornell Oh, I imagine they’ll make it right with me when I bring in the material for your trial. They usually do in these cases. I nick a guy on my own time and send him up to the chair, then I get back pay.”

Frankie Christopher “Must be a great life – like a garbage man, only with people!”

Ed Cornell “I got practically all the evidence I need now. I could arrest you today for that matter, but you might get some smart mouthpiece and get off with life instead of the chair. I won’t be satisfied until I’m *sure* it’s the chair.”

Frankie Christopher “You’re a gay dog, Cornell. You make me feel as if I’m driving a hearse!”

Ed Cornell Oh, I know your type. I’ve seen hundreds of them. I don’t scare you enough to make you commit suicide, but I worry you just the same. And when the day comes they all act different. Some scream, a few faint, some light a cigarette and try a wisecrack. But it sticks in their throats – especially when they’re hung.”

Cornell shows up at Jill’s new apartment to intimidate her. Jill “What’s the good of living without hope?” Ed Cornell signals his own personal torture- “It can be done.” He advises her to just play along, insisting that she’s not even sure Frankie’s innocent. Once he’s left, Jill pulls out a note from behind a framed painting on the wall. It’s from Frankie to Vicki, “After what you did last night, the sooner you’re out of the way the better it will be.”

Frankie takes Jill to the fights and then out on the town. She asks if he ever brought Vicki to the fights, and tells him it’s the first New York night club she’s ever been to. The El Chico club, he first took Vicki to. She sees how nice he is without all the flashy bluster and pretense. He’s actually very real. Cornell follows them. Frankie asks her why she suddenly called him, “The trouble with you is that you pretend you don’t care about things but you do. You were very upset about Vicki’s death weren’t You? He tells her he’d like to find the guy, “Save the State on it’s electric bill. She was a good kid” Jill doesn’t want him to be guilty. “Did you love her? “No, do you think if I’d loved her I would have tried to exploit her the way I did?… Vicki was pretty, gay and amusing She had lots to offer and I wanted to put her in the right place on the map. After all that’s my business But when a man really loves a woman, he doesn’t want to plaster her face all over papers and magazines. He wants to keep her to himself.”

Looking into her eyes, he tells her he’s in love with her. Larry Evans sees them together and calls in the story “Stepping out… Dancing on the grave.”

Frankie takes Jill to his favorite swimming spot. It’s a lovely scene, that brings some lightness to the external space in the story. She shows him the note he wrote to Vickie and he asks why she didn’t turn it into the police. Jill tells him she knew he was innocent and what the note meant, at the moment they were dancing at the nightclub. When they are back at the apartment, Cornell walks in and takes the note. They cuff Frankie. Cornell who is obviously framing him is just waiting for the chance to catch him. Frankie tells him anyone could have written a note like that. He was burned up when Vicki dropped the bomb that she was leaving. He finds out that Cornell has planted a set of brass knuckles in his apartment. Vicki was hit hard behind the ear with a heavy object. The depraved Cornell punches Frankie in the guts. “You’re like a rat in a hole.”

As Cornell is about to take him downtown, Frankie on the ground after Cornell’s hostile assault, Jill hits Cornell from behind, and helps Frankie escape. Big fat head bullying him, she says.

Frankie proposes, “Mind marrying a hunted man?” She tells him, “Most married men have a hunted look anyway.” He tells her his real name – Botticelli, the son of Italian immigrants. Then he shows her how to hide in the city. They duck into in an adult movie house, watching the same picture over and over. Then they decide to split up for the time being and she goes to the public library. The cops find her, and Frankie sees them taking her away. The newspaper headline says “Christopher eludes police dragnet.” Cornell stalks the streets. Frankie sneaks up on him. “Let Jill go”, and he’ll turn himself in. Ed Cornell (Laird Cregar) “I’ll follow you into your grave. I’ll write my name on your tombstone.” “You’re not a cop you’re crazy trying to frame an innocent man.” Frankie throws a tootsie roll at him and takes off. Cornell assures him, he’ll eventually get him. Always smirking like the devil.

Cornell tells the D.A. a parable about the African Butterfly and how to trap the male is to let the female free. He wants him to let Jill out of her box to lure Frankie. She goes home, sneaks out through the window, and surprises Frankie at the adult movie house. At the apartment she has found little cards from flowers that were sent to Vicki, and at the funeral. She shows them to Frankie. The message on the cards say, “Because I promised.”

They go to Rosedale Cemetery and when he meets the caretaker, Frankie pretends to be reporter and ask if anybody lately has been around Vicki’s grave. There were many flowers at the funeral, and the caretaker tells him that the grave’s been getting flowers each day since she died. Frankie learns where they were sent from, and goes to Keating Florist. It turns out the Larry sent them. Frankie confronts Larry who admits he was with Vicki the day she died. He had promised to send her flowers every day when she left for Hollywood, and he wanted to keep his word. Larry winds up giving Frankie a clue about the killer, and he goes to the old apartment and gets Mac to give him a half hour. He has a strong hunch.

The next scene is ripe with atmosphere when Frankie leans against the wall in Vicki’s old apartment. The lattice shadows fence Frankie in. Harry Williams is sleeping at the front desk. Vicki rings the desk and speaks in Vicki’s voice “Hello Harry, this is Vicki” He’s visibly shaken. Frankie watches his reaction. His eyes open wider as the buzzing mocks him, “Harry this is Vicki. Why did you do it Harry? Didn’t you love me?” Frankie confronts Williams. “You let yourself in with your pass key and waited for her. You loved her. She panicked and screamed.” William’s admits,  “I told the cop that when he chased me to Brooklyn. Cornell knew all along it was Williams. The dirty Cornell told him to just come back and keep his mouth shut. Mac hears the confession. Frankie tells him, he wants 5 minutes alone with Cornell.

He goes to his apartment finds a perverse and macabre shrine to Vicki. Her image is like a talisman in his sufficating little apartment. He discovers the prominent photograph of Vicki in an elaborate frame. Cornell unaware that Frankie is there, comes in and places fresh flowers underneath the photograph, as an offering. Frankie watches then emerges, “You knew. Why’d you want to fry me?”He tells Frankie, “I lost Vicki long before Williams killed her. You were the one who took her away from me” Cornell wanted to marry her. Had this furnished apartment set up. Bought her perfume. “Til he came along and put ideas in her head. She thought she was too good for me. He could had killed him then.” Frankie puts it to him, “Why didn’t ya?” “Cause I had the hook in your mouth and I wanted to see you suffer.”

Cornell resented Frankie’s closeness to Vicki, and inhabits a world that excludes him. In contrast to the suave Frankie Christopher, he is a lumbering and awkward outsider. To Cornell, Vicki will always be as unattainable as the first time he gazed upon her through the window. He was struck by her beauty, but she was completely and forever out of his reach. Cornell is like a lurking monster straight out of a classic horror movie. His uneasy presence lends to a surreal and menacing mood.

A Trailer a day keeps the Boogeyman away! I Wake Up Screaming (1941)

Continue reading “31 Flavors of Noir on the Fringe to Lure You In! Part 1”

Postcards from Shadowland Halloween Edition 2020 🎃

The Unknown Terror (1957)

The Golem (1920)

The Man from Planet X (1951)

Woman in the Moon (1931)

Four Sided Triangle (1953)

Doctor X (1932)

Häxan (1922)

City of the Dead aka Horror Hotel (1960)

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932)

Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957)

It Came from Outer Space (1953)

The Brain from Planet Arous (1957)

Not of this Earth (1957)

Terror is a Man (1959)

The Giant Claw (1957)

Nosferatu (1922)

Dracula 1931

Dracula (1931)

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943)

Left to right: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Evelyn Ankers, Joan Davis and Richard Carlson in HOLD THAT GHOST (1941), directed by Arthur Lubin.

The Thing from Another World (1951)

The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Corridors of Blood (1958)

The Seventh Victim (1943)

The Queen of Spades (1949)

It Conquered the World (1956)

The Invisible Man Returns (1940)

The Raven (1932)

House of Dracula (1945)

Isle of the Dead (1945)

The Bad Seed (1956)

13 Ghosts (1960)

Horror Island (1941)

The Last Man on Earth (1964)

 

Chapter 4 – Queers and Dykes in the Dark: Classic, Noir & Horror Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters:

CODED CLASSIC HORROR THEORY “The Uncanny & The Other”

“Scenes of excessive brutality and gruesomeness must be cut to an absolute minimum…”

“As a cultural index, the pre-Code horror film gave a freer rein to psychic turmoil and social disorientation because it possessed a unique freedom from censorship… the Hays Office admits that under the Code it is powerless to take a stand on the subject of ‘gruesomeness.‘(Thomas Doherty)

Horror films in particular have made for a fascinating case study in the evolving perceptions of queer presence; queer-horror filmmakers and actors were often forced to lean into the trope of the “predatory queer” or the “monstrous queer” to claim some sense of power through visibility and blatant expressions of sexuality.- Essential Queer Horror Films by Jordan Crucciola-2018

Though Hollywood execs refused to show explicit queerness, they were willing to pay for scripts that dealt with characters that were social outcasts and sexually nonnormative. The horror genre is perhaps the most iconic coded queer playground, which seems to have an affinity with homosexuality because of it’s apparatus of ‘otherizing’ and the inherent representation of difference. The horror genre crosses over boundaries that include transgressions between heterosexuality and queerness. The villain, fiend or monster plays around with a variety of elements that while usually separate, might merge male and female gender traits.

The horror film in particular, found it’s place asserting a queer presence on screen. The narratives often embraced tropes of the ‘predatory queer’ or the ‘monstrous queer’ in order to declare themselves visible while cinematic queers were elbowed out of the way. Filmmakers had to maneuver their vision in imaginative ways to subvert the structure laid out for them by the Code.

As Harry M. Benshoff explains in his book Monsters in the Closet: Homosexuality in the Horror Film, “Immediately before and during the years of World War II, Universal Studio’s horror films began to employ a more humanistic depiction of their monsters,” and the films of Val Lewton, like Cat People, reflected “a growing awareness of homosexuality, homosexual communities, and the dynamics of homosexual oppression as it was played out in society and the military.” So even though Hollywood execs refused to show explicit queerness, during the first true horror boom in American cinema, they were willing to pay for stories about social outcasts and sexually nonnormative figures. Horror fans thus found themselves awash in some of the genre’s most iconic queer-coded characters of all time.

On a Greek Island, Boris Karloff plays Gen. Nikolas Pherides in Val Lewton/Mark Robsin’s Isle of the Dead 1945. Driven insane by the belief that Thea (Ellen Drew) who suffers from catalepsy is the embodiment of an evil vampiric force, is a demon called a vorvolaka. Lewton drew on collective fears, and all his work had an undercurrent of queer panic and a decipherable sign of homophobia.

The Vorvolaka has beset the island with plague. Thea- “Laws can be wrong, and laws can be cruel, and the people who live only by the law are both wrong and cruel.”

The Pre-Code era was exploding with American horror films, that reflected the angst, social unrest and emotional distress that audiences were feeling. Personified in films that used graphic metaphors to act as catharsis, the images were often filled with rage, as Thomas Doherty calls it ‘the quality of gruesomeness, cruelty and vengefulness’. Think of the angry mobs with their flaming torches who hunt down the Frankenstein’s monster, eventually crucifying him like a sacrificial embodiment of their fury. James Whale’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein 1931 was a smash hit for Universal. Other studios were trying to ride the wave of the awakening genre of the horror picture. Paramount released director Rouben Mamoulian’s adaption of the novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson, published in 1886. The film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1931 stars Fredric March and Miriam Hopkins. During the period of Pre-Code, many horror films proposed grisly subject matter that would shock and mesmerize the audience. For example, actor/director Irving Pichel’s The Most Dangerous Game (1932) starring Joel McCrea, Leslie Banks and Fay Wray.

In 1932 Michael Curtiz directed Doctor X starring Lionel Atwill who would become one of the leading mad scientists of the genre.

Michael Curtiz’s macabre horror/fantasy experiment of homosocial ‘men doing science’, crossing over into profane territories and embracing dreadful taboos!

All scenes below from Dr. X (1932)

Fay Wray as Atwill’s daughter who is the only woman surrounded by a group of scientific non conformists.

The adaptation of Bram Stoker’s story of the Eastern European incubus was interpreted by Tod Browning in Dracula 1931, immortalized by Hungarian stage actor Bela Lugosi with his iconic cape and mesmerizing stare. While his nightly visitations were blood driven and cinematically sexual in nature, there is a very homoerotic element to his influence over Renfield (Dwight Frye) and his gaze of gorgeous David Manners as John Harker.

Bela Lugosi looking down upon David Manners in a scene from the film ‘Dracula’, 1931. (Photo by Universal/Getty Images)

Robert Florey directed the macabre Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe. And a film which has no connection to Poe’s story but in name, is one of the most transgressive, disturbing horror films rampant with vile taboos, such as necrophelia, incest, sadism, satanism and flaying a man alive, is the unorthodox The Black Cat (1934). The film stars Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, one of four pictures they would do together. A pair of enemies who have a score to settle, ghosts of a past war, and stolen love all taking place with the backdrop of a stylish Bauhaus set design and high constrast lighting.

Paramount released Murders in the Zoo (1933) with Lionel Atwill a sadistic owner of a zoo, who uses wild animals to ravage and kill off any of his wife’s (Kathleen Burke) suitors. Kathleen Burke is well known as the panther girl in Erle C. Kenton’s horrifically disturbing Island of Lost Souls 1932, an adaptation of master fantasy writer H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau. Incidentally, Welles, Laughton and wife Elsa Lanchester had been good friends earlier on, before the filming of Lost Souls. The film stars Charles Laughton as the unorthodox, depraved scientist who meddles with genetics and nature. He creates gruesome human/animals, torturing them with vivisection in his ‘house of pain.’ The film also stars Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams and Bela Lugosi as The Sayer of the Law.

And in 1933 King Kong shows a giant ape grasping the half naked object of his affection with unmentionable connotations of bestiality between the ape and Fay Wray. With scenes of Wray writhing in his gigantic paws, he lusts after her, until his desire kills him. It’s almost like fastasy noir, the object of your desire, will ultimately kill you!

The 1930s and 1940s — Fear the Queer Monsters

Re-assessing the Hitchcock Touch; by Wieland Schwanebeck -As Rhona Berenstein asserts, the horror genre “provides a primary arena for sexualities and practices that fall outside the purview of patriarchal culture, and the subgeneric tropes of the unseen, the host and the haunted house.”

By the same token, Kendra Bean concludes that Mrs. Danvers is portrayed as “a wraith; a sexual predator who is out to make Mrs. de Winter her next victim.”

Queer characters in horror films during the early period, reveals similarities between Mrs. Danvers and the staging of earlier sapphic characters, such as Gloria Holdens’s well-known portrayal of Countess Marya Zaleska in Dracula’s Daughter 1936. Yet, similiar to the self discipline of Mrs. Danvers, Dracula’s Daughter remains a figure of primacy and pity as Ellis Hanson argues Dracula’s Daughter presents “the possibilities of a queer Gothic” early on in Hollywood history, “rich in all the paradox and sexual indeterminacy the word queer and the word Gothic imply.

There was a revival of the horror craze during the period of WWII. The Hollywood studios, both major and ‘Poverty Row” like Monogram and Republic realized that horror movies were a lucrative business. The studios began to revisit the genre looking for, not only fresh formulas, but they resurrected, the classic monsters, dropping them into new plots. They also envisioned uniting the gangster film with horror films, and this homogenizing, led to a ‘queering’ of the two styles, that demonstrated phallocentric ( guns, scientific penetration) and homoerotic themes and images into a sub-genre.

Public awareness of homosexuality reached a new height during these years, primarily due to the new set of social conditions wrought by war. Slowly , the love that dare not speak its name was being spoken, albeit in ways almost always obscurantist, punitive and homophobic. The linkage of homosexuality with violence and disease remained strong. Monsters in the Closet -Harry Benshoff

Rhona Berenstein in her insightful book Attack of the Leading Ladies, points out that films featuring the mad scientist trope operates with the homosocial principle which speaks of the homo eroticism of males working together in consort subverting science together, as a group of men who hide behind their objectification -the female object of their gaze, are in fact, figures of objectification themselves. They are simultaneously homosocial, homoerotic and homophobic in aspect; … potentially possessing an extra-normative commitment between the two men.

Mad doctor movies are homosocial in nature. The mad doctor movie is a subgenre that below the surface glorifies intimate male camararderie-and male homosexuality, and by the close of the picture, society, the prevailing culture must in turn annihilate, that which is repressed. But it is not exclusively a vehicle to express the homosexuality through homosocial interactions. There is a component not only of male bonding, a world without women, the thrust is a synthesis of misogyny and patriarchal tyranny and oppression of women. Homosocial relationships between men in these science horrors show the man’s desire for connection to other men, even one created by his own hand.

According to (Twitchell) in his Dreadful Pleasures, and Attack of the Leading Ladies (Rona Berenstein) Colin Clive as Dr. Frankenstein in all three Universal pictures, was at least performing bisexuality. Whale’s 1933 Frankenstein might give way to the homosocial realm of the mad scientist trope, of ‘homoerotic indulgence’ as these men exclude women from the pursuit of their fulfillment. Twitchell views the scientist’s fluid sexuality in order to examine the concept of a man controlling women’s primacy of giving birth. This might explain Dr. Frankenstein’s venture into unnatural reproduction. A process he wants to divert to himself without women’s exclusive right to motherhood. In the scene where he is as close to giving birth to a full grown man, he seems to display a sexual arousal, when his creation comes to life. Henry Frankenstein provokes nature and defies his heterosexuality. As Whale was an openly gay director in Hollywood, it can be pondered whether he knew exactly what he was suggesting. Thesiger’s sexually ambiguous, or okay, not so ambiguous Dr. Pretorius, the mad scientist who pressures Henry Frankenstein to revitalize his experiments and create a mate for the monster. Pretorius is the scientist who insists Henry continue his creative efforts in Bride of Frankenstein. Vitto Russo called Thesiger, “man who played the effete sissy… with much verve and wit.”

George Zucco like Lionel Atwill often portrayed the unorthodox scientist who flirted with taboos. He plays mad scientist Dr. Alfred Morris in The Mad Ghoul (1943) As a university chemistry professor, he exploits medical student Ted Allison (David Bruce) with his experimental gas that transforms Ted into a malleable, yielding macabre ghoul, whom Morris directs to kill and remove the victims hearts using the serum to temporarily bring Ted back from his trance like death state. David Bruce’s character is represented as a ‘queer’ sort of young man. Not quite masculine and unable to get his girlfriend Evelyn Ankers to fall in love with him. As the Mad Ghoul he becomes a monstrous queer.

In 1932, director Tod Browning’s Dracula based on Bram Stoker’s story of a fiendish vampire who in a sexually implicit way, violates his victims by penetrating them with his fangs. The story pushed the boundaries of story telling, and there was an inherent subtext of ‘queer’ ravishment when he sucks the blood of Dwight Frye to make him his loyal servant.

In Jonathan Harker’s Journal, the protagonist recounts his impressions of his interaction with the vampire, Dracula “As the Count leaned over me and his hands touched me I could not repress a shudder. It may have been that his breath was rank, but a horrible feeling of nausea came over me, which do what I would, I could not conceal.” For (Noël Carroll) the entry in his diary conveys revulsion by the Count’s closeness and offensive presence, that causes him to become sickened.

But it also could be read that Harker’s ‘shudder’ is not about his revulsion, rather, an uncontrolled sexual response to the vampire’s looming over him which could be interpreted not just as hunger for his ‘blood’ but an expression of repressed sexual desire and the fear it causes.

Horror movies have always pushed the boundaries of normalcy, by virtue of the fact that these films are inhabited by ‘monsters’, something ‘queerly’ different. And it is natural to observe two diverging responses to the impact of the horror genre and often, it’s persecution of what is ‘different’ and the source of what causes our anxiety.

Dracula may appear as the image of a man, but the count is far from human. While monsters in classical horror films are based on systems of maleness, they are split from being actual men. Although there are physical interactions and suggestive contact with the heroine, there isn’t the foundation of heterosexuality, but something quite deviant, with in their aggressively erotic encounters and/or assaults. The understanding of sexuality and the most narrow identifications that are assigned to varying orientation in a large sense is not translatable for the deeper layers of the monster and their relationship to their victims. In Hollywood, horror films can be seen as heterosexuality being invaded by an abhorrent outside force, inherent in the underlying message could be racism, classism, sexism and gay panic. Though it can be interpreted as a landscape of heterosexuality that is in full power of it’s universal presence, horror films are perfect platforms that can illustrate the collapse of heterosexuality, and the subversion of sexuality.

The horror genre is a breeding ground for portrayals of the shattering of heterosexual power. This can be seen in Lambert Hillyer’s Dracula’s Daughter (1936) starring Gloria Holden as the sapphic vampire who lives in a New Village type artist’s den, it signals her outsider status from dometicity and normalcy.

In White Zombie (1932) Bela Lugosi plays the eerily menacing Legendre. He turns men into lifeless workers who run the sugar mill. Legendre also begins to turn the plantation owner, Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer) into one of his zombies. What his motivation for his control over people is ambiguous, though there seems to be a sexual reasoning for both the beautiful Madeline (Madge Bellamy) and Beaumont. The scene where Beaumont is nearly paralyzed, Legendre’s control over his male victim parallels the sexual entrapment of the movie’s heroine.

MAD LOVE (1935) I have conquered science! Why can’t I conquer love?

Karl Freund’s Grand Guignol Mad Love (1935) shifts from gazing at the female to gazing at the male. Here the focus is on a Peter Lorre in his American screen debut as Dr. Gogol, who has an obsession with Frances Drake as Yvonne Orlac an actress who works at Grand Guignol Theatre. To Gogol she is the typified defenseless heroine whom he tries to lure away from her husband Stephen (Colin Clive) using his knowledge of scientific alchemy.

Though Gogol tries to become Yvonne’s master, his Galatea, there are critics who read the struggle between the two men, not just as rivalry for Yvonne’s love, but Gogol’s desire for Stephen as well. Gogol is responsible for grafting new hands onto Stephen’s mangled body after a train crash. Mad Love could fit the criteria for the subgenre of the science/horror films where the male gaze is diverted from the female object toward other men, in this case what connected the two was the preservation of Stephen’s hands. Why then is it not possible that the focus could shift from Gogol’s attraction to Yvonne to the homosocial dynamics between Gogol as doctor and his subject Stephen.

Mad Love possesses some of the horror genre’s most tenacious performances of gender play. (Carol Clover) asks us to take a closer look at Freund’s film, it is less about the “suffering experienced by women, but at a deeper, more sustained level, it is dedicated to the unspeakable terrors endured by men.”

In similar fashion to Waldo Lydecker (Laura) and Hardy Cathcart’s (The Dark Corner) pathology of objectifying Laura and Mari, Gogol worships Yvonne – his Galatea, with a measure of scopophilia that lies within his gaze upon the perfection of female beauty. To control and possess it. The pleasure is aroused by the mere indulgence of looking at her.

Gogol pays 75 francs to purchase the wax statue of Galatea. The seller remarks “There’s queer people on the streets of Monmartre tonight.”

Gogol’s maid Francoise talking to the statue,“What ever made him bring you here. There’s never been any woman in this house except maybe me… “I prefer live ones to dead ones.”

A Time Magazine review of Mad Love in 1933 notes this queer appeal directly, even comparing Lorre’s acting skills to those of another homosexual coded actor: I find the comment about their faces rude and insulting to both Lorre and Laughton, both of whom I am a tremendous fan.

Mad Love’s insane doctor is feminized throughout the film… In fact, the same reporter who noted Gogol’s sadism argues for his feminine demeanor: “Lorre, perfectly cast, uses the technique popularized by Charles Laughton of suggesting the most unspeakable obsessions by the roll of a protuberant eyeball, an almost feminine mildness of tone, an occasional quiver of thick lips set flat in his cretinous ellipsoidal face. This reviewer came closer than any other to articulate the subtext of mad doctor movies. He seems on the verge of noting that Lorre, Like Laughton is an effeminate madman obsessed by unspeakable homosocial desire. Attack of the Leading Ladies: Gender Sexuality and Spectatorship in Classic Horror Cinema by Rhona Berenstein

Frances Drake’s heroine masquerades as a wife who deludes herself into believing that her husband is more masculine than he really is. Gogol has a curious empathy with Stephen, whom he touches frequently and prolonged. Although Gogol pursues the heroine Yvonne, at the theater, forcing a kiss on her, his focus is primarily manipulating Stephen’s body, rejoining his hands and massaging them to stimulate life back into them. When he realizes that Stephens hands cannot be grafted back successfully to his wrists, he turns to another man, the hands of a knife thrower who was executed as a notorious murderer. Once Stephen recovers from the surgery, he can no longer continue as a concert pianist, but does develop the desire to throw sharp knives.

On the surface the plot of Mad Love appears to be a heterosexual obsession, the most unspoken context is the connection between Gogol and Stephen. As is true of Frankenstein’s labor of love in Whale’s first film, Gogol sews men’s body parts together and the result is a monster of sorts. (Berenstein)

In the film’s climax, Yvonne hides in Gogol’s bedroom, and pretends to be the wax statue of Galatea. When Gogol touches the statue, she lets out a scream. In a euphoric daze (as in the origianl story) he believes that he has the power to bring the statue of Galatea to life. Yvonne begs him to let her go as he tries to strangle her.

Stephen then rushes to his wife and holds her in his arms. With his eyes fixed on the offscreen space in which Gogol’s body lies, he croons: “My darling.” The homosocial desire is destroyed when Stephen murders Gogol who intones “each man kills the thing he loves”— echoing on the soundtrack.

In the film’s closing moments, the secret desire is finally spoken out loud…Has Stephen killed the man he loves. Given that the phrase that Gogol mutters was written originally by Oscar Wilde, whose homosexuality scandalized the British social and legal system in 1895, reading the homosocial desire into Mad Love’s within the very last moments we are left to decipher the suspended cues. We are left with Stephen’s gazing at Gogol’s face and his knifed body as he lay dying, he speaks the words, ‘My darling” what the camera frames the two men sharing that moment in the closing scene.

The mad doctor narrative is particularly predisposed to homosocial impulses. “intense male homosocial desire as at once the most compulsory and the most prohibited of social bonds” – Epistemology of the Closet (Sedgwick)

Sedgwick investigated early fantasy/horror novels, Shelley’s Frankenstein 1818, Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1886 and Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau 1895. In the beginning of the 1930s, these stories centered around mad doctors who delved into unorthodox, profane explorations, were all adapted to the screen. All of these nefarious or scientific, inquisitive men, cultivated secret experiments, challenging the laws of nature. What Sedgwick found was that the Gothic literary representations of men performing homosocial collaborations, were ‘not socially sanction and shunned.’

It was considered a necessary narrative element as well as a monstrous possibility that threatened to subvert the status quo. The combination of these two attitudes is expressed in homosocial narratives- male bonding is both horrifying and guaranteed, entailing the simultaneous introjection and expulsion of femininity. (Sedgwick)

“My darling”….

James Whale was a gay auteur who often imbued his work intentionally or with the ‘intentional fallacy’ of a ‘queer’ sense of dark humor. This comical, campy absurdity, was always on the edge of his vision of horror and subtle profanity. In his picture The Invisible Man (1933) adapted from H.G. Wells story and starring Claude Rains, it was classified as a horror film by the Code.

Dr. Jack Griffin (Rains) the antihero, is a frenzied scientist, addicted to his formula as he seeks the ability to make himself invisible. His sanity begins to ‘vanish’ as his hunger for power, delusions of grandeur, and bursts of megalomania grow out of control. He plans on assassinating government officials, and he becomes more belligerent the longer he turns invisible. The idea that he displays radical ideas and runs around in the nude didn’t seem to arouse the censors, In 1933, a letter from James Wingate to Hays states, “highly fantastic and exotic [sic] vein, and presents no particular censorship difficulties.”

What’s interesting about the presentation of the story, is that the coded gay leitmotifs were paraded out, right under the Code’s noses, and didn’t stir any indignation for it’s ‘queer’ humor.

Gloria Stuart and Claude Rains in James Whale’s The Invisible Man 1933

The Invisible Man perpetrates campy assaults on all the ‘normal’ people in his way. With intervals of sardonic cackles and golden wit, and at the same time, a menacing reflection of light and shadow. Claude Rains is a concealed jester who makes folly of his victims.

“An invisible man can rule the world. Nobody will see him come, nobody will see him go. He can hear every secret. He can rob, and wreck, and kill.” –Dr. Jack Griffin (The Invisible Man)

Claude Rains plays Dr. Jack Griffin an outsider (a favorite of Jame’s Whale’s characters) who discovers the secret of invisibility which changes him from a mild yet arrogant scientist into a maniacal killer. The film bares much of Whale’s campy sense of humor, with Griffin’s comic shenanigans abound, until things turn dark and he becomes uncontrollably violent. “We’ll begin with a reign of terror, a few murders here and there, Murders of great men, Murders of little men, just to show we make no distinction. I might even wreck a train or two… just these fingers around a signalman’s throat, that’s all.”

According to Gary Morris (Bright Lights Film Journal) ‘The film demands crypto-faggot reading in poignant scenes such as the one where he reassures his ex-girlfriend, who begs him to hide from the authorities: “the whole worlds my hiding place. I can stand out there amongst them in the day or night and laugh at them.”

Though Griffin’s (Claude Rains) character is unseen at times, there are potent moments, when he is animated as he skips to the tune, “Here we go gathering nuts in May” flitting around like a fairy. It is suggested that The Invisible Man is a metaphor for the way homosexuals are seen/not seen by society – as “effeminate, dangerous when naked, seeking a male partner in “crime”, tending to idolize his fiance rather than love her, and becoming ‘visible’ only when shot by the police…monitored by doctors, and heard regretting his sin against God (i.e., made into a statistic by the three primary forces oppressing queers: the law, the medical establishment, and religious orthodoxy” (Sedgwick)

The Invisble Man [undressing] “They’ve asked for it, the country bumpkins. This will give them a bit of a shock, something to write home about. A nice bedtime story for the kids, too, if they want it”

Continue reading “Chapter 4 – Queers and Dykes in the Dark: Classic, Noir & Horror Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters:”

Shock (1946) Psychological-Noir – The mind is a delicate fragile thing, it’s almost as intangible as faith.

SHOCK (1946)

Directed by Alfred Werker (The House of Rothschild 1934, He Walked By Night 1948, The Young Don’t Cry 1957),  screenplay by Eugene Ling, based on a story by Albert DeMond. Cinematography by Glen MacWilliams (The Clairvoyant 1935, King Solomon’s Mines 1937, Lifeboat 1944, The Spider 1945) and Joseph MacDonald  (The Street With No Name 1948, The Young Lions 1958, The Sand Pebbles 1966) Art Directed by Boris Leven and Lyle R. Wheeler. Set direction by Thomas Little.

Shock stars Vincent Price as Dr. Dick Cross,Lynn Bari (Nocturne 1946, The Amazing Mr. X 1948) as Elaine Jordan, Frank Latimore as Lt. Paul Stewart, Anabel Shaw as Janet Stewart, Michael Dunn as Stevens, Reed Hadley as O’Neil, Renee Carson as Mrs. Hatfield, Charles Trowbridge as Dr. Harvey and Mary Young as Miss Penny.

Shock was Vincent Price’s first starring role for 20th Century Fox. It was originally slated as a “B” movie, but it’s unexpected success created openings in better movie houses. Vincent Price possesses an enigmatic sensuality that in my view makes him the complete leading man, tall and romantically brooding with his velvet intonations and his striking features and dramatic flare.

Shock falls into the category of the psychological film noir, where the lead antagonist is a psychiatrist who has committed a crime, and is able to use the resources of his craft to manipulate the chaos created by his act, in a way that sustains his secret. The subject of this tightly woven narrative is a young woman who is portrayed as hysterical and possibly losing her mind, evincing the idea that she is not to be believed. The mise-en-scène is also primarily set in the sanitorium.

 

“The films identifiable as psychological noirs offer much more extreme interpretations of this anti-traditional style. The mise-en-scène of psychological noirs can be classified as operating within two distinct modes, the surreal and the inexplicable. Surreal mise-en-scène refers to overtly artificial visual elements within psychological noirs that are often achieved through the use of special effects, while inexplicable mise-en-scène designates elements that can be either real or not, within the context of the narrative, and only make sense to the viewer once the film’s narrative has been fully revealed”– Matthew Ducca –Film Noir in Context-Psychological Noir

“Here’s one of the best of the season–and I’m referring to Shock, a terrific little picture that , without any particular ballyhoo, steps into the same category as Lost Weekend and Spellbound for intelligent, engrossing entertainment… {Price} is terrific as the psychiatrist-murderer –smooth, menacing and as dangerous as a tiger’s paw.” –-Los Angeles Herald Examiner, March 7, 1946

“…{Price} makes a sufficiently deadly menace…” –Variety

In Shock, Vincent Price plays a prominent psychiatrist Dr. Dick Cross who is having an affair with his nurse Elaine Jordan (Lynn Bari). During an argument with his wife who is willing to give him a divorce but goes to pick up the phone threatening to ruin his reputation, infuriating Cross who loses control and winds up beating her brains out with a silver candlestick. Price is marvelous as he straddles the moral fence between going to police and reporting what he has done and being completely led by the conniving Elaine who is more the pure villainess of the story. Cross states that he didn’t mean to kill her, there was no-premeditation but now that he’s put the body in a trunk and shipped it off to his lodge, he shouldn’t have listened to Elaine and called the police instead. Elaine is ruthless and Janet will talk, only if Dick Cross lets her.

In film noir fashion Elaine drives Cross to his ruination as the film’s malevolent femme fatale. Cross manifests a sort of sympathetic anti-hero, ambivalence with his tormented conscience and his attraction to the alluring temptress who doesn’t have an ounce of humanity in her beautiful bones is finely portrayed with Price’s iconic eloquence and his stylish restraint. Cross is torn between his feelings of guilt for what he’s done and fearing that the police will find out that he is responsible for his wife’s death.

At the center of the story is Anabel Shaw as Janet Stewart, waiting for her husband Lt. Paul Stewart (Frank Latimore) who was believed killed in the war, when actually he was in a Japanese prison-camp. While sitting up in the hotel room, Janet overhears the argument between Cross and his wife, about his mistress and him asking for a divorce. Janet, walking out onto the balcony, witnesses Cross striking his wife with a large silver candlestick and immediately goes into shock.

Janet becomes the film noir figure as the ‘un-believed’ who is in a semi-hysterical state an unable to articulate calmly what she she saw. Ironically is overseen by the one person she has to fear the most, her doctor who is the murderer! Everyone buys into the belief that Janet has in fact gone mad. The paralyzing sense of persecution that envelops poor Janet creates a world of paranoia and confinement.

In one chilling scene later on in the film, shot with a restricted light source stemming from the lightening storm and narrowing warning shadows by cinematographers MacWilliams and MacDonald, one of the patients, the deranged Edwards, at the sanitorium whom the doctors have come to believe is too dangerous to be kept at their facility has hidden a key, sneaks out of his room and enters Janet’s room, where he tries to strangle Elaine. Once Cross arrives in time to save her, Janet comes out of her hypnotized stupor and begins screaming that Cross is the man she saw murdered his wife. Of course the staff just assumes it’s the ramblings of a mad woman who needs to be committed.

Back to the beginning of the film. When Dr. Cross is first called in to consult on the Janet’s condition, he realizes that her room is directly across from the window in his hotel room. He asks her “Did you walk out on the balcony?” when she responds yes, he understands that she witnessed him killing his wife which mostly likely is the cause of her trauma.

Finally, Paul has had enough and walks into Janet’s room, while Cross finds him there, Janet becomes agitated, “It’s him, he picked something up and he killed her, he killed his wife!”

Cross explains to Janet’s husband Paul, “The mind is a delicate fragile thing. It’s almost as intangible as faith.”

Dr Cross convinces her well-meaning husband Paul to commit her to his sanitorium for treatment, where he can watch over her progress and keep her in a catatonic state, sedating, hypnotizing and trying to control her memories of the murder. While under the influence of drugs, Cross tries to convince Janet that she imagined the quarrel and the brutal murder.

Finally, Paul has had enough of not seeing his wife and walks into Janet’s room, while Cross finds him there, Janet becomes agitated, “It’s him, he picked something up and he killed her, he killed his wife!”

“She Knows Elaine, she remembers!”

“Don’t leave me here, he’ll kill me!” Elaine sedates Janet

Cross in a move to illustrate how many of his patients feel paranoia about their surroundings. He explains to Paul that she’s “filled with delusions” even going as far as introducing Paul Stewart to the old oddball Miss Penny who decries that everyone at the institution are murderers and out to kill her! She suffers from Dementia Praecox or Precocious Madness, delusions of grandeur and feelings of great persecution.

To Elaine, it’s the perfect crime, allowing everyone to believe Janet is crazy when she’s really telling the truth. She gleefully tells him, “Well, smile darling, it’s fallen right into our lap.” As Cross becomes more desperate, he does takes on a more sinister role, telling Janet, “You’re losing your mind Mrs. Stewart, you’re losing your mind!” 

Paul isn’t as gullible to just go along, he asks to call in a consultation with Dr. Harvey (Charles Trowbridge) who happens to be Cross’ mentor. Of course Cross consents as to not call attention to his motivation for keeping Janet as the hospital so long. Cross also denies access to Paul, informing him that the shock of seeing him might cause her more harm than good. Even the staff thinks that Janet is having hallucinations.

Paul brings Dr Harvey (Charles Trowbridge) in on the case

While Cross wavers between keeping the young woman quiet and under his control, Elaine’s cold blooded nature urges him to actually give Janet an overdose of insulin. “If a man wanted to, he could get rid of her and no one would ever know… I could give her insulin shock treatment, give her an overdose.” Then they’d be safe. Elaine prods him, “why not… is her life more important than ours.”

But while Cross wavers between menacing moments and weakness which Elaine detests, he does feel sorry for Janet, feeling that he just can’t trick the poor child anymore, that there’s a limit to which even he can’t go. As Elaine takes Cross down memory lane of the first time they made love, he pleads with her, “I can’t do it Elaine, I won’t!”

Biting at Cross’ heals is D.A O’Neil invoking a prototype of Lt. Columbo for me, as he keeps coming back to Cross asking questions and slowly but surely leading him to his capture, by getting a court order to exhume his wife’s body, and telling him they’ve arrested a tramp in the same vicinity of where they found his wife’s body. The drunken intruder who clubbed  another women to death for her jewels, and they found traces under the microscope of silver and wax on her body, the coroner coming to the conclusion that the murder weapon is a silver candlestick! O’Neil asks Cross, “Do you have candlesticks at the lodge?”

Reed Hadley as D.A. O’Neil is as persistent and suspicious as Columbo asking all the small questions that would worry a murderer!

 

Cross is torn between the law closing in on him, his own inner conflict and the seduction by Elaine who wants Janet dead so they can finally be together. After Cross disposes of his wife’s body, put inside a trunk and shipped to their lodge, he dumps the body off the cliff and drives back home, meeting up with Elaine. “Driving back, there was a time to think. I got to thinking about you. I asked myself, is she worth what I’ve done.” Elaine whispers suggestively, “Well?” Cross embraces her passionately, as she utters, “That was a very satisfactory answer.”

in Lucy Chase Williams’ wonderful The Complete Films of Vincent Price- she points out that there are plot elements that are “reminiscent of Price’s great stage success Angel Street-as the smooth, charismatic therapist, Price sits on the girl’s bedside, quietly convincing her that she’s losing her mind.”

Fox’s creative publicity department sent out this statement, “Price’s days at the studio were spent under the supervision of a psychiatric technical advisor. Most of his evenings were spent rehearsing for the Theatre of Romance radio show on which he reenacted the same role in Angel Street that he made famous on the New York stage. ‘So you see,’ laughed Price, ‘I was a mental case both day and night’…

“Although Vincent is rapidly becoming known as ‘Hollywood’s most wicked man’ what with murdering practically every feminine contract player at 20th Century Fox–for films only, of course-he wants to play comedy.” ‘Ah yes,’ punned Price, ‘I’m getting to be quite a lady killer. But you wait and see, one of these days I’ll be killing them with love and murdering women with laughter.’

From Vincent Price (Classic Images, June 1992)

“Shock was an experiment, actually. The studio was spending too much money on films and taking too long to make them. Something had to be done to boost output and cut down on costs. So they asked me and Lynn Bari if we could make a film in twenty days and still have it look like a first-class production. I read the script and thought it was pretty good. I said, ‘Certainly we can do it, if you don’t change the script and louse it up for us’. And so they agreed… The Film did very well at the box office, so Twentieth was very pleased.”

Your EverLovin’ Joey saying Happy Noir-vember and don’t be ‘shocked’ if I scare up a few more good film noir gems to celebrate the month!… and all my love to the charismatic Vincent Price.

 

Postcards from Shadowland no. 16 Halloween edition 🎃

The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) Directed by Jack Arnold adapted by Richard Matheson and starring Grant Williams
Five Million Years to Earth (1967) Directed by Roy Ward Baker, written by Nigel Kneale starring Barbara Shelley and Andrew Keir
The Manster (1959) Directed by George P. Breakston starring Peter Dyneley, Jane Hylton and Tetsu Nakamura
The Twilight People (1972) Directed by Eddie Romero
Bluebeard (1972) Directed by Edward Dmytryk. Starring Richard Burton, Raquel Welch, Virna Lisi, Natalie Delon, Agostina Belli, Karen Schubert, Sybil Danning, Joey Heatherton and Marilù Tolo
The Beast with Five Fingers (1946) Directed by Robert Florey with a screenplay by Curt Siodmak. Starring Robert Alda, Peter Lorre, Andrea King and J. Carrol Naish
Carnival of Souls (1962) Directed by Herk Harvey starring Candace Hilligoss
The Beast with Five Fingers (1946) Directed by Robert Florey Starring Robert Alda, Peter Lorre, Andrea King and J. Carrol Naish
Bedlam (1946) Directed by Mark Robson Starring Boris Karloff, Anna Lee, Ian Wolfe,Billy House, Richard Fraser, Glen Vernon and Elizabeth Russell. Produced by Val Lewton
Dracula (1931) Directed by Tod Browning adapted from the novel by Bram Stoker-Starring Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David Manners, Dwight Frye, Frances Dade and Edward Van Sloane
Blood and Roses (1960) Directed by Roger Vadim. Adapted from the novel by Sheridan Le Fanu- Starring Mel Ferrer, Elsa Martinelli, Annette Stroyberg
Black Sunday (1960) La maschera del demonio-Directed by Mario Bava Starring Barbara Steele, John Richardson and Andrea Checci
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) Directed by William Dieterle Starring Charles Laughton, Maureen O’Hara and Cedric Hardwicke adapted from the novel by Victor Hugo
War of the Colossal Beast (1958) Directed by Bert I. Gordon Starring Sally Fraser and Roger Pace
It Conquered the World (1956) Directed by Roger Corman- Starring Beverly Garland, Peter Graves Lee Van Cleef and The Cucumber Monster
Curse of the Faceless Man (1958) Directed by Edward L. Cahn–Starring Richard Anderson, Elaine Edwards, Adele Mara and Luis Van Rooten
The Old Dark House 1932 directed by James Whale-Gloria Stuart and Boris Karloff
Dead of Night (1945) Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden, and Robert Hamer.–Starring Michael Redgrave, Mervyn Johns, Roland Culver, Googie Withers, Mary Merrall, Sally Ann Howes, Frederick Valk, Anthony Baird
Die! Die! My Darling! (1965) directed by Silvio Narizzano with a screenplay by Richard Matheson adapted from a novel by Anne Blaisdell–Starring Tallulah Bankhead, Stephanie Powers, Peter Vaughan, Donald Sutherland and Yootha Joyce
The Tenant (1976) Directed by Roman Polanski–Starring Roman Polanski, Isabelle Adjani, Melvyn Douglas, Jo Van Fleet, Bernard Fresson, Lila Kedrova, Claude Dauphin and Shelley Winters
House of Horrors (1946) Directed by Jean Yarborough starring “The Creeper” Rondo Hatton, Martin Kosleck and Virginia Gray
Spirits of the Dead (Italy/France 1968) aka Histoires extraordinaires
Segment: “William Wilson” Directed by Louis Malle
Shown from left: Brigitte Bardot, Alain Delon
Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965) Directed by Freddie Francis–Screenplay by Milton Subotsky–Starring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Neil McCallum, Ursula Howells, Peter Madden, Katy Wild, Alan Freeman, Ann Bell, Phoebe Nichols, Bernard Lee, Jeremy Kemp
Doctor X (1932) Directed by Michael Curtiz-Starring Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Lee Tracy, Preston Foster, John Wray, Harry Beresford
Frankenstein (1910) Produced by Thomas Edison Directed by J. Searle Dawley
Horror Hotel aka The City of the Dead (1960) Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey Starring Christopher Lee, Patricia Jessel, Dennis Lotis, Tom Naylor and Betta St. John. From a story by Milton Subotsky
House of Frankenstein (1944) Directed by Erle C. Kenton from a story by Curt Siodmak. Starring Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr. J.Carrol Naish, John Carradine, Anne Gwynne, Peter Coe, Lionel Atwill and George Zucco
Island of Lost Souls (1932) Directed by Erle C. Kenton Starring Charles Laughton, Bela Lugosi, Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams and Kathleen Burke based on a story by H.G.Wells
Isle of the Dead (1945) directed by Mark Robson written by Ardel Wray-Starring Boris Karloff, Ellen Drew, Marc Cramer, Katherine Emery, Helene Thimig, Alan Napier, Jason Robards Sr.
Carl Theodor Dreyer Leaves from Satan’s Book (1921) starring Helge Nissen
Diabolique (1955) Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot adapted by Pierre Boileau Starring Simone Signoret, Véra Clouzot and Paul Meurisse
The Wolf Man (1941) Directed by George Waggner Starring Lon Chaney Jr. Claude Rains, Warren William, Ralph Bellamy, Patric Knowles, Bela Lugosi, Maria Ouspenskaya, Evelyn Ankers and Fay Helm original screenplay by Curt Siodmak
Night Must Fall (1937)
Directed by Richard Thorpe
Shown from left: Robert Montgomery, Dame May Whitty
Phantom of the Opera (1925) Directed by Rupert Julian and Lon Chaney. Starring Lon Chaney and Mary Philbin story by Gaston Leroux
Strangler of the Swamp (1946) directed by Frank Wisbar-starring Rosemary La Planche, Robert Barrat with an original story by Leo J. McCarthy
Nosferatu (1922) directed by F.W.Murnau Starring Max Schreck
The Abominable Snowman (1957) Directed by Val Guest starring Forrest Tucker, Peter Cushing and Maureen Connell written by Nigel Kneale
The Bat Whispers (1930) Directed by Roland West-starring Chance Ward, Richard Tucker, Wilson Benge, DeWitt Jennings, Una Merkel Grace Hamptom, and Chester Morris
The Curse of the Cat People (1944) directed by Gunther von Fritsch- Starring Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Jane Randolph, Ann Carter, and Elizabeth Russell. Screenplay by DeWitt Bodeen
Mighty Joe Young (1949) Directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack
Young Frankenstein (1974) Directed by Mel Brooks Starring Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, Teri Garr, Kenneth Mars and Liam Dunn.
The Devil Bat (1940) directed by Jean Yarborough Starring Bela Lugosi
The Fly (1958) directed by Kurt Neumann screenplay by James Clavell, Starring David Hedison, Patricia Owens and Vincent Price
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) directed by Tobe Hooper. Starring Marilyn Burns, Edwin Neal, Allen Danziger and Gunnar Hansen as Leatherface
The Undead (1957) Directed by Roger Corman written by Charles B. Griffith and Mark Hanna Starring Pamela Duncan, Richard Garland, Allison Hayes, Val Dufour, Bruno VeSota, Mel Welles, Dorothy Neumann and Billy Barty
The Witches (1966) directed by Cyril Frankel Written by Nigel Kneale Starring Joan Fontaine, Kay Walsh and Alec McCowen
The Uninvited (1944) directed by Lewis Allen Starring Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, Donald Crisp, Cornelia Otis Skinner and Gail Russell
THE NIGHT CALLER [BR 1965] aka BLOOD BEAST FROM OUTER SPACE MAURICE DENHAM, JOHN SAXON, JOHN CARSON Date: 1965
Poltergeist (1982) directed by Tobe Hooper written by Steven Spielberg. Starring JoBeth Williams, Beatrice Straight, Craig T. Nelson, Dominique Dunne Heather O’Rourke

Beautiful Poison: Jean Simmons in Angel Face (1953) & Gene Tierney in Leave Her To Heaven (1945)

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 CaanLady 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

criminally |ˈkrimən(ə)lē|

adverb

1 in a manner that is contrary to or forbidden by criminal law:

psychosis |sīˈkōsəs|

noun (pl. psychoses |-ˌsēz| )

a severe mental disorder in which thought and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality.

DEFINITION: OBSESSION

obsession |əbˈseSHən|

noun

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:

DEFINITION: FREUDIAN

Freudian |ˈfroidēən| Psychology

adjective

relating to or influenced by Sigmund Freud and his methods of psychoanalysis, especially with reference to the importance of sexuality in human behavior.

DEFINITION:PATHOLOGICALLY JEALOUS

pathological |ˌpaTHəˈläjək(ə)l| (also pathologic)

adjective/noun

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

jealous |ˈjeləs|

adjective

*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!

ANGEL FACE (1952)


She loved one man … enough to KILL to get him!

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…

here’s a nifty gif to illustrate

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.”

Continue reading “Beautiful Poison: Jean Simmons in Angel Face (1953) & Gene Tierney in Leave Her To Heaven (1945)”

The Classic Movie History Project Blogathon 2016! 🚀 “Keep watching the skies!” Science Fiction cinema of the 1950s

History-Project-2016-godzilla

“I bring you a warning. Every one of you listening to my voice. Tell the world… Tell this to everybody wherever they are. Watch the Skies! Everywhere. Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!

Ned ‘Scotty’ Scott — The Thing From Another World (1951)

Keep watching the Skies!

It’s that time of year once again when Movies Silently, Silver Screenings & One Upon a Screen host a momentous event…. The Classic Movie History Project Blogathon 2016 which will begin August 5th -10th, 2016.

Science fiction is a genre of speculative fiction dealing with imaginative concepts such as futuristic science and technology, space travel, time travel, faster than light travel, parallel universes and extraterrestrial life. Science fiction often explores the potential consequences of scientific and other innovations, and has been called a “literature of ideas. –Wikipedia definition of Science Fiction

Robot Monster rocket

This event always promises to be an epic endeavor as there are so many interesting themes and subjects to cover. I am excited to be participating once again with these fabulous hosts who make it possible for all of us to contribute to a wealth of classic film history goodies to devour. Now listen folks, don’t get frightened off! You cast of exciting unknown readers… This has become a real project for me, a work in progress that will unfold over the next several weeks. For the purpose of The Classic Movie History Project Blogathon 2016, I offer an overview that will be a lead in for the entire decade of 1950s science fiction cinema conquering it year by year in separate articles. As I started delving into this project, it began to grow larger and larger as if Jack Arnold and Bert I. Gordon themselves compelled me to GO BIG!

amazing colossal man vegas

attack_of_the_50_foot_woman_3_by_farzelgaart-d4ubn9h

50 foot woman at the bar

In order to review an entire genre of such an influential decade and do the treatment it so rightly deserves, I realized that I needed to spread it out as a series. Re-visiting these beloved movies that inspired my childhood with wonder and sometimes tapped into my own authentic fears, I fell in love all over again. And though I tend to gravitate towards the classical Gothic horrors that are steeped in mythology, the supernatural and the uncanny, I can’t help but feel my mind expanding by the iconic themes that emerged from 1950s science fiction! So I’ll be publishing each year as individual posts or chapters from 1952 on… over the next several week or so instead of all at once. Talking about all the films I mentioned here and so many more films & things to come!

It’s a collection–a decade of the sci-fi genre, sub-genres and it’s hybrids– some eternally satisfying because of their remarkable ability to continuously shine a light on fascinating & mesmerizing fantasy stories. Well written and adapted as visual narratives and surreal stories by beloved visionaries who set out to reach inward and outward through all of us dreamers and thinkers.

There are also those lovable Sci-fi films that are charming and wonderfully kitsch. And some… are just downright so, so, soooo awful their… awesome!

That’s what makes so many of these diverging films cut through the cross-sections to become cinematic jewels & memorable cult favorites!

Robot Monster 2

There are many films that I’ll cover more in depth, some are the more highly polished masterpieces that have lingered for decades with us as adult children who grew up watching them on a rainy afternoon on televisions with knobs that only had 9 channels and if you were lucky you didn’t snap the knob off every 6 months! Growing up in New York I had Chiller Theater, on local channel 11 or Creature Features on Channel 5, or Fright Night on Channel 9. That’s how I fell in love, and got my fill of the treasures of films & television anthology series that was lurking out there destined to leave long lasting impressions on so many of us!

Chiller Theater

Fright Night WOR

Or back in the day, you went to the Drive-In theater to explore in the back seat of your pop’s Chevy Impala any double feature, and it was an invigorating and entertaining experience and you didn’t even have to get out of your pajamas.

Retro Drive In

You could spend all day in a musty theater festooned with captivating promotional lobby cards and colorful posters. Too bad, I wasn’t of the age to witness William Castle’s ballyhoo he strategically placed at certain theaters for that interactive live experience , EMERGO, PERCEPTO! You could take in a bunch of the latest scary films, sometimes double & triple features, while sitting on sticky red velvet seats that smelled like hot buttered popcorn and week old spilled Pepsi. A box of Milk Duds in hand and the faint wiff of air conditioner freon at your back. You’d enter the movie theater in the bright light of a sunny Saturday afternoon only to exit into the dark of night, tired and filled with wonder, awe and okay maybe looking over your shoulder a few times. Some films were big budget productions, that contained serious acting by studio contract players, terrific writing that blended deep thoughts and simple escapism pulled from some of the best science fiction, fantasy & horror literature and adapted screenplays, scares and witty dialogue besides and cinematography that still captivates us to this day.

3D Audience

Well… sure some were B movies that have now sustained that Cult film charm and cheesiness, and some… are just downright pitiful, laughable guilty pleasures… and a bunch even came with really neat 3D glasses!

SOME ICONIC GEMS FOR THE AGES THAT I’LL BE COVERING!

Creature From the Black Lagoon

Incredle Shrinking Man vs Cat

THEM! (1954)*INVADERS FROM MARS (1953) *DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951)*FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956) *THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951)*EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956) *THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957) *INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) *WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953) * CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) * IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953)* IT, THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958) *EARTH VS THE SPIDER (1958) *THE CRAWLING EYE (1958) *THE GIANT BEHEMOTH (1959) *IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955) *TARANTULA (1955) *FIEND WITHOUT A FACE (1958) *THE MONOLITH MONSTERS (1957)* THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN (1957) * THE ANGRY RED PLANET (1959)*KRONOS (1957)* THE CREEPING UNKNOWN (1956)*X-THE UNKNOWN (1956

I’LL ALSO BE TALKING ABOUT SOME GUILTY PLEASURES!

Attack of the Crab Monsters 4

Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957)

not-of-this-earth paul birch

Paul Birch is the alien vampire Paul Johnson in Roger Corman’s Not of This Earth 1957

The Brain from Planet Arous 1957* Attack of the Crab Monsters 1957* The Killer Shrews 1959* The Giant Claw 1957 *Beast From Haunted Cave 1959 *The Monster from Piedras Blancas 1959 *Invasion of the Saucer Men 1957 *The Monster that Challenged the World 1957 *Not of this Earth 1957* The She-Creature 1956* The Man Who Turned to Stone 1958* Invisible Invaders 1959* Attack of the 50 Foot Woman 1958* The Hideous Sun Demon (1959) * Monster on the Campus 1958* The Unknown Terror 1957* Creature with The Atom Brain 1955 * The Unearthly 1955 * From Hell it Came 1957,

Tabanga and Korey

It’s also important to mention some of the ubiquitous actors who graced both the great & guilty pleasure flicks, you’ll be seeing a lot of in the following chapters like John Carradine * Ed Nelson *Allison Hayes *Paul Birch *John Agar *Hugh Marlowe*Peter Graves *Richard Denning *Richard Carlson *Faith Domergue *Mara Corday *Les Tremayne *Marie Windsor *Morris Ankrum * Arthur Franz *Kenneth Tobey* John Hoyt * Whit Bissell and of course Beverly (kicks-ass!) Garland!

One thing is for certain, each film is relevant and all have a place in the 50s decade of Sci-fi / Horror & Fantasy!

So come back and read a little at a time and get some thrills even while you’re sitting under the hair dryer… Do people still do that today? I need to get out more…

1955 hairdryer wants to be a space-age helmet

This 1955 hair dryer is just begging to be a space-age helmet!

It all started with Georges Méliès 1903 fantasy A Trip to the Moon
Le Voyage Dans La Lune 1902 – Georges Méliès

Le Voyage Dans La Lune 1902

Trip to the Moon 1902

As early as 1920 there was the German expressionist film dealing with the arrival of a menacing alien visitor from the planet Algol giveing actor Emil Jannings a machine that awards him unlimited powers. ALGOL aka POWER 1920 directed by Hans Werckmeister

Emil Jennings in Algol 1920

“That which you believe becomes your world.”
Richard Matheson from ‘What Dreams May Come’

Science Fiction emerged out of the “Age of Reason” literature reflected a merging of myth and historical fact. Stories filled with an imagination that had no boundaries. While Science Fiction is a literary movement that can be a separate study all it’s own, story tellers who grasped the concepts of science fiction who questioned the endless possibilities, the far reaching machinations of brilliant minds, this project if focused on the history of 1950s science fiction cinematic and all it reveals. Science Fiction cinema flirted blatantly with ideas and images of a world that reached beyond the known, and contemplated aloud, fantastic stories as early as the silent era. Consider Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, re-envisioned time and time again.

barrymore 1920 dr jekyll

dr-jekyll-and-mr-hyde-(1920)

John Barrymore lifts the dark conflicting tale of the inward monsters off the pages of Stevenson’s book. Barrymore so fluently moved through the silent stage, reveals that we all just might be harboring in our sub-conscious hidden dark and primal desires. Unleashed by a concoction, a seduction of science creates a fiend! Dr Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1920)

aelita-queen-of-mars-1924

Aelita Queen of Mars (1924)

The odd yet visually stunning Russian spectacle Aelita Queen of Mars (1924) aka Revolt of the Robots.e

There were a few early visions of fantasy, magic & Science Fiction films from all around the world- At 3:25 aka The Crazy Ray (1924)  Directed by Rene Clair-a scientist invents a ray that makes people fall asleep where they stand! The German film Master of the World (1934) (Der Herr der Welt) where a German scientist wants to create an army of Robots to do the dangerous work of laborers so, when he is told it’s too risky he goes mad and it’s too late the machine has a mind of it’s own. It features really cool electronic chambers and more!

And Transatlantic Tunnel (1935) Scientists construct a tunnel under the ocean-stars Richard Dix, Leslie Banks and C. Aubrey Smith.

Metropolis 1927 the dystopian masterpiece by director Fritz Lang was the beginning of the fascination with exploring the fantastic and our unbounded imaginations on film, it’s remarkable set design, imagery and narrative sparked the Science Fiction genre in a big way— spanning decade upon decade, in particular revived in the 1950s!

Metropolis

The first influential science fiction film by Fritz Lang created a dystopian societ in Metropolis 1927. It’s influence has maintained it’s powerful thrust for decades. An inspiration for Ridley Scott’s neo-noir sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner (1982)
Metropolis 1927

“Man is the unnatural animal, the rebel child of nature, and more and more does he turn himself against the harsh and fitful hand that reared him”-H.G.Wells

Island-of-Lost-Souls 1932

Kathleen Burke Island of Lost Souls

Island of Lost Souls charles_laughton

Island of Lost Souls 1943 The House of Pain

Charles Laughton is superb as H.G. Wells Dr. Moreau a sociopathic sadist/scientist with a god complex whose profane experiments on animals and humans tortures them in the ‘house of pain’ trying to create a hybrid race he can hold sway over on his private island hell! Science has never been more evil! Island of Lost Souls (1932)

Then there was the 1936 adaptation of H.G. Wells’ Things To Come (1936) directed by William Cameron Menzies and starring Raymond Massey as Oswald Cabal, Ralph Richardson as The Boss, Margaretta Scott as Roxanna/Rowena and Cedric Hardwicke as Theotocopulos.

things-to-come

96h01/huch/2909/08

“What is this progress? Progress is not living. It should only be the preparation for living.”

Flash Gordon and similar serials provided super heroes for generations of young people in the 30s & 40s, planting the seeds for the future that would give us the Star Wars legacy.

Flash Gordon Buster Crabbe and Ming

Audiences between the World Wars preferred horrors of a Gothic nature– James Whale’s Frankenstein 1931 & Bride of Frankenstein 1935, as they helped exercise demons conjured up from the 19th & early 20th century.

James Whales Bride of Frankenstein 1932

The electrical secrets of heaven, the lighting, the elaborate sets designed by genius Kenneth Strickfaden with his lights throbbing gizmos flashing and zapping, the creepy atmosphere of murky tones. The consummate Universal monster movie with iconic scenes introducing a new face, Boris Karloff who would become the great father of terror stories …

colin clive and dwight frye Frankenstein 1931

Frankenstein's hand it's alive

ColinClive it's Alive

What’s on that slab?,It’s Alive, It’s Alive!…” those monumental words that remain ingrained in our consciousness. Colin Clive becomes hysterical as he has creates life from death, but that life would become a whole new ethical, moral and imposing dilemma for Dr.Frankenstein. A horror film with strong science fiction/fantasy tropes. And the laboratory as gorgeous set pieces would become a staple of the science fiction realm.

Bride & Frankenstein's monster

bride_of_frankenstein 1935

The 1950s Science Fiction genre took root with it’s profouns contribution to our collective consciousness AS a genre its vision & breadth possessed quintessential & ever-lasting sociological and psychological metaphors, iconic tropes and striking imagery.

The splitting of the atom, ushering in the atomic age and the collective anxiety most definitely was the catalyst for the many of the movie fantasy stories known as the 1950s Sci-Fi film.

“But no matter what else it might be, what makes a science fiction film science fiction is the fact that it is, in some sense, about science—and not only science but futuristic science. By that I mean that science fiction movies deal with scientific possibilities and technologies that do not exist yet but that might exist someday. Science fiction is the realm of the not-yet.” — “Cult Science Fiction Films” by Welch Everman

Ridley Scott – (Alien 1979, Blade Runner 1982) “When you come to the second World War You’ve got a very specific enemy. You know what that enemy is, It’s there for all the wrong reasons and it should be prevented…. Then you got the next phase which is The Cold War again which is to do with paranoia . But I think real, it’s real. Movies started to dip into that.”

splitting the atom men in white coats

“The Splitting of the atom…. forces that can only be explained to us by these guys in white coats… All of a sudden the guys in white coats became these simultaneously kind of rock stars and the most evil thing you could imagine.”

In a scene from The Atomic City 1952– The mother’s child sitting at the kitchen table with his breakfast “If I grow up do you know what I’m gonna do?” The mother turns to him, leaving her scrambled eggs on the stove and corrects him nervously, “It’s when you grow up, not if…”

The Atomic City 1952

The Atomic City 1952 trailer

Duck & Cover 1951 classic propaganda film

From the short instructional film Duck and Cover “But no matter where they go or what they do they always try to remember what to do if the atom bomb explodes right then!” (the kids suddenly fall into the brick wall. The narrator says ) It’s a bomb DUCK & COVER!

James Cameron – “All of our fate as human beings, our destiny seems bound up in our technology and our technology is frightening. It’s Terrifying!”

Steven Spielberg- “So there was a great deal of anxiety in the air. It was not just fear of being beaten up by the local bully. But the fear was being NUKED!… But we almost pushed a button on each other during The Cuban Missile Crisis…… I was absolutely prepared for Armageddon and these movies from the 1950s and early 60s played on those fears. And these movies were all metaphors for those fears. ”

George Lucas- “I would say that there was a certain amount of anxiety about that I mean I grew up right in the very heat of that. DUCK & COVER drills all the time… We were always hearing about the fall out shelter. About the end of the world, issues that were always going on about how many bombs were being built. The Cold War was always in the media.”

From The Twilight Zone “The Shelter” season 3 episode 3

Twilght Zone 'The Shelter' s3e3

1950s Sci-Fi films represented a conservatism or ‘reactionary wing’ that seems consumed by a motive to emphasize the values of 1950s America post WWII, in the midst of a McCarthy era witch hunt that prevailed fueling our fears that seeped into many of the Sci-Fi narratives on screen and in literature. Reflecting the growing internal struggles within American society and the developing mistrust about Soviet aggression and anyone and anything perceived as subversive.

“Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist party?”

Some films that reflected the paranoia of the period were well regaled by a Hollywood studio system that was itself at the center of the controversial House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) targeting screenwriters and actors as ‘communist sympathizers’ and no one could be trusted. -Just like Invaders from Mars 1953, Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956, X the Unknown 1956, The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957, and I Married a Monster From Outer Space 1958.

X The Unknown

Invaders from Mars

In 1947, in Roswell New Mexico the military reports that they have a UFO in their possession. The phenomena of sightings of UFOs would continue throughout the 1950s, though agencies were fully prepared to explain away the reports. Yet the public had a hunger to and fascination with the possibility of extra-terrestrials.

As Phil Hardy’s insightful take on the genre, all this manifested in a way that the Science Fiction films of the 1950s ‘supplanted horror as the genre that dealt with fear and paranoia.” The films expressed a very realistic look at science within the atomic age, and shed the shadows and expressionism of the earlier Gothic horrors and while not all scientific fact, tried to embrace a world of possibility.

The Flying Saucer 1950 begins the momentum for the decade of Science Fiction cinema’s love affair with unidentified objects and begins to round the edges of space crafts from other worlds that aren’t our American sharp and phallus shaped rockets!

The Flying Saucer -ship

The flying_saucer 1950

DESTINATION MOON 1950 was featured in COLOR BY TECHNICOLOR. Being hailed the 2001, Space Odyssey of it’s time, it attempts to portray a realism trip to the moon. Phil Hardy calls Destination Moon 1950a sober celebration of man’s imminent conquest of space that dominated the decade.’

destination moon rocket

destination-moon-space matters

Destination Moon did attempt to accurately portray a trip to the moon given the technology and knowledge that was stuck in 1950.

Then we shot past the moon in cinema and went straight to the red planet with Flight to Mars 1951!

Flight to Mars

Themes and metaphors that emerged from anxiety about the atom bomb, radiation fallout, the advent of modernity, the space race and the wanderlust to conquer outer space, interplanetary warfare, military vs. science hubris, science meddling with nature, fear of science and technology, invasion anxiety, continued fear of otherness, deviant (in terms of counter-culture not exclusively moral judgement) subversion and xenophobic nightmares.

Sometimes we were even married to a monster from outer space and didn’t even notice much of a difference except for the lack of small talk! Here’s Tom Tryon and Gloria Talbott in I Married a Monster from Outer Space 1958.

I Married-a-Monster-from-Outer-Space Tom Tryon and Gloria Talbott

I Married a Monster From Outer Space

Director Howard Hawk and screenplay by Charles Lederer, created a striking science fiction masterpiece of film noir ambience with it’s chilling back lit set pieces- The Thing From Another World 1951, adapted from John W. Campbell’s story ‘Who Goes There?’, other films that followed the path of paranoia — Invaders from Mars 1953, War of the Worlds 1953, It Came from Outer Space 1953, It Conquered the World 1956 & Invasion of the body snatchers 1956.

Xenomorph

bodysnatchers 1956 review

The Thing it's round like a spaceship

The Thing at the door

the thing shadow play

There were also science fiction films that rang the warning bell about cosmic calamity and catastrophic world coming to an end, annihilation fantasies like When Worlds Collide 1951.

War of the Worlds 1953 and When Worlds Collide 1951 had as Phil Hardy states, ‘religious dimensions’ that accused us of bringing about catastrophic punishment because of our misdeeds and transgressions.

War of the Worlds Valley of Shadows

When Worlds Collide 6

H.G. Well’s view of Martian invaders created for the public consciousness the idea of destructive beings from another world. It was a great reflexive move for those science fiction films to portray aliens that were sympathetic, yet non-humanoid in appearance. Most Sci-Fi films show aliens as menacing, not only destructive but dangerous because they also wanted to keep us as captives, zap our resources and colonize our planet, sometimes even take our women, oh god no unhand Faith Domergue you pants wearing Mutant!

This Island Earth Metaluna mutant

invaders from mars b&w

Is that a fireball or something

“Is that a fireball or something?”

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INVADERS FROM MARTS MUTANTS WITH ZIPPERS

InvadersFromMars

invaders-from-mars-

Hollywood saw a trend later on in the 50s with Destination Moon 1950 when they came upon a story written by Harry Bates called The Return of the Master this became Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still 1951 which has remained one of the best regarded science fiction films of all time. This is one of the rare occasions when the alien Klaatu played beautifully like an intricate clock by the chiseled face, tranquil speaking Michael Rennie is benevolent, bringing with him a sincere and dire warning about earth people’s course and the future of their civilization if they don’t relent about the proliferation of atomic weapons. There were several well intended alien visitors who were met with hostilities as with, Klaatu (Michael Rennie ) in Day the Earth Stood Still 1951, and The Man From Planet X 1951.

The Man from Planet X

the-day-the-earth-stood-still

Day the Earht STood Still Klaatu solves the board 2

Day the Earth Stood Still Patricia Neal and GORT1951-

GORT

Many films, even the low budget excursions dealt with our primal fears of alienation, estrangement & loss of identity i.e.,(communism at it’s core, the ramifications of otherness) nothing hits home more than Invaders from Mars 1953, and the quintessential loss of self and individualism in Don Siegels’ Invasion of the Body Snatchers!

they would have changed into people who hate you

“They would change into people who hate you!”

Steven Spielberg talks about the impact of Invaders from Mars 1953, “It certainly touched a nerve among all the young kids like myself who saw that movie at a very young age. That you would come home and that you would not recognize your mom and dad they would have changed into people who hate you!”

I can attest to the persuasion these films could have over the burgeoning imagination of a child, especially one like me who felt very much like an outsider as a kid. One night, as sure as my name is MonsterGirl, I went home, looked at my parents, decided they had been switched by aliens and ran out of the house, walking around the block for at least an hour before I convinced myself that I was being ridiculous. Or was I? These themes did have a not so subtle impact on a young impressionable mind who could easily question the world around them. Who could you trust? Would would believe you anyway?

There is the outsider narrative, diminishing human forms as in Bert I. Gordon’s Attack of the Puppet People 1958 where obsessed and lonely puppet maker John Hoyt loses his marbles. Although mad -bad science has shrunk down people before the 1950s in The Devil Doll 1936 and in the hands of crazed Albert Dekker in Dr. Cyclops 1940.

Attack of the Puppet People John Hoyt and Agar

dr cyclops 1940

There is the quintessential existential crisis, the beautifully thought provoking film by director Jack Arnold starring the eternally transcending man Grant Williams in, The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957.

the-incredible-shrinking-man-1957-

And of course there is the matter of GIGANTISM!

Earth vs the Spider

EarthVsTheSpider

THEM!

Monster_Challenged

The Black Scorpion

Giant insects, sea creatures and people who ran around half crazed and scantily dressed were a by-product of the atomic age!

50 ft Woman

The Amazing Colossal Man

George Lucas —“Out of that fear came I think a lot the monsters which you mess around with stuff and you’re gonna unleash this unknown monster!… it’s making tangible the unknown… A lot of that has to do with the mystery of this silent death that comes along with it that nobody knows exactly what it is or where it came from or can’t see it, can’t touch it. Well let’s make it easier to deal with by making it a giant monster.”

War of the Colossal Beast

Some films show the ascension from violence & hyper-masculinity, Women as professionals & bold heroines who didn’t shrink as hysterical victims. Female dominated civilizations (Cat- Women of the Moon 1953, Queen of Outer Space 1958, Missile to the Moon 1958, Fire Maidens from Outer Space 1956, that threatened to maniacally seduce & subsume male voyagers, dressed by 5th avenue they are outré chic. Wanton warriors & nubile space maidens who often never saw the male species before or wanted to destroy them altogether!

Fire Maidens of Outer Space

missile-to-the-moon-1958 directed by richard-e-cunha

A tagline reads “SEE-Astounding she-beasts of Venus!”

Queen of Outer Space

In Queen of Outer Space 1958 the masked disfigured Queen Yilana (Zsa Zsa Gabor) imprisons the men who crash land on her planet, intending to annihilate the earth with her beta disintegrator, though her beautiful subjects revolt in the name of love.

Mark Hamill –“We sometimes imagined other planets as paradises…. with girls!!! they looked more Hollywood starlets than space aliens, anyway they were eager to please. Their dancing their music their leotards were so Moderne! like Greenwich Village in outer space.” referring to Cat-Women of the Moon 1953.

Cat Women on the Moon May we serve you earth men?

“May we serve you earth men?”

Missile to the Moon-You're the first man I've ever seen.

“You’re the first man I’ve ever seen!” Carol Brewster as Alpha is mesmerized

missile to the moon

Step on it and don't spare the atoms! planets as paradise with GIRLS!!!

“Step on it, and don’t spare the atoms!” from Abbott & Costello Go to Mars (1953)

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“Their dance, their music, their leotards were so Moderne!”

KT Stevens as The Lido in Missile To The Moon

Missile To The Moon- Hollwood chorus girls

Missile to the Moon 1958

Missile to the Moon spider maiden

Missile to the Moon 1958

There’s nothing worse than a space Queen–The Lido (K.T. Stevens ) and one of her maidens in distress…

Mark Hamill who narrates the wonderful documentary written and directed by Richard Schickel Watch the Skies! Sci-Fi , the 1950s and Us presented by Turner Classic Movies also reminds us that “50s science fiction may have shot at the stars but the dialogue often remained earth bound tied up with the battle of the sexes.” Many prevailing sub-texts were also love stories, soap operas involving relationships between men and women.They would create love stories in space!

project moonbase 1953

Project Moonbase 1953 Donna Martell as Colonel Briteis (bright eyes?)

they would create love stories in space Lloyd and Osa in Rocketship X-M doomed to crash

Rocketship X-M (1950) starring Lloyd Bridges and Ossa Massen

Osa's character in Rocketship XM is brave in the end not hysterical-she sees her death as a new beginning

Cameron Mitchell plays Steve Abbott in Flight to Mars 1953, who tells Marguerite Chapman as Alita a fellow scientist/astronaut, “I think you’re a prize package and very feminine.”

Flight To Mars 1951

There is always time for romance in outer space!

flight-to-mars with scientist Margaritte Chapman

There were menaces from without, menaces from within. The ordinary world transformed into the monstrous. There were warnings from benevolent aliens and aggressive attacks by aliens who wanted to colonize our planet.

Sometimes the warnings or threats came from disembodied heads and brains, like Donovan’s Brain 1953, Fiend Without a Face 1958 and The Brain from Planet Arous 1957.

Donovan's Brain 1953

fiend WITHOUT A FACE

Gor from Planet Arous

The indie filmmakers introducing teenagers as both heroes & monsters. Many films were horror/sci-fi hybridizations. And by the end of the decade we were left a legacy of impressive productions that remain timeless masterpieces, the cult grade- B Sci-Fi picture with their indelible charm and kitsch emblems, and the true stinkers that are so bad there too good not to appreciate. Sublime, thrilling, provocative & yes campy!

Teenagers from Outer Space

I-Was-a-Teenage-Werewolf

There were collections of stylized works by Jack Arnold, Bert I. Gordon, Edward L. Cahn and one indie auteur who showed us how to make a memorable movie on a shoe string budget who also launched many a career, the inimitable and grand Roger Corman. And of course those guys at American International Pictures (AIP)

Within the 50s decade shedding the Gothic themes of the 30s & 40s, the poetic shadow plays of Val Lewton,1950s Sci-Fi films had a pre-occupation with the modern world and mostly all the central menaces were transformed into non-human threats that we not only couldn’t empathize with but were revolted against as dangerous, vicious, insidious and potentially nihilistic in vision, they were seen as only a threat to our humanity and ultimately would lead to our destruction.

It came from outer space Xenomorph close up

Within Sci-Fi there are so many films which are complex hybridizations of horror/science fiction /fantasy and have become too insurmountable to dissect or decipher all the nuances between the various free-floating genres. Writer critic historian Robin Wood in his Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan.—wagers that “the horror film’s radical potential lies in the fact that ‘the true subject of the horror genre is the struggle for recognition of all that our civilization represses or oppresses’ Jancovich states that the monster “must therefor be seen as a profoundly ambiguous figures which challenges social norms and so reveals society’s repressive monstrosity.”

Killers from Space

Killers from Space 1954

This theme is attached to McCarthyism that showed up as coded narratives in the more highly produced Sci-Fi films- “the myth of Communism as total dehumanization—accounts for the prevalence of this kind of monster in that period” -Mark Jancovich -Rational Fears- American Horror in the 1950s.

We can’t forget contributions made by the maestros in the visual effects department, direction, art direction and cinematography from George Pal, William Cameron Menzies and Ray Harryhausen.

Ymir4

20-million-miles-to-earth-creature-ymir and elephant-in-rome

20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) Ray Harryhausen’s Ymir from Venus

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It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) Ray Harryhausen’s The Kraken

Cinematographers who brought these visual narratives & landscapes to life- just to name a few!

Clifford Stine (It Came from Outer Space 1953,This Island Earth 1955, Imitation of Life 1959,Spartacus 1960) Sidney Hickox (Them! 1954, The Big Sleep 1946,Dark Passage 1947,White Heat 1949), John F. Seitz (Invaders from Mars 1953, Sullivan’s Travel’s 1941m Double Indemnity 1944, Sunset Boulevard 1950), Russell Harlan ( The Thing from Another World 1951, Red River 1948, Witness for the Prosecution 1959 To Kill a Mockingbird 1962) George Barnes (War of the Worlds 1953, Rebecca 1940, Spellbound 1945) Leo Tover (The Day the Earth Stood Still 1951, Hold Back the Dawn 1941,The Snake Pit 1948, The Woman on the Beach 1947,The Heiress 1949, Journey to the Center of the Earth 1959) Ellsworth Fredericks (Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956, Hold Back the Night 1956,The Stripper 1963, Mister Buddwing 1966)

And just as key to the atmosphere and attitude of the films were the musical contributions which defined that certain feel of chills and excitement, screwball antics and off-beat perscussion that filled up your head with pulsing visions of laser beams and other-worldly noises that ran up your spine like a finely coiled wire resonating the confluent sounds of the cosmos! Geesh that was a mouthful!

Invasion of Saucer Men bug eyes

There were composers who masterfully underscored some of the BEST films and even the worst!, Dimitri Tiomkin * Bronislau Kaper * Bernard Herrmann *Hans J. Salter and Henry Mancini to name a few.

Instrumentalist Clara Rockmore mastered the Theremin which had a cosmic, universal vibe that was, well out of this world!

The Theremin is an electronic musical instrument created by Russian inventor , Léon Theremin controlled by the performing thereminist who makes the dulcet eerie tones by manipulating the two metal antennas that respond to the hand movements which influence the oscillations or frequency with one hand and effecting the volume with the other hand.

Popular were the films that dealt with the hubris of science that ultimately manifested monsters. There were even pants monsters, yes! pants monsters…! The burning sun turned him into a hideous fiend, but he still had time to put on those Haggars casual men’s trousers!

THE HIDEOUS SUN DEMON, Robert Clarke (in doorway), Patricia Manning (second from right), 1959
THE HIDEOUS SUN DEMON, Robert Clarke (in doorway), Patricia Manning (second from right), 1959

There was a running sentiment —the notion of us against them, and even at times when not working together to fight a common enemy- you’d see the military vs science… And sometimes, though almost always male hero driven, there emerged some anti-damsels, all-powerful women who broke the cliched mold of the helpless hysterical female and arose as smart, intellectual (a socially constructed gendered male quality), mindful and fearlessly driven woman with guts and composure even if it was to hold off from laughing at Paul Blaisdell inside that cucumber monster from Venus.

it conquered the world cucumber close up

Roger Corman’s It Conquered the World (1956) The Venusian cucumber

Beverly Garland anti damsel It conquered the world

Just look at Julie Adams as Kay Lawrence in Creature from the Black Lagoon 1954, Joan Weldon as Dr. Patricia Medford in Them! 1954, Beverly Garland as Dr. Andrea Romar in Curucu, Beast of the Amazon 1956 & and her gutsy Clair Anderson in It Conquered the World 1956, Tina Carver as Dr. Terry Mason in From Hell It Came 1957 and Faith Domergue as Dr. Ruth Adams in This Island Earth 1955 & Prof. Lesley Joyce in It Came from Beneath the Sea 1955, and Lola Albright as Cathy Barrett in The Monolith Monsters 1957 .

Some sci-fi films were visually surreal landscapes or existential masterpiece such as William Cameron Menzies Invaders From Mars 1953 or Ib Melchior’s The Angry Red Planet 1959 and Jack Arnold’s magnificent adaptation of Richard Matheson’s The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957.

angry red planet rat bat spider

The Angry Red Planet (1959) The Rat Bat Spider puppet monster!

Incredible Shrinking Man Grant Williams in the atomic cloud

Grant Williams sails into the radioactive mist in The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957

Invaders from Mars awake from a dream

Invaders from Mars (1953) Jimmy Hunt awakens to a UFO crashing into the sand dunes

“To sleep perchance to dream”-Hamlet-William Shakespeare

This dream-scape is a visual masterpiece, with the appearance of the sublimely brilliant Finnish painter Hugo Simberg, ( I happen to get permission from The National Museum of Finland to use Simberg’s ‘At The Crossroads’ as the cover of my album Fools & Orphans) thanks to the art design by visionary William Cameron Menzies!

the surreal art design looks like a Hugo Simberg painting

A scene from Invaders from Mars (1953)

It is absolutely true about one thing— that it’s wholly complex to begin dissecting what makes a film solely and definitively Science Fiction and what constitutes it being a hybridization of horror & fantasy. There are way too many that fall right on the gray line that either exists in the middle or transects both themes at once.

The Tingler Vincent Price I"m stuck on you

Vincent Price can’t get that pesky Tingler off his arm in William Castle’s terrific horror/sci-fi extravaganza equip with buzzing chairs-The Tingler (1959)

For example, I am covering William Castle’s The Tingler 1959, because, while the central terror surrounds a monstrous ‘horror movie themed monster’ a creeping fiend that lives inside us all and grips our spines the moment we are in abject fear, it is discovered by scientific and medical research. One could say the film is also a crime drama. There are too many nuances and parameters that intersect. James Whale’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein 1931 is called a Monster movie by Universal and by fans of all generations. But it falls into the deep well of hybridization as so much of it focuses on the very philosophical questions around scientific hubris, the creation of human life and the question of god, ownership of one’s identity, and what is monstrous?

Boris Karloff as The monster

“A lot of science fiction films are also horror films in which monsters are spawned by scientific experiments, but not all horror films are science fiction, because science fiction does not deal in the supernatural. Science fiction takes place in the realm of the not-yet; supernatural horror films operate in the realm of the impossible.” — “Cult Science Fiction Films” by Welch Everman

The enormous influence that Science Fiction cinema had long-lasting effects on the advent of television. Just look at Rod Serling’s Fantasy/Sci-Fi anthology series which aired on CBS from 1959-1964. The show came in on the end of the decade. Stories that were infused by the themes of the 50s and set the tone for future decades to come. The Twilight Zone was groundbreaking and thought-provoking, dealing with issues of war, class, race, it was a socially conscious program that constantly tried to remind us of our humanity. The decade of 1950s Science Fiction also bled into the mindfulness of my favorite early 60s science fiction anthology series The Outer Limits.

Twilight Zone mr dingle martians

The Zanti Misfits

The Zanti Misfits-one of the many fabulous Outer Limits monsters!

There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to – The Orwellian Control Voice from The Outer Limits anthology television series aired from 1963-1965.

Mark Jancovich writes “Again and again, the threats which distinguish 1950s horror
do not come from the past or even from the actions of a lone individual , but are associated with the processes of social development and modernization. In this period, it is the process of rationalization which is the threat, and in this way horror texts were at least as concerned with developments within American society as they were with threats from without… Here rationalization is understood as the process through which scientific – technical rationality is applied to the management of social, economic and cultural life…

… this new system of organization was seen by many as inherently totalitarian system which both created conformity and repressed dissent.”

the last man_on earth zombies

Vincent Price fights off zombies from a plague that wiped out most of the human race in Richard Matheson’s adapted screenplay from his story I Am Legen- The Last Man on Earth (1964)

The outsider narratives– were illustrated as contrasting and conflicting to accepted norms, we see this with Richard Matheson’s writing (I Am Legend which became Vincent Price’s agonizing journey as The Last Man on Earth 1964, and later The Omega Man 1971 and Jack Arnold’s films involving “the reoccurring preoccupation with alienation, isolation and estrangement” -Jancovich- seen in Creature From the Black Lagoon 1954 and The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957.

Creature Black Lagoon

Grant Williams protagonist Scott Carey becomes engulfed in a glittery mist of atomic dust particles in The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957 the film exudes anxiety of his diminishing masculinity by not only losing his literal size, his physical height but he loses his maleness as a husband and as a regular man. This estrangement become a journey of his eternal soul and it’s place in the vast unknown other-world.

grant small in the chair

Grant Williams is feeling ‘literally’ like such a small man.

shrinking sublime transcendance

There would be films that embrace the dystopia narratives, and curiosity with technical advancements like robots!

metropolis

Fritz Lang’s iconic robot in Metropolis (1927)

Forbidden Planet Robby Robot

Robby the Robot and Walter Pidgeon as Morbius in George Pal’s take on William Shakespeare’s The Tempest as Forbidden Planet 1956

These Science Fiction/Fantasy films have left a deep and abiding impression on so many of us. Whether you grew up actually seeing them for the very first time, or becoming a new fan who is excited to embrace the heart and soul of a genre that made you think beyond what if? Either way, Science Fiction is an exploration of our imaginations, both glorious and often terrifying but it’s a genre that is here to stay, and the 1950s in particular truly rang the alarm bell that is still reverberating today!

Added to the mix in many of these film favorites was the essential mechanism of ‘not being believed’ added to the fear and paranoia of the moment!

The Face of Paranoia

THE FACE OF PANIC_PARANOIA BODY SNATCHERS

Invasion Anxiety

tv3QQht

FEAR OF THE ATOMIC BOMB! The Atomic City 1952 trailer

I see you with my million eyes!

fly

Hey big fella got a light!

Godzilla King of the Monsters

The theremin ‘the dulcet tones’ that wavered throughout sci-fi and beyond!

clara rockmore theremin

‘The modern world’

1952

It’s intermission time! Head out to the snack bar for some 50s refreshments!

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LOST WORLDS AND SPACE TRAVEL

Destination Moon

destination_moon_poster_06

DestinationMoonLobbyCard

Directed by Irving Pichel and producer George Pal along with a screenplay by Robert Heinlein took a very documentary approach to the narrative and the landscapes. The film stars John Archer as Jim Barnes, Warner Anderson as Dr. Charles Cargraves, with Tom Powers and Dick Wesson. The film was a critical success an revived the Sci-Fi genre.

Destination Moon 1950 was an attempt to show a serious technical side to space travel. based on what science actually knew at the time. Actually it was in response to a spread that ran in Collier’s Magazine of series of paintings done by artist Chesley Bonastell of gleaming space craft.

Steven Spielberg had said of the picture, “DESTINATION MOON is a scientific attempt to create suspense based on no bad guys no villains and no aliens.

Similar to almost Apollo 13 (1995) or Marooned 1969)

George Lucas says “At the time it was a very provocative idea because nobody had ever seen anyone go to the moon.” 

Though it’s been called the precursor to 2001 Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick never admitted to having seen the movie. Which is highly possible, and given his genius we’ll take his word for it.
Destination Moon on the surface

In the midst of the Cold War, the film reflects America’s desire to conquer, and according to the generals in Destination Moon, the moon would be the ideal location for a strategic military base of operations. And thus the race for America to get there first. There’s also a conflict seen as there were those who would embrace the new technologies and those who saw the impending modernity as a threat or a ‘bad thing’.

Pichel and Pal wanted to situate this film farther away from the fantastical science fiction ‘soap opera’ serials of the 1930s. Physicists and astronomers were consulted in order to stay true to the realistic view Heinlein, Pichel and Pal desired as their vision of the future. They also used striking paintings by Chesley Bonestell to imagine the gorgeous lunar landscapes along with designer Ernest Fegte who create the realistic cratered look of the Moon.

destination-moon-1950--chesley-bonestell

Destination Moon gear

The film features the first lunar landing that was envisioned as realistic and not melodramatic or surreal. The crew led by actor John Archer manage to land on the Moon but they run out of fuel, that they seem doomed to be stranded. They lose all the excess weight in order to get the ship space worthy again, but till they are over the weight limit. In a noble act of courage and sacrifice Dick Wesson (Tom Powers) figures that he can remove his cumbersome pressure suit and re-enter the ship a lighter and better man in order to save the rest of the crew…

destination-moon

Dr. Charles Cargraves: You can’t buck public opinion; I’ve tried. Have you seen this?
[Newspaper headline: MASS MEETING PROTESTS RADIOACTIVE ROCKET]
General Thayer: That isn’t public opinion – it’s a job of propaganda!
Jim Barnes: You’re almighty right it is. Manufactured and organized – with money and brains. Somebody’s out to get us.

The Flying Saucer

the flying saucer

The FLying Saucer 1950 saucer

Directed by Mikel Conrad, stars Mikel Conrad as Mike Trent, Pat Garrison as Vee Langley, Hantz von Teuffen as Hans, Lester Sharpeas Col. Marikoff Roy Engel as Dr. Carl Lawton and Denver Pile as Turner! Because we feared the Russians in the early 1950s much of the paranoia around UFO sightings were connected to those pesky Reds! When CIA secret agent Mike Trent tracks a flying saucer to Alaska he finds out that it is a ship built by scientist Dr. Carl Lawton who hopes to sell it to the Americans!

The Flying Saucer screaming woman 1

The Flying Saucer 1950

1950-flying-saucer-pat-garrison-mikel-conrad

the flying-saucer-1950--pat-garrison-mikel-conrad

Pat Garrison and Mikel Conrad-50s cool!

Col. Marikoff: Mr. Trent, you’re giving us a great deal of trouble. Why didn’t you stay in New York with your drunken friends of the night club?

Mike Trent: I sobered up.

Prehistoric Women

prehistoric_women_1950_poster_02

Laurette Luez

Laurette Luez as Tigri