“A searching look into the innermost depths of a woman’s heart . . . and a man’s desires!”
The Hustler (1961)
Sarah to Eddie–“You’re too hungry”
Director/Screenwriter Robert Rossenwrote the screenplay for Marked Woman (1937), They Won’t Forget (1937), Dust Be My Destiny (1939), Out of the Fog (1941), Blues in the Night (1941), Edge of Darkness (1943), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), Johnny O’Clock (1947), Desert Fury (1947) and wrote the screenplay for Billy Budd. Rossen also wrote and directed All the Kings Men (1949), Mambo (1954), and the psycho-sexual labyrinth set in a mental institution in the early 1960s starring Jean Seberg-Lilith (1964) perhaps Rossen’s most dark and nihilistic vision of the human spirit yet. He directed John Garfield and Lilli Palmer in Body and Soul (1947). Robert Rossen was a pool hustler himself as a youth. Based on the novel by Walter S. Tevis.
Music by Kenyon Hopkins (12 Angry Men 1957, The Strange One 1957, The Fugitive Kind 1960, Elmer Gantry 1960, East Side/West Side 1963-46, Lilith 1964, television movies, Dr. Cook’s Garden 1971, Women in Chains 1972, Night of Terror 1972, The Devil’s Daughter 1973 and tv’s The Odd Couple 1970-73).
Robert Rossen is one of the most fascinating unexplored American directors, for his interesting viewpoint on alienation in the world and that constant elusive souvenir of the spirit one’s identity. Rossen has been quoted as saying that his favorite Shakespearean play was Macbeth. In it he said he found a “dramatization of the ambiguity of the human condition… man reaching for the symbols of his identity, rather than the reality, destroying yet finding himself in the tragic process.”
In Rossen’s collection of works you can see the more aggressive symbols played out as the representations of male power, domination and violence as physical love. He told The New York Sun in 1947 that “Real life is ugly… but we can’t make good pictures until we’re ready to tell about it.”
After his gangster film Johnny O’Clock Rossen directed with the conventions of the crime genre Body and Soul (1947). Then Rossen directed The Hustler which used a breakthrough in technique and stretched the boundaries of social realism in the way Kazan had. The film like his All the Kings Men is still about the corrupt influences of money but on a deeper level it is driven by a darker motivation-the illusionary symbols of self worth, with George C. Scott’s character playing at Eddie’s weakness as a gambler and a seeker, like a devil daring him toward damnation. He is a sadist and ultimately seeks Eddies dependency and ruination and Sarah’s self-destruction.
Sarah tells Eddie “We are all crippled.” Sarah has the insight to see into the future yet she is beyond all the wounds inflicted in her life and can not forestall what will happen outside the confines of their little world that is her cluttered apartment. Sarah and Bert battle it out for Eddie’s soul. It is an ugly power struggle, and there are so many brilliantly executed frames that represent Rossen’s complex themes within The Hustler.
The film also co-stars Michael Constantine, Vincent Gardenia, Murray Hamilton and Myron McCormick who is always compelling in any role, plays Eddie’s devoted manager Charlie Burns who takes the journey with Eddie at first and winds up being pushed out by the hostile and rancorous Bert Gordon. Murry Hamilton is fantastic as he inhabits the coded gay character of the pretentious and effete gambler Findley.
The Hustler is a a moral allegory about life and the inter-relationships of miscreants, losers and lost souls struggling to find themselves in a gritty, unsatisfying world that permeates the world of the competitive underground sport of shooting pool. Fast Eddie has been working his way up to finally have a showdown with the reigning legend Minnesota Fats. The film is a restless contemplation merged with some dynamic scenes of maneuvering on the pool table.
The film opens with a smoke filled pool palace in Pittsburgh with a sign ‘gambling not allowed’. It’s a hangout for pool sharks, called hustlers. Paul Newman plays Fast Eddie, a smug young man who was born to take suckers for a ride, feeling that wood between his anxious fingers he can spot a ripe table waiting for him to swoop in for the kill. But Eddie with all his mythological ambition just doesn’t know when it’s time to quit. Eddie goes 25 consecutive rounds with the legendary Minnesota Fats and it appears like he’s got the marathon match in his corner pocket when he starts knocking back the whiskey, and can’t just take win with dignity he has to demolish Fats and allow his ego to drive the rest of the rest of the way home. The scene is shot in a dynamic half hour sequence using gorgeous black and white photography in cinemascope and Schüfftan‘s (who won an Oscar for his camera-work) eye for detail he honed on Fritz Lang’s surreal Metropolis, the film he developed special effects for. The sequence of this film is nothing short of riveting. The set up is mesmerizing as we are drawn into a timeless expanse as the different approaches to the game unfold, as pool stick meets ball, ball dances with ball and fills the pockets like cannon fire, while the spectators whose expressions are glued to every move as if in a trance.
Fats who is way more graceful and composed manages to win back his loot and leave the cocky and exhausted Eddie practically penniless. Eddie’s got a keen skill for the game but he doesn’t have self control or character. Bert Gordon played by actor George C. Scott tempts Eddie like Mephistopheles to sell his soul to him with the promise that he can not only make his dream come true of being the greatest, but to also avenge the ass kicking that he took from Fats. As cock-sure as Eddie appears, he has no fortitude and winds up abandoning his honor and his love for Sarah in order to seek the rematch with the Fat man.
Piper Laurie’s character Sarah Packard is a liberated forward-thinking woman who while bares the damages of life, is independent though alienated from the rest of the world because of her open wounds. She is trying to be a writer and drinks too much. She wants to be loved, and Eddie wants to be the best.
And so he sells his soul to Bert Gordon who is the films Faustian metaphor. The early 60s began an era of films that began to embrace controversial adult themed narratives, that dealt with race, class dynamics and the changing roles that were taking place with gender.
[Fast Eddie is bothered because Bert called him a born loser]
Fast Eddie: “Cause, ya see, twice, Sarah… once at Ames with Minnesota Fats and then again at Arthur’s, in that cheap, crummy pool room, now why’d I do it, Sarah? Why’d I do it? I coulda beat that guy, coulda beat ‘im cold, he never woulda known. But I just hadda show ‘im. Just hadda show those creeps and those punks what the game is like when it’s great, when it’s REALLY great. You know, like anything can be great, anything can be great. I don’t care, BRICKLAYING can be great, if a guy knows. If he knows what he’s doing and why and if he can make it come off. When I’m goin’, I mean, when I’m REALLY goin’ I feel like a… like a jockey must feel. He’s sittin’ on his horse, he’s got all that speed and that power underneath him… he’s comin’ into the stretch, the pressure’s on ‘im, and he KNOWS… just feels… when to let it go and how much. Cause he’s got everything workin’ for ‘im: timing, touch. It’s a great feeling, boy, it’s a real great feeling when you’re right and you KNOW you’re right. It’s like all of a sudden I got oil in my arm. The pool cue’s part of me. You know, it’s uh – pool cue, it’s got nerves in it. It’s a piece of wood, it’s got nerves in it. Feel the roll of those balls, you don’t have to look, you just KNOW. You make shots that nobody’s ever made before. I can play that game the way… NOBODY’S ever played it before.”
Sarah Packard: “You’re not a loser, Eddie, you’re a winner. Some men never get to feel that way about anything.”
Rossen wrote the screenplay and directed this gripping story of fast Eddie Felson, as he strives to knock Minnesota Fats down a peg and capture the title of best pool hustler in the country, taking Fats (Jackie Gleason who was perfect as he manifested the character of Fats, well-dressed, reserved and showed a deep reverence and concentration to the game.) on in a high-stakes game that challenges no only his keen gift for shooting pool but on the line is his self respect and his nebulous masculine identity.
Fast Eddie to Fats: You know, I got a hunch, fat man. I got a hunch it’s me from here on in. One ball, corner pocket. I mean, that ever happen to you? You know, all of a sudden you feel like you can’t miss? ‘Cause I dreamed about this game, fat man. I dreamed about this game every night on the road. Five ball. You know, this is my table, man. I own it.
Along the way, he falls in love with Sarah Packford immortalized on the screen in an arresting performance by Piper Laurie (Kim Novak had turned down the role) who should have won the Oscar for Best Actress. Rossen has often dealt with the intricacies within the psychological landscape of his films.
Sarah Packard is a complicated woman who has a tenuous connection to the world but allows herself to fall in love with Eddie who is driven to succeed and land at the top as the greatest pool hustler. Sarah is a lost soul longing for someone who will love her. She’s receives a stipend from her wealthy father, but there is no sign of affection or acceptance from him, his is non-existent. Eddie awakens desire in her, but he cannot deliver anything but his hunger and ambition to beat Minnesota Fats and attain the title. Fast Eddie destroys everything he touches. In order to really throw herself into the role of Sarah Packard Piper Laurie actually hung out at the Greyhound terminal at night.
Piper Laurie (Has Anybody Seen My Gal 1952, The Mississippi Gambler 1953, Dangerous Mission 1954, Johnny Dark 1954, Ain’t Misbehavin’ 1955, and director Curtis Harrington’s Ruby 1977, Children of a Lesser God 1986, Dario Argento’s Trauma 1993, The Crossing Guard 1995, The Dead Girl 2006 and television series-Naked City, Ben Casey, The Eleventh Hour) discovered that Paul Newman was truly down to earth – “He really didn’t believe in himself as an actor at all. He thought he had great limitations, and owed everything to other people- the Actors Studio, Joanne- he seemed not to take credit for himself.”
Laurie didn’t make another film over the course of 15 years until she returned to the screen in Brian dePalma’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie (1976), which earned her a second Oscar nomination as the religious fanatic archetypal devouring mother a role that would ignite a new fire under the icons of horror movie fiends and villains.
Sarah and Eddie meet in the bus terminal. They both have a drinking problem, especially Sarah who drowns her self-pity in booze. She was born with a deformity in her foot which makes her limp, and gives her a feeling of self hatred and undesirability that Eddie breaks through with his smooth talking swagger. He manages to reach in and touch her heart but his reckless abandon to win, overshadows Sarah’s cries for help and her self destructive nature cannot withstand the competition for Eddie’s soul.
Sarah Packard: Yes, I need them very much. If you ever say them I’ll never let you take them back.
To achieve Sarah’s limp, Piper Laurie first experimented with walking around with pebbles in her shoes. “Finally, I just did it without anything, because Rossen didn’t want an obvious limp; he didn’t want it consistent because he felt he wanted the audience to be aware of it sometimes and not other times.”
The two shack up and set up house in Sarah’s apartment that is subsidized by her father’s money. Eddie is obsessed with winning. Their relationship is turbulent and dysfunctional, then enters George C. Scott as Bert Gordon a misanthropic snake in the grass who exploits Eddie and interferes with his relationship with Sarah. Once Bert Gordon slithers into the closed world of Eddie’s pool hustling and his love affair with Sarah, that world is corrupted, and Eddie begins to lose his way.
Ulu Grosbard later noted that the interior of Sarah’s apartment was built in a studio at 55th St. and 10th Ave. He said the actors’ dressing rooms there were very small and, in his memory, without windows, “like cells,” but that Piper Laurie furnished hers “as if she were going to live in it the rest of her life.” It was Grosbard’s impression that Laurie would sometimes spend the night there.
Bert Gordon: Sure you got drunk. You have the best excuse in the world for losing; no trouble losing when you got a good excuse. Winning… that can be heavy on your back, too, like a monkey. You’ll drop that load too when you got an excuse. All you gotta do is learn to feel sorry for yourself. One of the best indoor sports, feeling sorry for yourself. A sport enjoyed by all, especially the born losers.
Bert Gordon: You’re here on a rain check and I know it. You’re hangin’ on by your nails. You let that glory whistle blow loud and clear for Eddie and you’re a wreck on a railroad track… you’re a horse that finished last. So don’t make trouble, Miss Ladybird. Live and let live! While you can. I’ll make it up to you.
Fast Eddie: I loved her, Bert. I traded her in on a pool game. But that wouldn’t mean anything to you. Because who did you ever care about? Just win, win, you said, win, that’s the important thing. You don’t know what winnin’ is, Bert. You’re a loser. ‘Cause you’re dead inside, and you can’t live unless you make everything else dead around ya.
The Hustler is an extraordinary character study of the how humans bang into each other like the balls on the table, and no one really wins. It’s got a slick rhythm to it’s movement and editing by the wonderful Dede Allen and the Eugen Schüfftan (Metropolis 1927, Bluebeard (1944), Strange Illusion (1945), The Strange Woman 1946, The Bloody Brood (1959), Eyes Without a Face 1960, Something Wild (1961) Lilith (1964) Eugen Schüfftan’s style is uniquely dark and almost mythic in it’s visual abstraction of reality.
IMDb trivia –
The picture was shot by Eugen Schüfftan, who had invented an optical effects process that employed mirrors to create backgrounds. According to crew reports, many of the pool room shots employed this process to varying degrees. The picture was also shot in CinemaScope, a wide-screen process usually reserved for big epics and action pictures.
The camera descends like Orpheus into the seedy smoky hidden world of the American pool hall, gazing at the sweaty mercenaries who hunger to hear the clicking and smacking of the balls making contact as they encircle the pool tables like birds of prey.
According to editor Dede Allen, an entire scene from this film was omitted after much deliberation between Allen and her director Robert Rossen. Even though both agreed that the scene, an impassioned speech by Paul Newman in the pool room, was possibly the best part of his entire performance, they had to throw it out because “…it didn’t move the story.” Newman, though Oscar-nominated, later claimed that the deleted scene most likely cost him the Academy Award. Dede Allen liked working with Robert Rossen because he was the kind of director who shot scenes from every possible angle, providing her with a wide range of cover footage that allowed for various interpretations and possibilities.
The film was also somewhat autobiographical for Robert Rossen, relating to his dealings with the House Un-American Activities Committee. A screenwriter during the 1930s and ’40s, he had been involved with the Communist Party in the 1930s and refused to name names at his first HUAC appearance. Ultimately he changed his mind and identified friends and colleagues as party members. Similarly, Felson sells his soul and betrays the one person who really knows and loves him in a Faustian pact to gain character.
When it was necessary to show some of the trickier shots, 14 time world billiards champion Willie Mosconi (who was also the film’s technical advisor) would play the stunt hands.
Otherwise Jackie Gleason who was already an accomplished pool plays and Paul Newman had never held a pool cue before he landed the role of Fast Eddie Felson. He took out the dining room table from his home and installed a pool table so he could spend every waking hour practicing and polishing up his skills
This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying wrack ’em up and then join me for another go around here at The Last Drive In
The seductive Andrea Kingwas born France Georgette André Barry on February 1st, 1919 in Paris, before her mother relocated them to the United States.
Eventually she settled in Queens, NY. King eventually found her way to Broadway at the age of 13 where she performed between 1935-36 in Fly Away Home with Montgomery Clift. At the age of 18 she went to Chicago and worked in the Lilian Gish company’s Life with Father for two years. It was in 1944, that Warner Bros. signed Andrea King to a contract, her first bit part was as a nurse in a scene with Bette Davis in Mr. Skeffington, then she appeared in The Very Thought of You where as Molly Wheeler – she had to be bitchy to Eleanor Parker, which she joked she hated doing “Wait a couple of months baby and you’ll be making double dates with me just like we used to!”King was cast in small roles during the war. The Warner Bros. studio photographers voted Andrea the most photogenic actress on the lot for the year 1945, the year she starred in God is My Co-Pilot. Jack Warner who liked to name his new stars had wanted to change her name to Georgia King to Andrea’s horror she ran to friend director Delmer Daves and cried telling him it was awful, and sounded like a Mississippi burlesque queen!
Andrea King’s portrayal of the angelic and strong minded Julie Holden in director Robert Florey’s Gothic horror The Beast with Five Fingers (1946) was perhaps my introduction to King’s beautiful persona. Co-starring with Robert Alda a year before they were to act together in The Man I Love (1947).
Sophie Rosenstein the acting coach had taken a strong liking to Andrea and when she left Warner Bros. and went to Universal, a lot of roles opened up for Andrea at Universal.
Andrea King’s first major role as Lisa Dorn whom Andrea in an interview with TCM said was a wonderful part, a real leading lady– “She was evil and she was kind. She was two people all in one” in Hotel Berlin (1945) afterwards she played stylish often ‘mysterious’ leading ladies or supporting roles as the ‘bad girl.’
Finally King got bigger, glamorous lead parts and appeared in a cross section of genres throughout the late 1940s and 1950s. She is remembered for five significant film noir roles, Shadow of a Woman (1946), The Man I Love (1947) with the legendary Ida Lupino, Ride the Pink Horse (1947) starring and directed by Robert Montgomery, Dial 1119 (1950) with Marshall Thompson and the even lesser known Southside 1-1000(1950)with Don DeFore, that I decided not to cover at this time.
In the 1965 she appeared in The House of the Black Death, Prescription Murder (1968) tv movie and Daddy’s Gone A -Hunting 1969. Andrea King made the transition to television, most notably she appeared in the original 1953 broadcast of “Witness for the Prosecution” for Lux Video Theatre (1950) co-starring Edward G. Robinson. She worked well into the 1970s, (appearing in genres- horror & exploitation- where so many beautiful starlets inevitably roam-a subject I plan on writing about extensively in my piece “From Glamour to Trauma: Deconstructing the Myth of Hag Cinema in the not so distant future here at The Last Drive In) including appearing in the exploitation film Blackenstein 1973.
Directed by Joseph H. Lewis (Gun Crazy 1950, My Name is Julia Ross 1945 , So Dark the Night 1946) Screenplay by Philip Jordan, Director of photography John Alton who’s haunting chiaroscuro and noir figures in silhouette fill out the landscape of entrapment, corruption and decadence.
From Film Noir: Reflections in a Dark Mirror by Bruce Crowthers
In The Big Combo (1955)“Alton’s dazzling black and white photography starkly counterpoints the film’s perverse sexuality which constantly strains against the limitations of the Hollywood code. Whether exploring the sado-masochistic violence of the hoodlums, two of whom, Fante and Mingo are clearly homosexual or the psycho-sexual domination wielded by gang boss, Brown over the young woman from the right side of the tracks, the scripts and the director’s needs are continually and effectively fulfilled by Alton’s camera.”
Stars Cornel Wildeas Leonard Diamond, Jean Wallace(Jigsaw 1949, The Man on the Eiffel Tower 1950, Storm Fear 1955) as Susan Lowell, Brian Donlevy (The Glass Key 1942, Impact 1949, The Quatermass Xperiment 1955, A Cry in the Night 1956) as McClure, Richard Conte (The Blue Gardenia 1943, Cry of the City 1948, Thieves’ Highway 1949, Whirlpool 1949, Oceans 11 (1960), Tony Rome 1967, Lady in Cement 1968) as Mr. Brown, Lee Van Cleef as Fante and Earl Holliman as Mingo, Robert Middleton as Peterson, Helen Walker as Alicia, Jay Adleras Sam Hill, John Hoytas Dreyer, Ted De Corsia as Bettini, Helene Stanton as Rita
Joseph H. Lewis from Film Noir and the Cinema of Paranoia by Wheeler Winston Dixon-
Lewis abandoned westerns and began a “frenzied round of freelancing that took him from Poverty Row to the majors, with such films as the disquieting horror Universal film The Mad Doctor of Market Street (1942) and the astonishing Secrets of a Coed aka The Silent Witness 1942 for PRC.”
The Big Combo is considered a ‘syndicate’ film noir, where a mob organization is running the urban landscape, in which the organization is ‘all’ but with a difference. According to writer/historian Wheeler Winston Dixon, director Lewis was an “eccentric and he depicts a universe that is as out of kilter as his often imbalanced camera set-ups; the camera sweeps in on the protagonists in their most intimate moments, frames them as silhouettes in wide shots that effectively use fog and a few shadows to disguise the fact that seem to entrap his characters in even tighter compositions.”
At the police station, booked on a phony charge just to harass Brown. Joe McClure-“Mr. Brown is a very reasonable man. You don’t know him.” Leonard Diamond “Oh, is he? Well I’m not. I intend to make life very difficult for you Mr. Brown.”
Joe McClure-“You shouldn’t talk like that, Lieutenant. You’re overstepping your authority.” Mr. Brown-“Joe, the man has reason to hate me. His salary is $96.50 a week. The busboys in my hotel make better money than that. Don’t you see, Joe? He’s a righteous man.”
From FILM NOIR: THE DARK SIDE OF THE SCREEN BY FOSTER HIRSCH
“One of the eroding factors in the fifties thrillers surfaced in such films as the Big Combo and The Phenix City Story where crime no longer springs from the aberrant individual but is instead a corporate enterprise, run like a business. (Or like Murder Inc.) This view of crime is widespread, almost communal undertaking, counters the traditional noir interest in the isolated criminal whose actions are controlled not by an impersonal conglomerate but by a complex interweaving of character and fate.” Hirsch also points out that it represents another level of decadence.
From The Lost World of Film Noir by Eddie Muller-“This gray area between old-school hoodlum and the new “organization man” was fertile turf for noir fables…)… in The Big Combo the gangster picture is distilled into a sexual battle between the saturnine, sensual Mr. Brown (Richard Conte) and dogged but frustrated flatfoot Leonard Diamond (Cornel Wilde) Both men covet the appetizing Susan Lowell (Jean Wallace), whom Diamond has been stalking for months as part of his investigation of Brown’s illegal Combination.”
I have read that chiaroscuro is director Lewis’ domain and that he also liked to use icy blondes the way Alfred Hitchcock did. In Gun Crazy (1950) Lewis had Peggy Cummins, and in The Big Combo it is Jean Wallace, yet Lewis’ women are more overtly ‘sex-kittenish than high class blonde.- From Film Noir: An Encyclopedia Reference to the American Style by Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward
Cornel Wilde does a blunt job playing a righteous cop, Leonard Diamond who will do anything to take down Mr. Brown who represents everything he detests in the world.
“I know his name. The name of a man who will pick up a phone and call Chicago and New Orleans and say “Hey Bill, Joe is coming down for the weekend. Advance him fifty thousand,” and he hangs up the phone and the money’s advanced, protection money. A new all night bar opens, with gambling outside city limits. A bunch of high school kids come in for a good time. They get loaded, they get irresponsible, they lose their shirts. Then they get a gun, cause they’re worried, they want to make up their losses. And a filling station attendant is dead with a bullet in his liver. I have to see four kids on trial for first degree murder. Look at it. First degree murder, because a certain Mr. Brown picked up a phone.”
Robert Middleton who happens to be one of my favorite underrated character actors plays Diamond’s boss, Police Lt.Peterson, who’s trying to convince Diamond not to pursue Brown through his girlfriend Susan Lowell and realizes that after tailing her for months, Diamond might have developed feelings for her. “You’re a cop, Leonard. There’s 17,000 laws on the books to be enforced. You haven’t got time to reform wayward girls. She’s been with Brown three and a half years. That’s a lot of days… and nights.”
Richard Conte is particularly more brutal as Mr. Brown than in some of his other portrayals of the embodiment of the crime aesthetic, possessing the essential flair of the well heeled mobster. The Big Combois one of the most bleak and perverse of all the mid 1950s film noirs. The pace of the film leaves us hanging in a world of perpetual threat and vexation.
Richard Conte infuses the role of Mr. Brown with an unusual intensity even for the enduring tough-guy Conte as he plays a ruthless mob boss who practically holding a society girl Susan Lowell (Jean Wallace) hostage by their odd attraction for each other. Susan has left a budding career as a pianist to be a trophy in Brown’s collections, seduced by his control, and the money he lavishes on her, yet ambivalent about her self-loathing and her attraction to his perverse power over her body and their sexual relationship. In a potent scene he takes Susan in a secret room in her apartment filled with a hidden stash of money and ammunition. Brown to Susan- “This is my bank… we don’t take checks, we deal strictly in cash. There isn’t anybody I’d trust with so much temptation–except myself. Or maybe you.”
Mr. Brown- “Where’d you get that outfit?”Susan Lowell “What’s wrong with it?”Mr. Brown-“I like you better in white. You’ve got a dozen white dresses. Why don’t you wear them? “ Susan Lowell-“White doesn’t please me anymore.” Mr. Brown –“A woman dresses for a man. You dress for me. Go put on something white!”
Brown employs his two exploitable goons Fante (Lee Van Cleef) and Mingo (Earl Holliman) to stay close to Susan and watch her every move, acting as unwanted bodyguards.
Brown’s far-flung organization is under attack by the overzealous hard-boiled detective Leonard Diamond (Cornel Wilde) who is determined to bring Brown to justice. All of Mr. Brown’s associates are figures marginalized by society in some way, all defined by their ‘difference.’ Brown gets his kicks pointing out what everyone else around him lacks while he pats himself on the back like a sadistic narcissist.
The film opens with Susan fleeing a boxing match, pursued by Mr. Brown’s two hired muscle heads, through dark alleys until she is finally caught by Brown, which only symbolizes his sexual dominance over her.
“It was for her I began to work my way up. All I had was guts. I traded them for money and influence. I get respect from everybody but her…”- Mr. Brown
Brown is so fixated on displays of dominance and strength that he fires his boxer after he loses his bout. First he uses the opportunity to belittle his deputy McClure (Brian Donlevy) in front of the young boxer then he smacks Benny across his swollen bloody face waiting for his retaliation, but when it’s obvious the boy won’t hit him back, he cuts him loose.
Brown talking to Benny after the bout- “So you lost. Next time you’ll win. I’ll show you how. Take a look at Joe McClure here. He used to be my boss, now I’m his. What’s the difference between me and him? We breathe the same air, sleep in the same hotel. He used to own it!”
[yelling into McClure’s sound magnifier that is in his ear]
“We eat the same steak, drink the same bourbon. Look–same manicure, cuff-links. But we don’t get the same girls. Why? Because women know the difference. They got instinct. First is first and second is nobody… Now, Benny, who runs the world? Do you have any idea?” Bennie Smith “Not me, Mr. Brown.” Mr. Brown “That’s right, not you, but a funny thing, they’re not so much different from you, but they’ve got something. They’ve got it, and they use it. I’ve got it;[pointing to McClure] he hasn’t. What is it, Benny? What makes the difference…? Hate! Hate is the word, Benny! Hate the man that tries to beat you. Kill ’em, Benny! Kill ’em! Hate him till you see red, and you’ll come out winning the big money, and the girls will come tumblin’ after. You’ll have to shut off the phone and lock the door to get a night’s rest.”
Brown lectures Benny- “You should have hit me back. You haven’t got the hate. Tear up Benny’s contract. He’s no good to me anymore.”
Brown cuts his fighter-Benny loose, telling him he just doesn’t have the killer instinct he needs. Brown is a narcissistic bully whose smooth philosophical meanderings taunt the people who work for him, women and even the cop who is right on his heels.
Brown’s two brawny side-kicks Fante and Mingo are obviously homosexual lovers, who thrive on violence as an enhancement to their sexual arousal like foreplay. Brown’s former boss, the weakened and inadequate McClure must rely on a clunky portable radio sized hearing aid in order to keep up with the gang’s activities.
Lt. Diamond goes after the psychotic megalomaniac Mr. Brown trying to shut down his crime organization. There is conflict already within the organization as Brown is demeaning to McClure and verbally bates him constantly with put downs, to try and get a rise out of him. McClure wants to get rid of Brown all together and take over as head of the mob once again, but in the end he is too impotent, to smack down Brown’s power.
Brown has a prized possession —his beautiful blonde girlfriend Susan who is watched over every minute of the day by his two thugs Fante and Mingo. When Susan finally has a breakdown and overdoses on sleeping pills as a way out, she finally asks Diamond for help.
First Diamond wants to expose Brown’s criminal organization and secondly it would give him great satisfaction to take Susan away from Brown, as he also has developed feelings for her.
When Diamond harasses Brown by arresting him on false charges just to bring him into the station –he goes on a mission to persecute Brown, who retaliates as his credo is “First is first and second is nobody” Brown puts a contract out on Diamond, who is then kidnapped by his two vicious flunky’s Fante and Mingo who are in a surreptitious relationship, with each other Mingo showing his sexual attraction and love for Fante in a rather covert yet palpable way. Though toward the end, while they’re hiding out, he does make mention that he’s sick of Salami. A thought, make of it what you will!
In a shocking scene Fante and Mingo torture Diamond, it is particularly brutal and vicious as they use McClure’s hearing aid turned up to full volume amplifying sound to the point it could blow his ear drums out. The pain on Diamond’s face is tangible. Then they begin pouring alcohol down his throat poisoning him, leaving him to appear as if he’s been off on a bender, thank god his boss Peterson (Robert Middleton) is there to help Diamond recover.
Mr. Brown-“I think Mr. Diamond needs a drink. Got any liquor?” Fante-” How about some paint thinner?” Mr. Brown-“No, that’ll kill him. Anything else?” Fante- “Hair tonic, 40% alcohol.” Mr.Brown-“Fine.”
Once he recovers from his torture, Diamond is even more determined to bring Brown down. Diamond starts to put the pieces together and find clues that point to Brown’s involvement in the murder of a racket boss who disappeared a while ago, and whose place he took over in the organization. He discovers some of Brown’s old associates, Dreyer (John Hoyt) an Austrian who runs an antique and import business and Bettini (Ted De Corsia)a nice Italian man who owned a pizza parlor in the city and is now hiding out, fearing for his life.
Fante and Mingo go to Diamond’s hotel room intending to kill him, and wind up murdering his sometime lover night club singer Rita who went there to surprise him with a date, but becomes an unfortunate casualty being at the right place at the wrong time she is caught in the fray. Even Rita had laid things out for Diamond about the reasons why Susan would stay with a creep like Brown- “Women don’t care how a man makes his living, only how he makes love.”
After Diamond finds Rita’s body gunned down in his apartment- “She came to see me in her best shoes!” I treated her like a pair of gloves. I was cold… I called her up.”
Brown tries to school Diamond in the ways of the world, “You’d like to be me… You’d like to have my organization, my influence, my fix. You think it’s the money. It’s not–it’s personality. You haven’t got it. You’re a cop. Slow. Steady. Intelligent. With a bad temper and a gun under your arm. With a big yen for a girl you can’t have. First is first and second is nobody.
Brown- “You’re a little man with a soft job and good pay. Stop thinking about what might have been and who knows–you may live to die in bed.”
Brown starts to get paranoid and panicky, getting rid of McClure who is a weak link in the mob, and then his two henchmen who know too much about his double dealings and can be linked to McClure’s murder. Adding to Brown’s worries, his ex-wife Alicia (Helen Walker) comes back into the picture after hiding out in a sanitarium aiding Diamond in Brown’s capture. Ultimately leading to a showdown at an airplane hangar where Diamond corners Brown. Alicia “I’d rather be insane and alive, than sane… and dead.”
When McClure tries to double-cross Brown by using his own thugs against him, Fante and Mingo pretend to go along and wind up turning their machine guns on him instead, while Brown sardonically watches grinning like the sadist he is. With a flair of evil embellishment Brown walks over to McClure who has two machine guns trained on him, and takes out his hearing aid. Brown-“I‘m gonna give you a break. I’m gonna fix it, so you don’t hear the bullets.” It is a stunning scene we are watching from McClure’s perspective the flashing lights and smokey tendrils from the gun fire happen at us, but it is all done in eerie quiet and darkness. We are experiencing the frightening moment when he is shot to death. We become McClure at that moment.
Later Brown wants to dispose of his two thugs so there is no evidence of murder, he hands them a package while they are hiding out in an old building in the basement that used to be a speakeasy, They think the package is filled with food, guns and their share of the money they heisted from the bank, but it’s filled with dynamite. As the two men are blown up, leaving Mingo alive for a brief moment just enough to give a death bed confession to exact revenge for his lover’s death and point the finger at Brown.
Richard Conte is icily ruthless as the film’s antagonist, Mr. Brown who is not known by any other name, signifying an enigmatic symbolism for abject violence and immorality. As Dickos states “his imaginative brutality, Lewis bridges violence to the audience’s darker, vicarious desire to see pain inflicted on the screen”
There is a sense of noir fatalism and an underlying current of deviant and provocative sexual appetite within The Big Combo. Much of the violence is influence by a strong element of sadism. The relationship between Susan and Brown is structured by fatalism, as she is sullen and submissive to his neurotic controlling fixation, while she wants to escape she shows no strength or determination other than to give in to it. Brown is obsessed with Susan as an object, preoccupied with her body. This is illustrated in one scene where he devours her with studied kisses, he worships her ,objectifies her with salacious flattery in a way that perversely brings her to ecstasy. It might be this odd sexual attraction to Brown that keeps her passive to his controlling behavior toward her.
From Film Noir Encyclopedia: Edited by Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward “The Homosexuality of Mingo and Fante is smothered in an atmosphere of murder and sadistic torture , as they refine the conventions of violence into a sexual ritual. Joseph H. Lewis’s direction strongly points to a crude sexual bias throughout the film. Even Diamond appears to be sexually frustrated and compensating for impotence. Much in the same way as Lewis’s classic Gun Crazy, there is an affinity between sex and violence.; and the exploration of futility presents an ambience strangely reminiscent of an earlier period of noir films, such as Scarlet Street and Woman in the Window. These attitude combine with John Alton’s photography to create a wholly defined film noir, as striking contrasts between the black and white photography and Lewis’s sexual overtones isolate The Big Combo’s characters in a dark, insular universe of unspoken repression and graphic violence.” -Carl Macek
From Street With No Name by Andrew Dickos
“The Homoerotic violence in the Mingo-Fante relationship, unencumbered by misguided sociological sentiments, is still stereotyped psycho-sexuality —offensive enough on another score—but it is raw and consistent with the noir world. The privilege of noir cinema, as distinguished from other genres, lies in the latitude these films were permitted in exploring sexual power and its ambiguity, and the reason is apparent; as the cautionary cinema of the great negation of a “healthy’ puritanical American vision, the film noir almost mandates a depiction, however perverse, of those repressed impulses reigning hand-in hand with the anarchy that drives its protagonists to violence and paranoia. Unrepressed sexuality alongside these characteristics is far too messy to contain, so it must be vanquished. When it is particularly threatening, one may be sure that there is a woman involved.”
Lewis’s The Big Combo- “where it becomes almost pornographic to see Susan Lowell hopelessly submit to what is surely suggested to be an act of oral sex performed by her crime-lord boyfriend, Mr. Brown. But Lewis is no pornographer, he is a sensualist in the most serious way. No other works in American film until the 1960s broached the acknowledgment of these carnal hungers as a life-enhancing dimension of dangerous living—indeed, in living a short, intense life unto quick death.”
Both Lewis’ film noir masterpieces Gun Crazy and The Big Combo are sexually defined by the discursive violence of the external world—so much a corollary for the violence of passion that Lewis and screenwriter Philip Jordan can barely mask the story of The Big Combo as merely another sensational example of the extend to which organized crime corrupted postwar American Life.
Your EverLovin’ Joey saying there’s an underlying current of shadows and light here at The Last Drive In, but no worries, you got what it takes to stick around -no need to turn up the volume for you to hear how much I appreciate you all!
Your EverLovin’ Joey saying The Last Drive In is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge!
Life’s Rough: Three Strong Anti-Heroines of 1950 Film Noir
“You see kid, in this cage, you get tough or you get killed. Better wise up before it’s too late!” – Kitty Stark, Caged (1950)
The 1950 films, Caged!, The Damned Don’t Cry, and The File on Thelma Jordon, contain three women performing female masculinity. A common thread these characters possess is ‘metamorphosis.’ They are forged by male institutions and they must adapt to survive. Each woman is thrust into a noir narrative.
In Caged!, Eleanor Parker leaves innocence outside the prison bars and is transformed into a hardened, jaded criminal in order to survive. Joan Crawford, a poverty-stricken mother in The Damned Don’t Cry rises as a high-powered opulent underworld mistress to prevail and support herself. Barbara Stanwyck is predatory, manipulating a weak man to gain access to her Aunt’s fortune in The File on Thelma Jordon — Stanwyck ultimately becomes a fallen figure of remorse and redemption.
Like their noir male counterparts, they become anti-heroines as past actions come back to haunt them.
Film noir of 1950 desired realism, decadence, and transformation. Femme-fatales thrive using sexuality to claim independence from weak, damaged, sexually-obsessed men, unable to resist dangerous influences. These women master patriarchal organizations, taking control of their bodies and identities to avoid gender enslavement in a male hetero-driven society.
In most noir films men are the central figures–isolated from their surroundings, closed in by circumstances beyond control, but married to fatalistic visions with stoic passivity. By flipping this trope on it’s battered head, these women invoke female masculinity driving their characters. As anti-heroines they adopt masculine armor to navigate masculine institutions. They’re placed in situations that impose a definition of what a woman is and should be. They adopt feminine masculinity to survive.
“Female masculinity is framed as the rejected scraps of dominate masculinity in order that male masculinity may appear to be the real thing… Masculinity in this society inevitably conjures up notions of power and legitimacy and privilege; it often symbolically refers to the power of the state and to uneven distributions of wealth.” — Halberstam, Female Masculinity
You don’t know women until you know them without men!
Directed by John Cromwell, Caged! is set in a women’s prison and plays out like a savage dance with “unremitting pessimism” (Crowther) with the women performing masculinity to gain power. It is a “dames in the hoosegow” film (New York Herald Tribune), indicative of socially conscious 1950s noir. The women are demeaned in prison, and to prevail they appropriate masculine primacy.
Caged! boasts an incredible ensemble. Eleanor Parker’s persuasive performance as Marie Allen, a delicate young woman subjected to cruelty by the sadistic degenerate Matron Evelyn Harper (punctuated to the hilt by imposing 6’ 2” Hope Emerson).
Wonderful character actors include Betty Garde as Kitty Stark, Ellen Corby as Emma Barber, Jan Sterling as Jeta Kovsky (aka Smoochie who loves to kite checks, buys pretty shiny things, and can’t stay out of prison), Olive Deering as June Roberts, Gertrude Michael as Georgia, and Lee Patrick as ‘vice queen’ Elvira Powell.
The film opens with the police van door swinging opening —“Pile out, you tramps. This is the end of the line”— to reveal the ‘new fish’ in the fatalistic incarceration cycle. The central figure is a timid, pregnant and nervous 19 year old Marie who gets the book thrown at her for helping her husband commit armed robbery- “For that forty bucks I heisted I certainly got myself an education.” Her role as an accomplice, sitting in the car waiting for the bum, lands her 15 years in prison. With a doe-eyed shocked gaze, she is thrown into a primal world. The intake nurse’s examination reveals she is ‘expecting company’ — with her dead husband’s child. Marie, number 93859, is sweet candy for the cold-blooded, menacing Matron Harper.
Marie doesn’t fall for Harper’s charms, thus she is subjected to dehumanizing torture by Harper, the bon bon-eating, romance novel-reading dyke who enjoys personal comforts and flaunts luxuries (as a grotesque phony femme) to the women prisoners who don’t have any privileges.
Harper brutally beats Marie causing her to lose her baby, thus her motherhood is taken away.
Removing her femininity, her identity, Harper shaves Marie’s hair. When vice queen Elvira distributes lipsticks at Christmas, Harper cruelly takes them away. Harper, embedded in the masculine system, creates an environment where the weakest women must become predatory cons, shedding their femininity.
Sympathetic warden Ruth Benton (Agnes Moorhead) allows them to keep cosmetics as a connection to the outside world. Believing in rehabilitation, Benton bucks bureaucracy, but her altruism blinds her from the vicious brutality.
The mood at the prison heats up and Kitty kills Matron Harper. Marie is worn down by the inhumanity of prison life and disillusioned by Harper’s corrupting influence over inmates. She changes from a shivering innocent to a smart-mouthed hard-bitten con. Her efforts to go straight are sabotaged by the sadistic Harper. Marie learns the hard way how to earn parole, but she’s already stigmatized and changed by the system.
Jan Sterling, Ellen Corby, Marjorie Crossland, Olive Deering, Betty Garde, and Eleanor Parker in Caged (1950)
Through Marie’s eyes we experience the dehumanization and objectification, from the moment she is processed, to her release. Influenced by other miscreants and malcontents Marie evolves into a criminal by the system constructed to rehabilitate. She sheds her victimhood and takes on a powerful masculine approach, but not with ruthlessness of a femme fatale. Marie becomes a criminal. She’s independent, as only a man could be in 1950.
When released at the gates, she gets into a fancy sedan with shady characters. She’s become a prostitute for her butch mentor Elvira who has given up on men completely. “If you stay in here too long, you don’t think about guys at all. You just get out of the habit.” –Elvira
Warden Benton keeps Marie’s file open as she watches out the window “Keep it active, She’ll be back” summarizing the Sisyphean absurdity of prison, hardening and transforming women without any hope.
“Call me CHEAP?” Nothing’s Cheap When You Pay the Price She’s Paying!
Directed by Vincent Sherman, with a screenplay by Harold Medford and Jerome Weidman. Cinematography by Ted D. McCord (The Treasure of the Sierra Madres 1948, Johnny Belinda 1948, I Died a Thousand Times 1955, The Sound of Music 1965) (wardrobe Sheila O’Brien who worked on all of Joan’s pictures, Sudden Fear 1952, Flamingo Road 1945, Female on the Beach 1955)
Stars Joan Crawford as Ethel Whitehead, David Brian as George Castleman, Steve Cochran as Nick Prenta, Kent Smith as Martin Blackford, Hugh Sanders as Grady, Selena Royle as Patricia Longworth, Jacqueline deWitt as Sandra, Morris Ankrum as Jim Whitehead, Edith Evanson as Mrs. Castleman, Richard Egan as Roy.
Joan Crawford is Ethel Whitehead/Lorna Hansen Forbes, a woman from harrowing poverty, who leaves her husband, Roy, after their son Tommy is tragically killed. She starts over in New York City first as a cigar store clerk, and model for a cheap fashion wholesaler. She eventually climbs to the top of the high society/criminal underworld wearing a facade of respectability. While usually men abandon families, Ethel is the one to leave. Crawford perfectly performs the role of power and masculinity.
The Damned Don’t Cry portrays a bleak, dark, corrupt world. The story is told in flashbacks. Directed by Vincent Sherman (All Through the Night 1942, Mr. Skeffington 1944, Nora Prentiss 1947, Affair in Trinidad 1952, The Garment Jungle 1957) The film co-stars Steve Cochran as Nick Prenta, David Brian as George Castleman, and Kent Smith as Martin Blackford, and Jacqueline de Wit as Sandra.
Ethel begins as unsophisticated modest woman, married to an oil field worker, dirt poor, plain looking, and beaten down. An oppressed housewife and mother, judged harshly by her misogynist father, and husband Roy who says “You’ll never do enough for her.” She becomes an elegant ambitious society climber who dismisses suggestions her life is corrupt and immoral. Crawford manifests her signature cunning in the ferocious pragmatic transformation.
Ethel lives with her parents and beloved son Tommy, who wants a bicycle but Roy says it’s too much money. Wanting her son to be happy, she makes a down payment on the bike. Furious, Roy demands it be returned. On his way to the store Tommy rides down the road, and is hit by a truck, and killed. His death ends their marriage, and Ethel leaves.
Roy says he’s “done the best he could.” Ethel answers “Well it ain’t good enough.”
Unlike male protagonists with more choices, in this narrative Ethel can only be a model or prostitute. She performs female masculinity by adopting independence. Ethel creates power to choose her own fate, possessing what Hirsch calls ‘a lonely man’ trope.
Another model, Sandra, introduces Ethel to a new world, convincing her to go out with wealthy businessmen. She becomes the glamorous mistress of gangster George Castleman, showered with riches— fur coats, diamonds, and haute couture. George helps Ethel’s metamorphosis into a wealthy socialite, Lorna Hansen Forbes, and she enters the inner circle of gangsters.
Ethel now known as Lorna, exploits her beauty, relying on rich men to pay for the privilege of her company. She learns she must selfishly grab for herself. Negotiating her body for wealth is a means to an end. Lorna’s selfishness emerges.
Lorna surpasses Sandra’s petty schemes to aim for the brass ring of ultimate luxury.
She befriends mild mannered Martin Blackford, an account who falls for her. Encouraging him to become Castleman’s bookkeeper, she uses him to get ahead. Martin brings a dark brooding presence into Lorna’s life which is visually actualized in a scene where Lorna is sunning herself at the pool, Blackford casts a symbolic dark cloud over her light-hearted sexually care free embodiment. The closeup shows Ethel’s face as the sun’s rays emblematically reflect in her sunglasses. Taking them off, she turns off the sunlight, and is confronted with Blackford’s bitterness.
The jaded Lorna tells the neutered Martin “You’re a nice guy, but the world isn’t for nice guys. You gotta kick and punch and belt your way up cuz nobody’s going to give you a life. You’ve got to do it yourself. Cuz nobody cares about us except ourselves… It’s that stuff you take to the bank, that filthy buck that everybody sneers at but slugs to get.” Martin is afraid he’ll lose self-respect. “Don’t tell me about self-respect!”Ethel snaps. “That’s what you tell yourself when you got nothing else!”
Her glamorous life ultimately comes at a price. Castleman wants to use Lorna to spy on Nick Prenta, as he suspects Prenta of killing one of his men Grady (Hugh Sanders) and making it look like a car accident planting a bottle of alcohol at the scene. Castleman fears Nick Prenta is organizing the men against him. He sends Lorna to insinuate herself with Nick Prenta in order to find out what he is up to and report back to him. Setting him up for a hit. Instead Lorna starts falling in love with the handsome rogue gangster who has a reputation for his womanizing. Lorna winds up defying Castleman by not staying in touch and actually falling for the guy instead.
Martin then shows up telling Lorna, (though he still refers to her as Ethel out of spite) that George Castleman has sent him to check up on her, he hasn’t heard from her in a while. The moment we see Martin’s scruples have eroded is during the pool scene which illustrates Martin’s own transformation from a nice decent guy to one of George’s thugs, with his smug tone and his dark sun glasses. He warns Lorna not to hold out on George. He boasts about how powerful he’s become and that people listen to him. He offers her some ‘sound advice’ “Has he promised you the world too!?” referring to Nick Prenta and sneaking in a good dig at how she used him at one time. “He means nothing to me, except he’s a human being.” “Don’t tell me that disturbs you.” Martin has become so jaded and embittered.
Later Nick Prenta asks Lorna to marry him, she is moved to tears as she embraces him. Lorna asks, “Do I really mean that much to you?” Nick tells her, “Everything, why is that enough?” Lorna –“Then get out of this, Nick, I’m scared about what you’re doing, what you’re planning, what it will lead to, if you don’t give this up.” “If that’s what it takes to get you, you’ve got a deal. I can get out of this inside a year” “No, it’ll be too late then” “But I can’t get out now Lorna, this is a big jump I’ve got to see it through.”
Lorna begs him to give it all up, but he kisses and sends her back to her hotel room where she finds Martin and Castleman waiting for her. Castelman is sitting in the dark, giving off a sense of menace from the shadows. “Hello Lorna” he puffs on his cigar then rises from the couch. “Aren’t you glad to see me?” Suddenly he begins grilling her about Nick Prenta’s meeting, but she tells him that she doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Castleman tightens his fist and smacks Lorna across the face, his paranoia about the meeting and his gang aided by Prenta out to get him is driving him into a frenzy.
In his fury, even Martin gets worried about Castleman’s sudden violent outburst. Then he hits Martin and knocks him down, and begins beating Lorna brutally as she tries to convince him that she’s not in love with Nick Prenta, it’s just that she doesn’t want anyone to get hurt. She tells Castleman that she’s still in love with him. But he growls at her, “You’re lying, you’re so used to lying and cheating and double crossing that you almost make it seem good.”
Castleman throws Lorna into the glass window that shatters. Martin tries to defend her, and calm Castleman down, telling him it’s enough. Castleman says “She’s no good, not even to you” yet Martin thinks fast on his feet, “But she is to you, she can still help, she can still be useful.” Castleman tells Martin looking down at the battered Lorna, “There’s only one thing to do with dirt, sweep it up.” Martin tells him, “Listen to me, you want Nick don’t you? She can get him” Castleman responds, “You got a brain Marty, best kind, the kind you don’t got go out and buy.” As Castleman says this he looks disdainfully at poor Lorna lying in a pile of broken glass all bruised and sobbing.
Martin convinces Lorna to call Nick Prenta and get him over to the hotel room. Prenta shows up already knowing her true identity, he must have heard it from Eddie Hart. She is lost in shadow, beaten down and crying, Prenta sarcastically tells Lorna, “I want to apologize for busting in on you like this Mrs. Forbes, but a friend of yours, Eddie Hart said it would be okay, he said Castleman might not like it, but Ethel Whitehead would go for anything.” But when he sees how badly beaten Lorna is he comes to her side, until he is confronted by Castleman, who emerges out of the shadows and tells him that while Prenta likes to be in the headlines he’s gonna move him over to the obituary column. Prenta turns to Lorna, “You dirty tramp!”
A fight breaks out and Castleman shoots and kills Prenta. In the turmoil, Lorna takes off in her car. Castleman tells Martin that they’ll have to dispose of Prenta first and then “I want her.”
Once Lorna fails to stop Castleman she is transformed once again through resignation and redemption having gone full circle through her own journey of hell.
Martin tries to protect Lorna from Castleman, by telling the police that it was George Castleman who killed Nick Prenta. In the meantime, Castleman wants her dead. And he knows the truth about where Lorna comes from, where she was probably heading and he’s on his way there.
Lorna now home in Bakersfield, arrives at the broken shack with her fur coat and her Ray Foreman coif. Her parents first reject her. The bitter Martin has shed his anger by now, hopelessly in love with Lorna, he shows up to try and protect her from the vicious Castleman. In the films ironic rhythm of fate, she symbolically comes full circle, winding up on the same road where her son died.
Martin tells her that she needs to move on and keep running before Castleman catches up with her, but she’s worried that he’s unfinished business now too, since he’s turned on Castleman. He reminds her “We do what we do– what was it you once said?, because we can’t help ourselves.”
Castleman shows up at Lorna’s home. She quietly walks out of the house, so as not to endanger her mother and father and Martin who are talking in the kitchen.
In the brutal climax Lorna calmly, stoically and courageously confronts the vicious George Castleman.
He asks for Martin but Lorna lies and covers up for him, saying she hasn’t seen him. She boldly with new resolve walks right up to George Castleman. He asks if she’s been waiting for him. “Strangely enough George there was a time when I did wait for you. And no one else. but that’s over now.”
In a struggle to take the gun away from Castleman, Lorna gets shot and wounded, lying in the dirt wearing her fur coat, –hows that for symbolism! Then Martin comes out of the house and shoots Castleman down and his getaway car leaves without him, while he’s lying there dead.
The police and the press show up pushing for all the answers to Lorna (Ethel’s) involvement.
Two cops outside the house start talking about the case. Cop one-“Pretty tough living in a place like this” Cop two–”Tougher to get out” Cop one– “Wouldn’t you?” Cop two shakes his head “Yes!”
Having traveled through her journey performing the code of female masculinity she has reclaimed herself, found her empowerment and emerged as her own woman again. We are left wondering what the future holds for Lorna/Ethel, now not only emancipated, if not redeemed, as the anti-heroine of The Damned Don’t Cry!
Thelma Jordon: “I’m no good for any man for any longer than a kiss!”
Directed by Robert Siodmak, written by Marty Holland with a screenplay by Ketti Frings. Cinematography by George Barnes (Rebecca 1940, Jane Eyre 1943, Spellbound 1945, Mourning Becomes Electra 1947, Force of Evil 1948, War of the Worlds 1953) Costumes designed by Edith head
Starring Barbara Stanwyck as Thelma Jordon, Wendell Corey as Cleve Marshall, Paul Kelly as Miles Scott, Joan Tetzel as Pamela Blackwell Marshall, Stanley Ridges as Kingsly Willes.
Barbara Stanwyck plays Thelma Jordon who uses a gullible attorney to cover up her crimes of murder and larceny, secretly in cahoots with her sleazy husband. As in Double Indemnity,Stanwyck masterfully plays a ‘vice-ridden murderess.’ She performs female masculinity, playing the aggressor— pursing lovers, greed, and power.
Directed by Robert Siodmak, the film opens with Thelma in a small town district attorney’s office reporting burglary attempts at the mansion she shares with her aunt. She begins an affair with DA Cleve Marshall (Wendell Corey), who is in a loveless marriage. Thelma is also married to the sinister Tony Laredo. An icy femme fatale who desires danger, she’s drawn to Tony’s equally nefarious nature and devours Cleve who is weakened by her magnetism. Thelma starts out the femme fatale, her fatal flaw is falling in love with Cleve, feeling remorse, and sacrificing herself to become redeemed in the end.
Thelma’s aunt is murdered in an apparent robbery and her emerald necklace is missing. Fearing Tony will be implicated, she cleans up the evidence, and calls Cleve to help. Thelma is cold and calculating, casting Cleve as her lover and accomplice known only as Mr. X. Cleve tells her to shut the lights and pretend she was asleep when the police arrive. Cleve leaves, making sure to seen but unrecognized by the butler who discovers Aunt Vera’s body.
When Tony’s alibi checks out, Thelma is arrested for murder. While the police try unsuccessfully to prove her guilt, she and Tony plan to leave town. By now Cleve has uncovered Thelma’s checkered past.
He accuses her of duplicity and Thelma admits he was part of the plot. When Cleve confronts her, Tony’s dark presence looms. The camera shows both men juxtaposed in the room, Tony’s dark presence looms— he is too irresistible to let go.. Cleve is too normal and unselfish to be stimulating for her deviant desires. With both men framed in contrast, Thelma realizes she belongs with the dark and dangerous Tony. Tony beats Cleve to a pulp, leaving with Thelma.
But driving down a winding mountain road, Thelma’s pang of conscience gets the better of her and she causes the car to plunge off the cliff. It’s a darkly romantic gesture, suicide by flaming car crash is her attempt at redemption. She hopes with her death, Cleve can repair the ruination of his life. But this is noir, and he cannot wake from the nightmare.
Tony dies but Thelma lives long enough to confess her crimes. She does not give away Cleve as Mr. X, but Miles (Paul Kelly) is suspicious. His career in shambles, Cleve walks off into the uncertain shadows of noir. Thelma dies, redeemed. It’s noir universal justice, Thelma cannot get away with her Aunt’s murder and continue her affair. She must be brought down by fate’s hand.
Miles: ”She’s confessed everything except who her Mr. X is.”
Cleve looks at her “Why don’t you tell him?”
Thelma: “I love him, that’s why. I couldn’t go on with him Cleve. You did that for me. I’m glad I told. All my life struggling, the good and the bad.”
Cleve: “Save your strength darling.”
Thelma: ”Willis said I was two people, he was right. You don’t supposed they could just let half of me die?”
This is your EverLovin’ Joey saying, it’s great to spend time in the darkness of noir’s shadows & under the influence of fate’s pointed finger, but you gotta come out into the light til the next time around!
“You’re so pretty it’s a shame you have to die, it will be quick, but it won’t be easy. You’ll die of fright”
Tourist Trap (1979) A Charles Band Production. Written and directed by David Schmoeller, (Puppetmaster series) co-written by J. Larry Carroll, director of photography Nicholas von Sternberg, music by Pino Donaggio (Don’t Look Now 1973, Carrie 1976, Dressed to Kill 1980, The Howling 1981, Body Double 1984) Art direction by Robert A. Burns (who worked on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1974, which like Tourist Trap also had minimal gore and no nudity), special effects by Richard O. Helmer and make-up by David Ayers, Robert A. Burns, Ken Horn, Ve Neill and and Karen Stern.
Stars Chuck Connors (The Rifleman, Soylent Green 1973, The Horror at 37, 000 ft. 1973, Nightmare in Badham County 1976 tv movie) as the creepy Mr. Slausen. Chuck Connors had actually sought out the part of Mr. Slausen stating that he wanted to be the Boris Karloff of the 1980s! It is a very good role for him indeed, as he is perfectly peculiarly menacing and off-beat.
Jocelyn Jones plays Molly-the virginal final girl who just happens to be the daughter of amazing character actor Henry Jones!
Jon Van Ness (The Hitcher 1986) as Jerry, Robins Sherwood (Death Wish II, Blow Out 1981) as Eileen, Tanya Roberts (Charlie’s Angels, Sheena:Queen of the Jungle 1984) as Becky, Dawn Jeffory as Tina, Keith McDermott as Woody, Shailar Coby as Davey and Albert Band and Linnea Quigley as Mannequins.
The reason I hold onto my VHS tapes (as sad and worn as they are), instead of buying the Blu-ray version with better quality and vivid colors, is unfortunately that the newer version is cut down making it a shorter version of the movie. I’ll wind up with the new release but I’ll never let go of my VHS unless it disintegrates into analogue dust and goo in the Rubbermaid container!
Tourist Trapwith its sublime moments of terror will forever stay burned into my memory for its original brand of creepiness, partly due to the animated mannequins, the sense of isolation and dread and Pino Dinaggio’s enigmatic melodically robotic score incorporating ghost town saloon tinny piano sounds, and wind up toys, that drives the story perfectly! This to me is undoubtedly one of THE scariest films of the 1970s decade of horror. Not just the mannequins that play a factor in the level of freakiness, it’s the fact that the victims themselves get transformed somehow into mannequins themselves. Yes, they do, indeedy they do!
A group of young people driving in one of those jeeps called ‘the thing’ of the late 70s go for a trip out in the desert but of course as it is with all these pictures in order to set up the chilling story line, they must become stranded! Fortunately they break down by Slausen’s Lost Oasis, a tourist-trap museum run by the deranged Mr. Slausen, which is filled with a collection of remarkable automatons and life like-mannequins and some who are even gun slingers (you’ll find out)
These unusually menacing figures can not only move, they also possess the powers of telekinesis. Slausen (Connors who is effectively creepy in this macabre dark fairy tale about getting lost and winding up at the wrong house) might be the one who has the power to move objects at will, but either way, the film becomes a manic fun-house ride that is incredibly frightening as well as suffocating because they are trapped at the Lost Oasis. One by one, Slausen dispenses with the group except for Molly who has caught his eye, and animated his you know what, if you catch my drift. Actually, we get a little back story as Slausen tells Molly “you remind me of my wife.” whose likeness or life itself has been dedicated to wax in the museum.
The beauty of Tourist Trap is in it’s restraint to use violence or gore, it is intense, lurid, tacky and wonderfully 70s style horror. It’s the moodiness of the surroundings and the idea that wax dummies are dangerous, not to mention the paraffin masks that Slausen & Davey wear that is wholly imaginative and injects something incredibly spine-tingling into the non-human atmosphere. With screaming mannequins, their grotesque mouths gaping open in a choir of falsetto!
Don’t expect to learn the deep dark secrets of the mannequins powers or whether Slausen and Davey are the same man as you’ll never see them together at the same time, and Shailar Cobey is credited as playing Davey. There just are no sign posts in this film, no clear explanation for any of the goings on, it is as ephemeral as a twisted dream. It is as I said, a Fun-house ride through creepy-ville. And Connors is spectacular as a hyper-sexual, lonely man-child who has too many toys to play with or I should say not enough living dolls. There are hints of House of Wax (1953)starring Vincent Price, though the narrative is different, the essence of what makes the story terrifying is the mania of the antagonist’s medium of sculpting wax over living bodies. Tourist Trap, is nightmarish, deliciously campy, disorienting, frightening and wickedly fun to watch as the mannequins invade the space, where there is no where else to run.
Mr. Slausen: “Oh sure, help yourself… but it doesn’t work. I got nobody to call.”
Davey: [deep, raspy voice] “We’re going to have a party!”
Davey: “My brother always makes me wear this stupid mask. Do you know why? Because I’m prettier than him.”
The script originally called for nudity, but Schmoeller said he was too bashful and embarrassed to bring it up with Tanya Roberts and the other actresses during casting. When they got to the lake scene, he finally asked them if they’d be willing. The collective answer was no.
Stephen King praised the film in his book Danse Macabre, especially its frightful opening scene.
Director David Schmoeller was startled when the film received a PG rating despite its disturbing subject matter. Schmoeller stated in an interview with TerrorTrap.com that he felt the film would have been more commercially successful had it received an R rating.
The mannequin who gives the female lead something to drink is actually Schmoeller’s then-wife. The mannequin originally had 2 lines, but Schmoeller had them edited out during post-production. She then never forgave him for that.
Tanya Roberts insisted on running through the woods barefoot in one scene. She thought it would help her better project a sense of pain and fear. The result was also that her feet were bloodied.
Pino Donaggio’s fee for composing the score was one sixth of the movie’s budget.
The plaster used in the death scene was actually dough.
Though the masked killer was called Davey, the production crew have since dubbed him “Plasterface”.
Tourist Trap was actually based on David Schmoeller’s senior film project at film school. (According to Schmoeller’s commentary on the 20th anniversary DVD)
Jon Van Ness did his own stunt when he jumps through the window.
Jocelyn Jones was a classically-trained actress, whereas Chuck Connors was self-taught. During filming, Connors would often ask Schmoeller why Jones would have to go through various routines before filming scenes (such as breathing exercises.) (According to Schmoeller’s commentary on the 20th anniversary DVD.) Shot in twenty-four days.
Irwin Yablans reportedly hated Pino Donaggio’s score for the film, as Yablans wanted another synthesized score in the same tradition as John Carpenter’s Halloween.
This is your EverLovin’ MonsterGirl saying If you happen to break down near a tourist trap anywhere USA, just wait for AAA!
I also couldn’t resist picking a film that has remained a very special little nostalgic gem that shines in my brain, as it’s left a kind of strange impression on me as a kid growing up in the early 70s. With made for TV movies on both ABC and CBS, we had a slew of fright films and chillers to choose from, and I’ll be doing a special Halloween tribute to The ‘CBSMovie of the Week year in fright is 1973′ with 10 incredibly memorable picks,
For now, the topic is GARGOYLES (1972)and it’s lasting impression on the imagination, the mind and the senses.
It aired on CBS on 11/21/1972 with a teleplay by Stephen and Elinor Karpf (Terror in the Sky 1971, Devil Dog:The Hound of Hell 1978, The Jayne Mansfield Story 1980)
From TV Horror: Investigating the Dark Side of the Small Screen by Lorna Jowett and Stacey Abbott-“The made-for TV movie, or single play, is a production mode that saw its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s. In the USA it developed with ABC’s Movie of the Week, while in Britain it developed much earlier with ITV’s Armchair Theatre in 1956. In both cases, by the mid 1980s the made-for-TV movie was no longer a major television format, replace according to Creeber, by more tele-visual forms… The popularity of the TV movie in the 1970s, however led to the rise of the made-for-TV horror movie which experience its own golden age, with over 100 made-for-television horror movies… premiered on prime time [American] network television since 1968′ (Waller 1987) These films include adaptations of gothic novels such as Count Dracula (1977), Frankenstein (1973) and The Turn of the Screw (1974), or original contemporary horror such as Fear No Evil (1969), Duel (1971) and Gargoyles (1972) John Kenneth Muir argues that in this period television became increasingly graphic and that the ‘turn toward darkness’ in TV horror represented as with cinematic horror ‘a shift in national mood due, at least in part, to the shocking and graphic news footage coming back from the Vietnam War. It was as if for the first time American’s were aware of a darker worlds, and television reflected that shift in perspective… the tv format mimicking it’s cinematic counterpart.”
Gargoyles 1972is directed by Bill Norton who also directed Baby, Secret of the Lost Legend 1985, Three for the Road 1987, Angel of Death 1990 tv movie, Deadly Whispers 1995 tv movie, Gone in the Night & Vows of Deception 1996 tv movies, A Deadly Vision, Bad to the Bone, Our Mother’s Murder 1997 tv movies, and episodes of Angel and Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Medium, Ghost Whisperer, The Unit.
The cinematography was shot by Earl Rath who also wasn’t a stranger to television productions, for instance Go Ask Alice 1973, The Horror at 37,000 Feet 1973, Can Ellen Be Saved? 1974, and Columbo’s A Deadly State of Mind 1975. The film was shot with one single camera which is why it has that comfortable Verité look amidst the mythological narrative.
I’m already a fan of the busy television & film composer Robert Prince (You’re a Big Boy Now 1966, tv shows, The Wild Wild West 1968-69, Mannix, The Bold Ones 1969-71, Land of the Giants 1970, Night Gallery 1970-71,The Name of the Game 1971, Alias Smith and Jones, Mission: Impossible, The Streets of San Francisco 1972, The Sixth Sense 1972, Circle of Fear 1972-1973, Columbo – episode The Bye-Bye Sky High I.Q. Murder Case (1977), The Bionic Woman, Wonder Woman, ABC Movie of the Week– A Little Game 1971, Scream Pretty Peggy 1973, The Strange and Deadly Occurrence 1974, Where Have all the People Gone? (1974), The Dead Don’t Die 1975, Snowbeast 1977, The Violation of Sarah McDavid 1981 starring the incredible Patty Duke, who we lost recently, and one of my favorite 70s feature horror films-the highly underrated Squirm 1976, and then there’s the blaxploitation horror – J.D’s Revenge 1976.
Robert Prince is responsible for the eerie and melodic soundtracks to so many favorites, and his musical contribution to Gargoyles is a slick job with its atmospheric odd brew of ancient Gothicism and modern outlaw culture. The special effects are by Milt Rice (Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956, Queen of Outer Space 1958, Damnation Alley 1977, Nightwing 1979 and George Peckham.
The Cast: Cornel Wilde (Leave Her to Heaven 1945) plays a professor of anthropology who writes literature debunking supernatural legends, demons and ancient mythology Dr. Mercer Boley, Jennifer Salt(Who has produced American Horror Story from 2011-2015, and starred in Midnight Cowboy 1969, Sisters 1972) as his halter top wearing daughter Diana (Di-Ana) she will come to hear her name called in a sensuous yet menacing tone by the Patriarch of the Gargoyles (Bernie Casey)-– Brian’s Song 1971, Cleopatra Jones 1973. Fans of Grayson Hall (Dark ShadowsDr. Julia Hoffman 1966-1971, as Pepe in Satan In High Heels 1962, The Night of the Iguana 1964) will love her portrayal of motel owner and full time drunk Mrs. Parks. It was fine actress Grayson Hall who actually thought of her character always having a drink in her hand in every scene she appears.
James Reeger: [Scott Glenn] “So you and your old man, you’re not afraid of them gar-things, huh?”
Diana Boley: “Gargoyles are a scientific fact. And they’re no more dangerous than a high school drop-out on a motorcycle.”
Scott Glenn plays bad boy dirt biker James Reeger, William Stevens plays the sheriff, Woody Chambliss (The Devil’s Rain 1975) plays Old Uncle Willie, who is not selling butter and eggs this time around (see The Andy Griffith Show’s Aunt Bea’s Invisible Beau).
Part of the charm and interesting vibe of the film is Bernie Casey’s charismatic portrayal of this incubus that dwells in the caves,(shot once again at Carlsbad Caverns) leading his clan of Gargoyles til their eggs have hatched before they migrate away from the desert, so they can reign another 500 years. I remember being mesmerized by Casey’s costume and make-up by Emmy Award winner Stan Winston and Ellis Burman Jr, his piercing eyes showing through, his broad jaw and high cheekbones, and the tone of his commanding voice.
From The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters-edited by Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock’ Gargoyles is the first work to present gargoyles as a species as opposed to solitary creatures. A race of reptilian creatures created by Satan to harry mankind at centuries-long intervals hunts for a gargoyle skull found by an anthropologist in a roadside exhibit; gargoyle statues, the film explains, are folk memories and warnings. That same year the short story “Bleeding Stones” by Harlan Ellison depicted the gargoyles on St Patrick’s Cathedral suddenly brought to life by industrial pollution; they rapidly massacre New York City and fly east toward Rome. Less apocalyptically gargoyles appear as a species in the earliest 1974 Dungeons & Dragons rule-books. These cunning, reptilian, horned fanged monsters can only be hit with magic weapons. A similar rule obtains in Jim Wynorski’s film Gargoyle (2004): a face of demonic creatures driven almost to extinction in medieval times.”
The word Gargoyle in the classical art and literature sense is based on the French word ‘gargouille’ meaning ‘throat’ or “water-throat’ or water spouts, which were like wall fountains— the gaping mouths allowing the run off from the rain on the roofs. These spouts were constructive as they were decorative ornamental fixtures of grotesquely featured characters that were prevalent along the ornate façades, the flying buttress or have what is called tracery; rose windows, towers, spires and pinnacle all part of the ‘Flamboyant style’ of 14th century Classical Gothic cathedrals in the late medieval period seen in Italy and France. The Gargoyle can also be seen as nocturnal guardians over the cathedrals they ornamented, coming to life at night and then back into their stone visages by day. Which flies in the face of the idea that they were Satans’s minions wreaking havoc among humankind —if they were placed there to indeed guard the churches.
The film opens up with narration by Vic Perrin who I have a huge soft spot as he is the Control Voice for the 1963-65 anthology sci-fi/fantasy television show The Outer Limits. He also narrated each episode’s thought provoking prologue with a tranquil tone and ended by signing off with some philosophical epilogue that touched the heart and reached inside us dreamers and thinkers. Perrin also worked on a few episodes of Star Trek just to mention a few of the shows he lent his wonderful voice to. In Gargoyles he enlightens us in a Miltonesque lead in about the fall from grace by the angel Satan and a montage of classical images of demons and gargoyles from medieval gargoyles from Gothic Cathedrals, plus demonic images by vintage film images & painters–images from director Benjamin Christensen Häxan (1922) appear as well as artists William Blake,Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel.
We are told that these demons have managed to continue to survive in our culture over the centuries. Perrin also dubbed his voice for Bernie Casey’s sage winged dark horned/horny prince with the aquiline nose and burning eyes, he loves to be read to! and Casey’s manifestation of the lead Gargoyle with the use of audio electronics to create a metallic effect on his voice create the outré creepy style and provocative nature that transcends all the latex.
The winged leader of the gargoyles (Bernie Casey) makes it quite clear to Dr. Boley (Cornel Wilde) that the extinction of humanity is their ultimate goal. In a similar latex looking mask, John Anderson played the Ebonite Interrogator in suitably scary prosthetic makeup in the The Outer Limits episode entitled: Nightmare which aired December 2nd 1963, with make up work by Fred B. Phillips who also worked on House of Usher 1960 and Star Trek.
The prologue opens with it’s exquisite arresting soundtrack of percussive, harpsichord atonality and electronic sparks by composer Robert Prince contributes to the atmosphere right from the edge to set up the basis of the story as boldly recounted by the voice of Vic Perrin—That the battle between good and evil has existed for eons. That this battle continues and man’s own pride, curiosity and aggression will also bring him upon the devil’s minions, those fallen angels, the gargoyles who wish to conquer the lord’s favored human-kind. Begin the Milton prose from Paradise Lost.
“The devil was once the most favored of the host of angels serving the lord. But pride welled in his breast. He thought it unseemly for him to serve. The devil and his band of followers who likewise suffered the sin of pride were defeated in battle by the lord and his host, and were banished to the outer most depths of Hell, never to know the presence of the lord or look on heaven again. Smarting with his wounds but all the more swollen with pride the devil cried out from the depths, ‘it is better to rule in hell then serve in heaven.’ The devil proclaimed what was lost in heaven, would be gained on earth. He said, ‘my offspring, the gargoyles will one day rule the lord’s works, earth and man.’ And so it came to pass that while man ruled on earth the gargoyles waited, lurking hidden from the light. Reborn every 600 years in man’s reckoning of time the gargoyles joined battle against man to gain dominion over the earth. In each coming the gargoyles were nearly destroyed by men who flourished in greater numbers. Now it has been hundreds of so many years that it seems the ancient statues and paintings of gargoyles are just products of man’s imagination. In this year with man’s thoughts turned toward the many ills he has brought upon himself. Man has forgotten his most ancient adversary… the gargoyles.!”
Every 500 to 600 years laying dormant the Gargoyle’s eggs hatch and the Gargoyle patriarch intimates in the heat of verbal sparring with Prof. Boley that they will rise up and wage war on the human race. The war between humans and Gargoyles in the film speaks more of self-preservation than ruthless pugnacity. They want to act before human kind tries to wipe them out and make their kind extinct… People have never understood says the lead gargoyle. The gargoyles here come out as the sympathetic anti-heroes.
After the formidably dark opening narration by Vic Perrin, the credits roll -Professor Mercer Boley (Cornel Wilde) an anthropologist is driving through the desert of New Mexico on his way to Mexico to finish his new coffee table book on demonology. Along for the journey is his daughter Diana (Jennifer Salt) who’s riding side saddle with her dad tracking down interesting stories and finding artifacts in his little creepy tourist trap to support his scientific research.As Diana gets off the plane and brings her dad a statue of a beast called Callamudre (no such demon in the list of demonology) who will complete his collection of demons. A harp plucks and wavers and pan pipes effervesce, it is the ethereal calm before the storm… the two get into the wonderful yellow 70s station wagon.
Diana “I saw you on that talk show”
Professor Mercer Boley- “I’m glad kind of hoped you were watching. What do you think of that self styled witch they had on?”
Diana –“You were as always the cool intellectual. She got pretty upset when you started telling her she was just being superstitious about the devil… Do you really think the world of evil is just fantasy? “
Professor Mercer Boley- “Who knows it sells my books You should have read some of the letters I got at the University after that one.”
Boley’s book –5000 years of Demonology will trace man’s conception of evil down through the ages. Boley-“More monsters for fun and profit… something colorful and expensive for the coffee tables of America.”
Diana-“Sure would hate to get stuck out here in the dark.”
He tells Diana he before they head to Mexico has to ‘check out this old guy’ referring to Old Uncle Willie. “I don’t know he’s got some wild story, maybe it’s nothing, but it’s only a bit out of our way.” As they stop along the open expanse of the alienating desert landscape figuring out that they are lost, a large winged shadow watches them from atop a cliff. Diana says “sure would hate to get stuck out here in the dark.” Suddenly there’s the sound of giant wings flapping and another hint of a winged shadow moves over that delicious vintage yellow station wagon. It’s a very chilling moment as are many of the scenes in this made for tv movie. The soft colors of the 70s create a dream like atmosphere or maybe I’m just sentimental.
Boley and his daughter Diana joke about what they will see at Uncle Willies Desert Museum, they see a myriad of signs promising two headed lizards and desert fish… Boley wonders which strange item Willie will try to sell him, he’s only enthusiastic about the sign he saw about cold beer.
Uncle Willie: “I saw yuh on that television talk show, perfesser, and yuh impressed me with yer knowledge and yer know-how.”
The two are shown a grotesque skeleton by this desert rat side, a side show peddler of oddities Uncle Willie, who wants money and credit for his discovery. Uncle Willy wants to co-write a book with Boley, calling it Uncle Willie’s Tale of the Desert featuring stories about the devil monsters and the 2 headed calf and a Siamese twin chicken. ‘I pull them in off the road.”
Willie “I gotta make sure you’re not out here to steal my discovery… now wait I’ll show it to ya it’s in the shack over there. “
Diana asks her skeptical dad-“Cant we just take a look.”
Professor Boley-“Bones, I smell old bones” Willie- “I knew I picked a smart one” Diana “Sure is lonely out here” Willie- “Oh I like it like that… I own this place now out right. Pass my time thinking about a book I’m going to write. You just wouldn’t believe the things I know. Things I never told nobody. Just been saving up for the right moment. You’ll see, You’ll see you’ll be glad you came to see Old Willie.” Diana “What is it?” Willie- “I just got it put back together again.” Professor Boley- “What do you mean put back together again. That never was together… hahaha. You assembled that out of a pile of old junk bones.” Willie- “ No! I found it whole over in the canyon. Carted it back in my pickup. You can’t imagine how difficult it is to match them bones.” Professor Boley- “Oh come on Uncle Willie (He laughs) This is excellent work but it’s a concoction of unrelated bones. Some animal some human. If I had more time I’d ask you how you managed the joints for the wings. That took real imagination. Coming up with wings.” Willie- “No… this is not a trick. This is not for them tourists. This is the REAL thing. (pauses) You don’t believe me.”
Boley laughs again- “Willie your talent is wasted out here.” Willie “no wait Dr. Boley. I never showed this to nobody. I thought you’d be the one smart enough to understand. Listen to me. The Indians named this place DEVILS CROSSING in their own language, back when they had a camp here. They lived here for hundreds and hundreds of years. The Indians told all about these devils, these spirits. They were real. I’ve got all the stories.” Professor Boley- “I’m sorry Willie.” Willie “Dr Boley, them devils used to live up there in the rocks. Came all of a sudden like. Just played hell with the tribes. Then they chased them off with their sacrifices and their offerings. An old Indian told me. It was his tribes main legend for hundreds of years. Now ain’t that worth a book?… ain’t it!!!”
Diana snaps a photo and Willie gets riled “no free pictures! Now either you make a deal with me to write this book 50/50 with my picture on the cover or you just get out, get out!” Professor Boley tells him, “Alright Willie you’re on… let’s hear the story”
Willie bolts the door and Boley starts the tape recorder. “I always bolt all the doors when the suns goes down.”
Professor –“Can you remember what the Indian word was for the devils in the legends?” Willie – (drinking a pint of whisky) Nak—nakatekachinko,. That’s it. This great chief saw the ‘nocitichincos in the desert and he had the tribe make costumes for all the elders, like the noci-tocichincos for the ritual of manhood called, “nonataya, “nonataya.” Professor Boley- “Uh what about, can you recall the ritual itself?”
Willie “Let me think, uh …“
Willie is interrupted by the flapping of giant wings and the sound of a great desert wind.
But Uncle Willie should not have challenged the nesting Gargoyles by threatening their existence with exposure and taking their skeleton that was a sacred object. -The music and sound track is fabulous before the gargoyles strike it’s like electronic whirring and clanging with the sound of echoing crickets and chorus frogs They attack, the night Willie takes Dr. Boley and his daughter into his back shack where he keeps all the special goodies he finds, in particular the skeleton of a creature he found out in the desert that the Indians referred to as Devil’s Crossing.
Aired December 11, 1973 as an ABC Movie of the Week
“Beware the seal of Kah-ub-set, for he who dares to remove it will open the gates of Hell.”
The Cat Creature was directed by horror film icon Curtis Harrington— Night Tide (1961), Queen of Blood (1966), Games (1967), How Awful About Allan (1970) tv movie, What’s the Matter with Helen (1971), Whoever Slew Auntie Roo (1972), The Killing Kind (1973), Killer Bees (1974) tv movie, The Dead Don’t Die (1975) tv movie also directed by Curtis Harrington, Ruby (1977), Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (1978) tv movie.
The Cat Creaturewas scripted by Robert Bloch based on a story by producers Douglas S. Cramer , Wilfred Lloyd Baumes and writer Bloch himself.
From Nice Guys Don’t Work in Hollywood written by Curtis Harrington -he talks about how different television executives’ mind-set for tele-films are than major motion picture executives.
Director/writer Curtis Harrington master at ‘horror of personality’
“I found out just how different on a television movie called The Cat Creature. The script was written by Robert Bloch, based on an old story he’d published in Weird Tales. In fact, he was one of the horror writers I had discovered in the pages of Weird Tales during my teen years in Beaumont. It was a nice pulpy story about a girl who is the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian cat goddess. In casting the actress to play the modern incarnation of this beautiful goddess, I got my first nasty taste of TV executive thinking. I discovered that this new set of black suits was always very involved in the casting of leading roles in the network TV drama. Unlike movie executives whose primary interest was ‘box office appeal’ they were concerned with something they called TVQ” This meant the ratings the stars other television appearances had received. The connection between a star’s suitability for a role meant absolutely nothing, and this was the case of The Cat Creature… […] I recalled that Egyptian women supposedly used henna to dye their black hair red, so we put a dark red wig on Meredith Baxter, and she agreed to darken her eyes with green contact lenses… […] Bloch had written an important supporting role, the proprietor of a magic shop, for a man. I suggested that he rewrite the role for a woman and that we try to get Gale Sondergaard for the part. Sondergaard was an actress I remembered vividly from my childhood. She had been memorable as the sinister Oriental [sic] woman in The Letter and in the title role of The Spider Woman, a Basil Rathbone/Sherlock Holmes adventure in 1937…
“I had wanted the proprietress of the occult shop to be played as a lesbian to lend a bit of spice to the show. But Standards and Practices , the office of the network devoted to removing any element to a script that might offend Mrs. Grundy, sent a memo after that there must be ‘NO SUGGESTION WHATSOEVER THAT THIS CHARACTER IS A LESBIAN.’ However, my natural propensity toward subversion was given its due when Douglas Cramer allowed me to add a dwarf hooker to a scene in a cheap hotel where Stuart Whitman as the detective interview John Carradine, who plays the hotel clerk. The dwarf lady of the evening is shown seated on the counter in the hotel lobby. Swinging her short legs and batting her eyelashes, she says to Stuart, “How’s tricks, baby!” This was left in, and Cramer was very pleased when the incident was singled out for comment in a New York Times review of the show. It wasn’t the sort of thing they were used to seeing in the bland medium of television.”
An estate appraiser Frank Lucas (Kent Smith) comes to catalogue a private collection of Egyptian relic, the inventory at an estate –among the deceased’s possessions is an Egyptian mummy adorned with splendid regalia –wearing a large amulet around it’s neck and topped the golden head of the cat Goddess Bast.
Just to be clear as a person who worships cats–The story of The Cat Creature is a creation for a horror tele-play that has no foundation in historical fact. Bast was not a murderous cat nor an evil deity. Bast represents protection and is a sacred symbol of that protection toward cats… She is not a monster!
The uniting Egyptian cultures had deities that shared similar roles and usually the same imagery. In Upper Egypt, Sekhmet was the parallel warrior lioness deity. Often similar deities merged into one with the unification, but that did not occur with these deities having such strong roots in their cultures. Instead, these goddesses began to diverge. During the 22nd Dynasty (c. 945–715 BC), Bast had transformed from a lioness warrior deity into a major protector deity represented as a cat. Bastet, the name associated with this later identity, is the name commonly used by scholars today to refer to this deity.
Shortly after Lucas leaves, a thief Joe Sung played by Keye Luke steals the amulet, the mummy disappears setting off a series of uncanny events and several mysterious murders. Frank Lucas is found dead and Lt. Marco (Stuart Whitman) calls in Prof. Roger Edmonds (David Hedison) as an expert to help identify the missing amulet. Joe Sung tries to pawn this ancient amulet at The Sorcerers Shop an occult shop owned and run by Hester Black (Gale Sondergaard). After Black’s young salesgirl is murdered in the same fashion as Frank Lucas, she hires a new girl to work in her shop. Enter, Rena Carter (Meredith Baxter) who gets pulled into the mysterious happenings and begins a romance with Prof. Edmonds.
The strange killings show the victims all baring the marks of a giant cat attack, as if they’ve been clawed to death. Is it the resurrection of the Goddess Bast who is committing these murders?
This ABC Movie of the Week, showcases the actress whose popularity was rising at that time, Meredith Baxter, who plays the mysterious Rena Carter who may be somehow involved in these strange ritual killings. David Hedison plays Prof. Roger Edmonds an archeologist who is called upon by the detective on the case, Lt. Marco (Stuart Whitman) to assist him in solving the murders. Just a note… I am absolutely crazy about Stuart Whitman, down the road I plan on doing a feature on his work –his credits too long to mention, so see the link to IMBd, I also really want to do a feature on the incredibly mesmerizing actress of the 70sBarbara Parkinswho appears in another ABC Movie of the Week Snatched that I’ll be covering in just a bit…
Prof. Roger Edmonds-“Marco is on his way here to arrest you”
Rena Carter “What!”
Prof. Roger Edmonds-“Don’t you see Everything about you adds to Marcos’ suspicious no previous address no social security number A girl who covers her tracks A girl who stops at the shop not by accident but with deliberate purpose. Marcos thinks that you destroyed everyone who stood between you and that amulet.”
Another bonus of this creepy tele-film is that it co-stars the wonderful Gale Sondergaard. as Hester Black the occult shop owner.
In an interview actor David Hedison commented, “All in all, it was a very happy experience. Meredith was a joy to work with, and a fine human being. Stuart Whitman and I talked and laughed a lot about our early contract days at 20th Century Fox in the late 1950s and 1960s. And of course, Gale was a lovely woman and shared so many wonderful memories with me about her early films. And I should add that all the felines behaved beautifully–even in one of the more violent scenes with me at the end of the film. I managed to escape without a scratch!” –“One other memory was of the first screening of the film before it aired. There was a small invited audience at a screening room on the lot. My wife, Bridget, had not read the script or seen any of the shooting, and at one point when the Cat Creature suddenly jumps out to attack, she got such a fright she let out a scream- much to the delight of the producers and director”
From Television Fright Films of the 1970s by David Deal-“here he (Curtis Harrington) successfully recreates the moody thrillers of Val Lewton of the 1940s. Relying on creepy atmosphere and suspense.”
Deal points out one of the prevailing great elements of The Cat Creature, it’s fabulous casting of course Stuart Whitman who is a tremendous actor, his appearances go all the way back to the early uncredited 50s classics like When Worlds Collide (1951) and Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) Whitman was nominated for an Academy Award for his startling performance in The Mark 1961, as a tormented man dealing with his repulsive impulse to molest children and his ultimate redemption. It was a risky role, that he inhabited with dignity and pathos. A prolific supportive actor and leading man he appeared in Cimarron Strip tv series from 1967-1968. One of my favorite films of his Shock Treatment (1964) was another powerfully nuanced portrayal of Dale Nelson an actor who is paid to infiltrate a mental hospital to expose a crazy psychiatrist Edwina Beighly played by the silky and sly Lauren Bacall. Stuart Whitman has appeared in stinkers too, like Night of the Lepus (1972) about giant mutant bunnies, eh not so much… in Jonathon Demme’s Crazy Mama 1975with Cloris Leachman, and a very slick Italian cop thriller called Shadows in an Empty Room aka Blazing Magnums (1976). And since we’re celebrating these ‘tele-fright’ films of the 70s let’s just mention his other supporting roles, he plays a psychic looking for a missing husband in Revenge! (1971) with Shelley Winters as a deranged mother who lost her daughter and The Woman Hunter (1972).
David Hedison of course was popular with horror fans for his campy over-the top performance as a altruistic scientist who loses his head over his discovery to transport matter in the fantastical classic Sci-Fi hit, The Fly 1958(which is part of my series to follow Keep Watching the Skies -coming up The Year is 1953) starred in the hit television show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964)
The supporting cameos are such a treat! Seeing Gale Sondergaard who is terrific as the occult shop owner Hester Black who while reading Professor Edmonds his tarot cards gets into a battle of the wills between skepticism and fanaticism. Sondergaard received the first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in Anthony Adverse (1936) I adore her as Emily in the Abbott & Costello romantic comedy The Time of Their Lives (1946) even then she was open to the spirit world! Sondergaard was one of the unfortunate actors who were targeted by HUAC, brought before them she refused to testify and was blacklisted from the industry for over 20 years. She returned in 1969, and The Cat Creature was her first ‘tele-fright’ (as writer David Deal puts it) of the 1970s.
The Deputy Coroner (Milton Parsons) looks like a corpse himself, just one of the macabre details that Harrington likes to throw into his ‘horror of personality’ films and teleplays.
The busy working actor Kent Smith has appeared in so many film and television supportive roles. Best known by horror fans for his roles in Val Lewton’s Cat People (1942) and The Curse of the Cat people (1944)
Here he plays Frank Lucas the cat creature’s first victim. Ironic isn’t it! His other tele-frights include director Curtis Harrington’s How Awful About Allan (1970) starring Anthony Perkins, Julie Harris and Joan Hackett. He was also in The Night Stalker (1972) and The Disappearance of Flight 412 (1974). One of my all time favorites, is the lovable, ubiquitous the theatrical acrobat likes of Burgess Meredith who could inhabit the role from vagabond to thespian at times quixotic poetic tongued –the sharp, and saturnine character actor John Carradine who plays the manager of a sleazy hotel clerk. Carradine can make the smallest part enormously unforgettable and has graced many a tele-fright– Crowhaven Farm (1970), The Night Strangler ((1973) and Death at Love House (1976) Next to Boris Karloff and Vincent Price, I have such a sweet tooth for John Carradine and he’s another icon I’d love to feature here at The Last Drive In.
From David Deal’s terrific Television Fright Films of the 1970s a movie of the week companion –“Charlie Chan’s number one son Keye Luke is the amulet thief in his only telefright appearance of the decade but most curious is Peter Lorre Jr. who appears as a dying pawn broker Lorre Jr. was really German born Eugene Weingand a notorious imposter who was once taken to court by Lorre for using his name. Lorre died before his case against Weingand was settled, allwoing the impersonation to continue. Relative newcomer but top billed Meredith Baxter was fresh off the Bridget Loves Bernie sitcom and would soon marry her co-star David Birney, where she would heifeenate her name and has become a fixture to television.”
Composer Leonard Rosenman is responsible for the score, he has won Oscars and Emmys for his compelling music, for instance Fantastic Voyage (1966), A Man Called Horse (1970) Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)Race with the Devil (1975), Bound for Glory (1976) and supplied the poignant music for the dark disturbing psychological mini-series starring Sally Field–Sybil (1976). He also added his music to other tele-fright films such as Vanished (1971) The Phantom of Hollywood (1974) and The Possessed (1977) starring wonderful supporting actress of the 1970s Joan Hackett.
Though I am a huge fan of the directors body of work, I have to look away from Harrington’s predilection to either kill off cats or make them look sinister in his films, so avoid The Killing Kind (1973)with Ann Southern or if you love rabbits lets not forget the poor bunnies in Whats The Matter With Helen (1971).
Also the sound the cat creature makes doesn’t sound anything like a growling menacing cat, it sounds like an old man who smokes too many cigars and needs to spit up his oatmeal and prunes.
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc and screenplay written by writer/director Collin Higgin’s whose credits include the cult film starring Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon and one of my personal favorite films–Harold and Maude (1971), he also penned the memorable feminist comedy classic Nine to Five (1980) starring Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda.
Busy 70s television Canadian born actress –with the girl next door beauty –Belinda J. Montgomery plays Diane Shaw, whose mother has died, leaving her with the revelation that she is actually the daughter of Satan. Diane’s mother Alice Shaw (Diane Ladd) had carnal knowledge with the prince of darkness and Diane is the product of that unholy union. Alice was also friends and worshiped Satan with Lilith who befriends and lures our wayward devil waif into a web of suspense as she spirals toward her fate.
Naturally as the working formula would suggest Diane is then pursued by devil worshipers headed by Lilith Malone played by the grand lady herself, Shelley Winters. Of course there are elements that pay tribute to the far superior classic pre-occupation with devil cults and paranoia in the city Roman Polanski/William Castle’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968) brought to life by the stunning performance by Mia Farrow, and the presence of such greats as Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer, Ralph Bellamy, Patsy Kelly and Maurice Evans.
Shelley Winters having a Ruth Gordon/Minnie Castavet moment!!!
Feeling trapped by her destiny, she soon meets and falls in love with Steve Stone (another tele-fright favorite-Robert Foxworth). Steve asks Diane to marry him and so life is possibly good again? Well maybe not so much…
Lilith-“Dear, You mustn’t disappoint your mother’s old friends”
Alikhine-“You are your mother’s daughter!”
Lilith- “SHE WAS ONE OF US”
Mrs Stone (Martha Scott) “She got religion, and turned away”
Alikhine-“You are your father’s daughter!”
Diane –“NO! NO!”
Alikhine- “He is the evil one.”
Mrs Stone- “The all seeing… he is Lucifer”
First off, The Devil’s Daughteris still entertaining to watch, I adore Belinda J. Montgomery and I could watch Shelley Winters bring in her mail. She’s been lighting up the screen since she played the neurotic Jewish mother Faye Lapinsky in director Paul Mazursky’s sublime Next Stop Greenwich Village (1976)to watching her as Belle Rosen who swims under treacherous waters in The Poseidon Adventure (1972) , as she envision Ma’ Kate Barker in Roger Corman’s Bloody Mama (1970) or the tragic Helen Hill/Martin in Curtis Harrington’s gruesome horror of personality thriller What’s the Matter with Helen (1971) as the bellicose Mrs. Armstrong in Bernard Gerard’s The Mad Room (1969) as the vengeful and deranged mother in the tele-fright film Revenge! (1971) going back to the luckless love-sick and doomed Alice Tripp in A Place in the Sun (1951), as the delightful singer Binky Gay in Phone Call from a Stranger (1952), the sympathetic Terry Stewart in William Castle’s Johnny Stool Pigeon (1949) or the gutsy and classy torch singer –Joy Carroll alongside Frank Sinatra in the dazzling musical noir film Meet Danny Wilson (1951)…! there it is I just adore Shelley Winters!
Belinda J. Montgomery was one of the more prevalent actresses in the 70s teleplays, like Season Hubley who looked fresh scrubbed and awfully pretty but could play it all damaged and less than pure if you know what I mean.
The Devil’s Daughterplays like a dark comedy, with a surprisingly pessimistic or should I say fatalistic ending, not unlike it’s finer forerunner Rosemary’s Baby.
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc had started out his career working in television and has directed many popular contemporary television series link to IMBd to see his complete credits, in the late 60s and 1970s he worked on Rod Serling’s television horror anthology series from 1969-1973 Night Gallery.
If you’re familiar with the series you’ll recognize the painting of Satan that emblazon’s Lilith’s living room wall, could be a tout to the series that utilized artwork of art director Thomas J. Wright who painted all of the paintings used to introduce each story.
Szwarc directed a the ‘tele-fright’few Night of Terror (1972) and in 1973 directed the Lovely But Lethal episode of Columbo starring Vera Miles. Some of his notable theatrical releases – Bug (1975), Jaws 2 and the romantic fantasy Somewhere in Time (1980).
What makes The Devil’s Daughter the most interesting to watch are the familiar character actors that populate the film. The nefarious characters that are not quite they seem to be on the surface. Of course there’s the mentioned Diane Ladd as the profane mother who slept with the devil in the first place but in her waning years found religion but was executed by the cult for her transgression. There’s the wonderfully perspicacious Ian Wolfe whose presence always adds an extra depth to any story, here he plays Father MacHugh a kindly priest who while he doesn’t believe the gossip about Lilith would rather see Diane move out of Lilith’s house and live with a girl her own age. When Diane does decide to move in with a friend, Lilith blows her stack…
Fans of Dan Curtis’ cult television horror soap opera of the 1960s Dark Shadows will recognize Jonathan Frid as Lilith’s mute ‘chauffeur companion.’
Film star Joseph Cotten plays Judge Weatherby, Martha Scottas Mrs. Stone, Lucille Benson ( a quirky character actress who was great at playing batty old ladies) as Janet Poole and Thelma Carpenter as Margaret Poole curious twins, a pair that reminds me of the odd relationship between Sylvia Miles as Gerde Engstrom and Beverly D’Angelo as Sandra in Michael Winner’s The Sentinel (1977) which I am highlighting this Halloween month of October! The Poole sisters dress alike, Janet is white and Margaret is black, and they have cats with opposite colors.
The persnickety Abe Vigoda (the irascible Detective Fish from tv’s Barney Miller) plays Alikhine an expert in ancient art of dance, Robert Corthwaite (the fanatical scientist intent on idolizing the superiority of the super carrot in The Thing from Another World 1951) plays pastor Dixon.
Some of the dialogue is as campy and hilariously high brow as all get out–“You are promised in marriage to the Prince, the Demon of Endor.”
And much like the climax of Rosemary’s Babythere is the ensemble of Satanists seen in Lilith’s scrapbook of yesteryear, the cult standing around in living rooms in their robes posing for a the photograph.
Diane struggles to fight back her legacy as the Devil’s own daughter as she struggles with nightmares, manifests her inherited evil nature and wearing her ring with the strange insignia, mentally impels a young boy to walk out into traffic, nearly getting him run down by a car.
There’s a nice touch as she meets her roomate’s horse and they become frightened by her presence bucking and whinnying, a sign that they can see her evil essence. When Alikhine (Abe) leads the ‘ancient dance’ at the party Diane has an instinctual rhythm that guides her movements. Will Diane succumb to her legacy or will she use her power to fight her destiny? I won’t tell… “They actually refer to me as the Devil’s daughter.”-Diane
“Sally, Sally, Sally… We want you, we want you. It’s your spirit we want, your spirit we need… When will they come to set us free… there’s time enough we have all the time in the world.”
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is one of the most remembered television horror films of the 1970s. It no doubt has left a lasting impression with so many of us. Enough so, that director Guillermo Del Toro remade it with more teeth and polished effects in 2010, renewing a whole revitalized generation of fans of the story and mood of the piece in all it’s palpitating unreality. That’s why it has maintained such a cult status all these years. The creepy atmosphere is partly credited to director John Newland who wasn’t a stranger to stories of the macabre and uncanny as he developed the late 50s series One Step Beyond. which dealt with real life experiences with the uncanny and the supernatural. He also had a hand in directing several of Boris Karloff’s anthology series that blended mystery, horror and noir in his 60s series Thriller.
I love the color palate by set designer James Cane–the purple and blue tones, the reds and pinks, the golds and browns, the lighting and set design is a rich visual set piece to work within the modern ‘things that go bump in the night’ trope.
Felix Silla, Tamara De Treaux & Patty Malone as the creatures: on the set of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)
Newland worked steadily through the 60s and 70s with Karloff on Thriller and then with Rod Serling on Night Gallery. In Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, director Newland has such a grasp on what is eerie and spooky in the classical sense delivers an atmosphere that is rich with a wonderful color pallet. He produces a simple story with spine tingling chills, that are often missing today. Newland’s device works great often due to the lighting and the quick glimpses, as you just catch aspects of these little menaces, rather than have them appear for long periods of time on camera. Another creepy mechanism that I find startling is a device within the make-up developed by Michael Hancock (The Omega Man 1971, Deliverance 1972, Altered States 1980, Se7en 1995). where the creatures speak but their mouths do not move, it is as if the voices come from behind their faces.
It’s an odd effect, and though it lacks the virtual ‘teeth’ that Del Toro’s savage creatures have, I am filled with such nostalgic shivers for the old look of things. The kitschy decorating for instance. The creature masks also remind me of something you’d see in The Twlight Zone, episode ofEye of the Beholder, in the same way make up artist William Tuttle created masks where their mouths didn’t move when they spoke. The effect just works. The three little devil imps with their shriveled scowling faces and piercing eyes and creep-tastical voices are among the most iconic and remembered creatures from the 1970s.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Darkis “lit like a horror movie–pools of light glow amidst shrouds of darkness and mysterious shadows abound” “Even a darkened party scene is justified as reticence to reveal the house remodeling underway. The truth is fear of the dark is universal., especially when prune-face goblins tug at our bedclothes.”- David Deal: Television Fright Films of the 1970s.
Alex (Jim Hutton) and Sally Farnham (Kim Darby) inherit a eerie old Victorian house from Sally’s grandmother that holds a dangerous secret legacy, as it harbors the spirits of little devil imps who need to be set free by a designated person whose soul they aim to possess. Once Sally moves in to her grandparents garish and secretly ghoulish old house, Sally discovers these little creatures living down in the pits of hell behind the bricked up fireplace in the creepy, musty den. Like her grandfather before her, Sally is next in line to ‘set them free’ by being their chosen sacrifice. She now must convince her success driven husband Alex that she isn’t crazy or a hysterical, bored housewife. Alex refuses to listen to Sally’s pleas to leave the house, or that the strange happenings and sightings of antagonistic little demons are real and not born out of her imagination or a way for her to sabotage his budding career that takes him away a lot. The only person who not only believes Sally but has tried to warn her not to meddle in things she doesn’t understand, is William Demarest as cantankerous handyman Mr. Harris, who worked for Sally’s grandparents. He knows about the little evil gnomes bricked up behind the fireplace and tries to no avail to get Sally to leave the creepy den as is, “Some doors are better left unopened.”
Sally pushes on the bricks of the old fireplace, Mr. Harris the handy walks in, in his
sour-puss scowling manner-
Mr Harris-“It won’t work.! Sorry Miss I didn’t mean to make you jump”
Sally-“It’s alright… well why won’t it work? I mean surely all it needs to be is smashed open”
Mr. Harris- “those bricks are cemented 4 deep and reinforced with iron bars. There’s no way of opening it up.”
Sally-“now who’s idea was that?”
Mr.Harris-“Your grandmother had me do that twenty years ago.”
Mr. Harris-“Well, it, it was after, er (he stops and looks at the fireplace)
Mr. Harris- “I just can’t open it up.”
Sally-“Now Mr. Harris surely you’re not afraid of a little hard work, hhm?”
Mr. Harris-“Its not the work it’s just that some things are better left as they are”
Mr. Harris-“That’s for cleaning out ashes”
Sally-“it’s been bolted shut”
Mr. Harris-“By me, and that’s the way it should stay!”
Told by both Alex and cranky pants Harris to leave the fireplace alone, naturally she unbolts the ash pit, releasing the creatures who proceed to torment her, making it look like she is crazy, torturing her, gas-lighting her, as we here whispered tones of
“No don’t hurt her, not yet… “but I want to I want to…”
Oh there’s plenty of opportunity and time to torment, hurt and and drag Sally down to hell. Sally, it’s too much fun to drive her mad, messing with the lights whiles she’s taking a shower, then leaving the straight razor on the dark bathroom floor, poking out from behind curtains and bookcases, peaking out of the floral arrangement at the haute dinner party intended to impress Alex’s boss, placing a chord across the steps hoping she’ll fall down the long staircase. Sally sees these little menaces everywhere but no one else does. Alex doesn’t even believe that it’s mice, the place was fumigated right before they moved in. After Alex has a fit and fires Mr. Harris for filling his wife with dread, he finally reaches out to him wanting to hear about the history of the house.
Apparently, Mr. Harris tells Alex, that Sally’s grandfather was heard screaming in the study the night he disappeared presumably as he was being dragged down into the pits of hell. After that, the fireplace was bricked up and the ash pit bolted shut. The wicked little imps have been waiting all this time to be set free.
The simplistic story, everyone at one time has been afraid of the darkness and the unseen terror that it holds and the beauty of this enduring film which moves along in a very quick pace that doesn’t seem rushed, nor empty. Each scene while at times frustrates from the standpoint of stupid things you don’t do if you feel you’re in danger, like at the height of the danger drawing ever so near, just lie down on the bed and take a nap, okay you’ve been drugged with the sleeping pills slipped into your coffee by those little creeps. You will forever ask yourself, go to a hotel, why not just get out of the house. You feel like you want to scream at Sally, get the hell out… now for the love of Mike! And by the end, it tickles you to finally see her being dragged and daunted.
It’s hard to make out in the darkly lit scene but the goblins are climbing the stairs like a mountain.
Sally -“It’s was something like this little ferocious animal grabbed at my dress… Alex’s irritated voice scolds Sally like a child--“Look Sally you’ve got to stop this!!!”
I must admit, it’s too delicious to see these little nasty creatures bounding up the stairs, rigging them with a chord in order to cause one to trip, fall and break ones neck, and pop out of the luscious darkness wielding what is to them a giant a straight razor. These little evil imps inhabit our world view perfectly of those ‘things that go bump in the night.’
Kim Darby is plain and perfectly whiny within the horror version of Diary of a Mad Housewife, but that works to the films sense of go ahead drag her down the stairs already feeling, though I cheered for Carrie Snodgrass in the afore mentioned film of the 70s. ” Sally trips into a surreal world of gloom and although she never really gets a grip on things, she still shows some resolve.” Buying flashlights and candles instead of a room at a Hotel. sure Sally sure…
Alex and Sally experiencing martial woes and little devil imps in the suburbs!
As Sally puts it when having a heart to heart with her only friend Barbara- “Most of the time she feels like a reasonable adjunct to his getting ahead”
Barbara tells Sally that she knows exactly what’s it’s like to be “left by yourself to brood” ‘Making imaginary mountains out of imaginary mole hills”that’s exactly what her friend Barbara thinks the breaking of the ash tray by the side of the bed and the sounds of something lurking behind the kitchen garbage merely was…
This 70s tele-fright film could work as a horror story that embroiders the dismissal of women, their needs, their perceptions and their entire world into a adult fairy tale/nightmare. How a woman can become discounted when what she thinks and feels is chalked up to being merely her ‘imagination’ or emotional distress, and/or an unreasonable emotional dependency on her man who is trying to make it. Or… she is just plain exuding hysteria. Don’t Be afraid of the Dark consists of blunt hyperbole of the hysterical woman not in it’s undercurrent rather, right out in plain sight a contrast to the ‘shadows’ and goblins that lurk in the dark. Metaphor for women’s desire to be set free? I’ll leave that to scholars…
Kim Darby looks better than ever… no frowzy Sally here!
Actually I read that originally actor George Hamilton was cast as Alex. The chemistry would not have been as well suited as Hutton’s disbelieving soul. Hamilton is too sharp an actor for Darby’s frowzy simple girl next door style. William Demarest gives a well suited supportive performance as the cranky handyman Mr. Harris who knows all to well about the secrets of that bedeviled house with it’s ancient wicked creatures lurking about. It is Sally’s friend Joan played by Barbara Anderson who finally believes Sally isn’t going mad. At first she suspects that it is a mad housewife deal, sexual frustration, martial woes, and just plain hysteria. Anderson won an Emmy for her role on Ironside as Officer Eve Whifield.
Writer Nigel McKeand was sometime actor and was one of the demonic voices on the film. Prolific composer Billy Goldenberg (Columbo) is adept at both classical and pop music and has been in demand, providing music for film and television since the mid 60s. He tele-fright scores include Ritual of Evil (1970), Duel (1971), Terror on the Beach (1973), Reflections of Murder (1974), The Legend of Lizzie Borden (1975), The UFO Incident (1975) and One of My Wives is Missing (1976).
One of the great aspects that work in Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is the set direction by James Cane, the big old Victorian that creates the mood of a ‘chamber piece’ is so creepily garish with colors that clash, and a mix of neo-gothic, Louis VI and contemporary styles that even Sally decides to hire decorator Francisco Perez (Pedro Armendáriz Jr.) whom the dastardly gnomes accidentally cause to fall down the steps killing him. Still, Alex doesn’t quite see that something is wrong with the house.
Even after Joan (Barbara Anderson) begins to believe Sally, the efforts made to protect her friend are sluggish and frustrating, just to make our skin crawl with anxiety as these wicked little things chant “we want you, we want you, we want you, we want you”, while Sally is destined to go the way of her grandfather. This special Movie of the Week chiller is brimming over with eerie atmosphere.
Felix Silla, who played one of the creatures also played Cousin It in The Addams Family.
Directed by Philip Leacock with a screenplay by Richard Masterson. (I Am Legend, The Incredible Shrinking Man) This iconic writer/visionary has too many credits to list them all, link to IMBd to see the breadth of this genius’ work.
She’s Alone. No One Believes Her. And There’s No Way Out!
While driving across the desert Bob and Jean Mitchell (Dabney Coleman and Cloris Leachman) stop at a desolate roadside diner late one night. When Bob goes to the gent’s room, he doesn’t return, just vanishes completely! The locals including Ned Beatty as Tom King, the wonderful Louise Latham as Vi and Ron Feinberg as Lou McDermott all appearing unfriendly and downright menacing. The worst of all being diner owner Jim Cutler who considers people like Jean and Bob ‘moron city folk’ (Ross Martin who does sinister really well!)
Jean “You must have seen where my husband went”
Jim Cutler-“Are you telling me I did?”
Jean “He was sitting right there at that table. Right there.”
Jim Cutler-“And I was right there at that griddle, with my back turned how would I know where he went. Maybe he got sore at ya and just lit out. Cause your husband ain’t here ain’t no fault of mine.”
One of the most underrated character actresses Louise Latham!
These uncooperative folks deny even seeing her husband at all. Then as the paranoia and panic builds someone drives off with her car, stranding her there and now are coming after her. Jean goes to the sheriff played by recognizable character actor Dana Elcar but she has no proof of a crime and tries to get him to believe her protect her from the danger she is in and of course find Bob.
This familiar theme of the missing husband had been seen in tele-fright flicks such as Honeymoon with a Stranger 1969 starring Janet Leigh, and And No One Could Save Her 1973 starring Lee Remick.
Richard Matheson’s teleplay, from his short story strikes that universal chord of paranoia, alienation, helplessness and abject fear stuck in the middle nowhere, working like a claustrophobic stage play Dying Room Only puts our heroine in an environment surrounded by hostility with authority figures who don’t believe you all while stuck in the middle of a lonely unforgiving desert.
Cloris Leachman is one of THE most talented comedic actresses, just brings to mind her iconic role as Mary Tyler Moore’s narcissistic and fashionable friend Phyllis Lindstrom from 1970-1977 and her outre brilliant performance as Frau Blücher in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein (1974).
Ross Martin best known for Artemus Gordon of popular television series The Wild, Wild West, and as Garland Humphrey ‘Red’ Lynch Blake Edwards striking suspense thriller Experiment in Terror 1962, and his pretentious art critic Dale Kingston in Suitable for Framingon Columbo’s 1971 episode co-starring Kim Hunter. Ross is just superb as a menacing figure, showing up in another tele-fright film Skyway to Death, before his death of a heart attack in 1981.
Ned Beattyis another marvelous character actor who’s creepy statement to Jean is chilling a complete departure from the cowering victimized Bobby out of his element in Deliverance1972 who goes through his own ordeal with local hostile types here plays a slovenly cretin, Jean asks for change to use the pay phone, Jim Cutler (Ross Martin) tells her he’s fresh out and Tom (Beatty)- looks straight at her, jingles coins in his pocket and walks over to the pinball machine to play a few rounds. One of his more menacing lines–“The only thing I’m gonna regret, lady, is that I’ll only have ten minutes alone with you before I kill you.”
Dabney Coleman has few lines like this for instance– “These two men happen to be jerks and this… is a dump.”Not quite Bette Davis…
Dana Elcar appears to be a well-meaning but powerless sheriff… Is he part of the conspiracy?
From David Deal’s Television Fright Films of the 1970s –“This story of frustration has the feel of dream logic at first as Jean’s world suddenly turns into a series of unexplainable roadblocks.
Dying Room Only is a film that pushes the trope of paranoia and no-one will believe me. Director Philip Leacock who keeps the film tautly wound, especially during the first half. Leacock worked on many popular television shows of the 1960s. His tele-fright films in the 1970s include When Michael Calls (1972), and Killer on Board (1977).
Composer Charles Foxwas twice nominated for Oscars The Other Side of the Mountain, Foul Play, and won two Emmy’s both for Love American Style. Among his credits are Barbarella 1968, The Green Slime 1968, The Drowning Pool 1975. I just learned that he wrote Killing Me Softly with His Song with lyrics by Norman Gimbel in collaboration with Lori Lieberman in 1972, made famous by amazing songstress Roberta Flack, who gives the most stunning rendition.
If there are devils, there must also be gods. I don’t know. I have no thoughts…
Aired on February 13, 1973, as the CBS Movie of the Week
With a teleplay by Ron Austin and Him Buchanan -and music by Mort Stevens who worked on many Boris Karloff’s anthology series Thriller… Horror at 37,00 Feet is directed by David Lowell Rich
Television Fright Films of the 1970s by David Deal– “Horror at 37,000 Feet is either a meditation on the inherent savagery of the human race on the primal fears and ancient behaviors that tether us to the past, no matter how far we advance with our technology or just a silly horror movie.”
Alan O’ Neill –“You know I think I’m gonna put some black stone on the floor here around the altar”
Sheila O’Neill-“Very nice if you’re planning to use it as a bar”
Alan O’Neill -(laughs) “That’s a little nasty”
Architect Alan O’Neill (Roy Thinnes) appropriates the remains of a cursed abbey from his wife’s familial state in England, loads them onto a plane with the intention of flying them to America and using them in their home. During all this time it also happens to be the night of the summer solstice and I might add, a full moon. A foreboding glowing moon that shines over Heathrow Airport. Once the stones and pieces of the abbey are stowed away safely in the cargo hold, ten passengers board the red-eye flight.
Buddy Ebsen as millionaire Glenn Farlee, Tammy Grimes as Mrs. Pinder, Lynn Loring as Manya Kovalik, Jane Merrowas Alan O’Neill’s wife Sheila, France Nuyen as model Annalik, William Shatner as faithless minister Paul Kovalik, Paul Winfield as Dr. Enkalla, H.M Wynant as Frank Driscoll, a little girl Jodi played by Mia Bendixsen who is flying alone with her doll. And then there’s the crew Chuck Connors as Captain Ernie Slade, Will Hutchins as cowboy Steve Holcolm, Darleen Carras flight attendant Margo, and Russell Johnson as Jim Hawley.
Once everyone settles in, the spirits of the long dead druids break free in the cargo hold and threaten to take over the plane in order to claim their human sacrifice. The tension among the passengers starts to unfold as they try to figure out what the menace is, and what it wants.
Horror at 37,00 Feet is the only credit for V.X. Appleton whose story the film was based on. It was Emmy winning director David Lowell Rich’s first supernatural film for television but he would go on to make the cult favorite Satan’s School for Girls,Runaway! (1973) and another frightening flight film called SST-Death Flight (1977). Rich also made Madame X(1966)with Lana Turner and Eye of the Cat (1969) with Michael Sarrazin, Gayle Hunnicutt and Eleanor Parker and lots of felines…
People might make a comparison with some of the elements of Horror at 37,000 Feet and Cruise Into Terror1978 on a rival network. While the basic framework, passengers board a cursed ship daunted by supernatural powers, Horror at 37,000 Feet just has a campier, creepier more atmospheric mood and sensational theatrics because of it’s cast. In that film, the passengers of a boat are threatened by the son of Satan. Horror at 37,000 Feetutilizes a more nuanced menace, the spirits of ancient druids, which is a totally more unique narrative, as they howl and cause an eerie frosty freezing burning cold throughout the cabin of the airplane as they hunger for their sacrifice. Barry Thomas in charge of the sound department creates some authentically chilling aural scares as the wailing, groaning old ones, and the supernatural static that encircles them…
The ensemble of this horror film might not be too proud of it but it is quite a diverse cast indeed. Tammy Grimes is deliciously eerie in her unbounded knowledge of ancient cults, Lynn Loring as usual is perfectly intense and tightly wound. It’s all so outlandish and campy. Jane Merrow from Hands of the Ripper (1971) plays architect O’Neill’s wife, Sheila. Among the other great actors is millionaire Glen Farlee played by Buddy Ebsen, a Mrs. Pinder Tammy Grimes, who seems too in sync with all things supernatural and sort of sympatico with the druid mythology. There’s a man of god, who has fallen and is having a crisis of faith- drowning himself in alcohol and self pity. Who else could play that without breaking a sweat by the brilliant to happily hammy master most likely hand picked just to re-visit his role as the tormented man on a plane William Shatner as Paul Klovalik… Shatner is not at all a stranger to being terrorized on a plane by strange creatures–if we just think back to a decade before on The Twilight Zone episode Nightmare at 20,000 Feet that aired 10 years before in 1963. Shatner played Bob Wilson crazed by his visions of a monster on the wing of the plane, daunted by a gremlin who is tearing the wing and tinkering with the engine of a plane when no one, not even his wife will believe him much to the fate of the flight.
A film like Hitchcock’s Lifeboat (1944), creates a world of tension as the variety of personalities each respond to the crisis in their own way, not to compare this Movie of the Week with the masterpiece of cinema, Horror at 37,000 Feet is itself an ensemble morality play as much as it is a supernatural story. The tensions, conflicts and personal dynamics are tested by the imminent danger and the doomed fate they are faced with.
Alan (Thinnes) “Are you beyond fear or are you just drunk?”
Paul (Shatner) –“Both but if I were you I’d worry more about your fellow passengers than what ever it is you brought on board”
Things start to go wrong as soon as the flight leaves London as the plane is being mysteriously suspended in mid air going around and around in circles. The mysterious and uncanny entity smashes out of it’s crate in the cargo hold and freezes Mrs Pinder’s dog Damon. The cold then begins to manifest itself inside the cabin. A green boiling oozing Lovecraftian kind of menace reveals itself.
When Captain Slade and Hawley investigate, Hawley is quick-frozen like a bag of organic cauliflower. The evil power rips through the carpeted floor of the plane and an ugly greenish brown ooze bubbles and smokes as ancient unintelligible voices chant. That is how the malevolent entity shows its presence.
Co-Pilot Jim Hawley “Look at this there’s something like moss on the bulk head.”
An evil unspeakable horror that you cannot really see. From the old school of less is more, and it’s what you don’t see that creates more dread. It’s more creepy and effective that way. Sheila O’Neill (Jane Merrow), whose family built the abbey passes out and speaks Latin and hears voices that torment her, calling her name, which prompts Mrs. Pinder to explain a bit about what’s going on.
Paul- “Do you remember what you said when you fainted? (he speaks a Latin phrase)
Sheila “Yes I heard that, one of the voices what does it mean?”
Alan – “Well do you know or don’t ya?”
Paul “It’s from a Black mass…”
Alan “a prayer… to the devil?”
Manya-“or to that thing back there!”
Alan “My wife is imagining things that’s all
Manya “She’s hearing voices…Paul says she was reciting a black mass”
Paul –“I was probably wrong I was a worse scholar than I was a priest”
Mrs.Pinder “It was a man’s voice wasn’t it?”
Sheila -a crazed look in her eyes-“Yes”
Mrs. Pinder “Do you know who that was my dear… ? In 1407 Lord Compton the owner of the land in which the Abbey stood, your ancestor was burned at the stake for heresy and murder. He worshiped the Druid gods. Offered human sacrifices. Members of your own family.”
It seems the abbey was built on a sacred grove of the druids who had performed human sacrifices. Every hundred years at the solstice, the spirits of the ancient druids come back demanding their sacrifice. Mrs. Pinder asserts that it’s Sheila they want. The panic sets in as everyone jumps to wild conclusions for self preservation’s sake, They decide to make a pseudo Sheila, attaching her fingernail clippings and strands of her hair to the little Jodi’s creepy doll. They paint it’s lips red with Sheila’s lipstick. It’s a grotesque site. They try offering that to the spirits who are drawing nearer, only being held off by a fire the passengers have lit, and their safe space is growing smaller with each hour. They try to substitute the doll for Sheila as their sacrifice. The druids aren’t buying it!
Glen Farlee (Buddy Ebsen) has a soliloquy “Maybe she’s right. What other explanation could there be. Everything’s gone crazy!”The plan doesn’t work so the group decides to light a fire on the plane to keep the evil spirits away, and soon the fire burns out and all looks grim. Of course Shatner stands out in this film as the faithless, pessimistic, nihilist defrocked priest Paul Klovalik as he drinks heavily and tries to shut off the chaos surrounding him, feeling helpless and hopeless. “The closer to heaven, the more discordant” and generally dismisses the rest of the passengers bitterly as fools and barbarians.
Paul Kovalik: “You don’t need a priest, Mr. Farlee. You need a parachute….
I’m going to open a bottle of it right now. It might not make me happy. But it will amuse me to think of all of you back here worrying about your lives… as though they were of some importance.”
Shatner certainly isn’t playing this kind of guy, that’s for sure!
At the end Paul Klovalik does find a flicker of faith left and rises to the occasion. But will the ancient old ones, the druids get what they want?
Her task is clear, to find an confront her own murderer!
Aired November 5, 1973, ABC Movie of the Week.
From David Deal’s book Television Fright Films of the 1970s-“Producer-director Dan Curtis had his hand on several intimate productions in the early 1970s, which were shot on videotape in Canada. The Invasion of Carol Enders is one of these. Carol Enders (Meredith Baxter) and her fiance Adam Reston Christopher Connelly are attacked while spooning in lover’s lane and Carol is seriously injured when she attempts to escape. Meanwhile, Diana Bernard (Sally Kemp) the wife of a doctor, is fatally injured in an automobile accident. Both patients are sent to the same hospital. and Carol makes a miraculous recovery just as Diana dies. Upon Awakening, Carol claims in very convincing terms to be Diana. When the police determine that Diana was murdered, Carol/Diana leaves the hospital to find the killer. This mild-mannered story of possession will not appeal to those with a fancy for the macabre. It plays more like a soap opera mystery that happens to have a kernel of the supernatural driving the action.”
The story is by Merwin Gerard whose list of credits include tele-fright films, The Screaming Woman (1972) starring the great Olivia de Havilland, The Victim (1972) and She Cried Murder (1973) The story was adapted by Gene Raser Kearney. Kearney wrote several Night Gallery episodes for Rod Serling and my cult favorite Games (1967) starring Simone Signoret and Katherine Ross, directed by Curtis Harrington and Night of the Lepus (1972) —Giant killer bunnies, ehh not so much…
Meredith Baxter was in the midst of her breakthrough television series Bridget Loves Bernie in 1972 when she did this film. She also appeared in Ben in 1972 and the other film I covered directed by Harrington, The Cat Creature. Her most famous roles aside from tele-films were of course as Nancy on the thoughtful nighttime drama Family 1976-1980 starring Sada Thompson and Kristy McNichol then she went on to play Elyse on Family Ties in the 80s.
Peyton Place alumnus the handsome Christopher Connelly plays Adam Reston and familiar character actor Charles Adiman plays Dr. Peter Bernard both are good at playing the perplexed husband routine. Connelly’s Adam Reston even helps the police in their investigation, playing an important part in solving the mystery. Dan Curtis favorite John Karlen plays Diana’s ex-husband David Hastings, the number one suspect in her death. George DiCenzo plays Dr. Palmer and Sally Kemp is Diana Bernard.
Carol-“I knew Diana, probably better than anyone. She was hard on you David, a lot harder than you deserved.”
Dan Curtis has executive producer credit on this film. and an un-credited nod for direction because several snippets of footage–including Diana’s car crash are taken from his tele-fright The Norliss Tapes, which aired the same year. Some sources list the film as having aired on March 8 1974, some claim it was released in 1973. I’m choosing to include it in my feature here as a 1973 release.
Director Burt Brinkerhoff was an actor, mainly on television in the 50s and 60s and this was his first film as director. He would go on to make the horror film Dogs, and yet another television adaptation of Frankenstein in 1987.
The film plays more like a murder mystery/thriller, but you cannot escape the supernatural narrative that exists, references to India where the air was “thick with the spirits of the dead, it was like incense.”
The Possession of Joel Delaney came out in 1972 and The Reincarnation of Peter Proud came out in 1975, Audrey Rose came out in 1977. The subject of reincarnation was threaded throughout the 1970s as an appealing and uncanny, almost taboo trend.
Continuing with my series on Science Fiction Films of the 1950s, though 1952 seems sparse in comparison to lets say 1956 & 1958, there was definitely a prevailing theme… fear of communist invasion! My favorite picture for this year would have to be watching Hildegarde Knef torment Erich von Stroheim in director Arthur Maria Rabenalt’s ALRAUNE, though Brigitte Helm’s 1928 portrayal of the soulless beauty born of sin is quinteseentially sublime.
Born outside the laws of God and man!-the fruit of evil!
Directed by Arthur Maria Rabenalt, based on the novel by Hanns Heinz Ewers published in 1913. Starring Hildegard Knef as Alraune, Erich von Stroheim as Dr. Jacob ten Brinken, Karlheinz Böhm ( Of director Michael Powell’sPeeping Tom (1960)) as Frank Braun, Harry Meyen as Count Geroldingen, Rolf Henniger as Wolf Goutram, Harry Halm as Doctor Mohn.
Viennese director Rabenalt is better known for his Nazi propaganda films and for countless operettas, lederhosen and heimatschmalz. Considered a tech-noir film import from outside the U.S.A., included among Spaceways(England 1953) The H-Man (Japan 1958) and Atom Age Vampire (Italy 1961)
The story was first filmed in 1918 and then in 1928 & 1930 with Brigitte Helm which was a beautifully films version. Brigitte Helm among dolls — Alraune 1928 silent- possesses an eroticism
Stroheim broods and over-acts in his inimitable way and Hildegarde Knef is exquisite. ten Brinken (von Stroheim) collects a the semen of a hanged murderer at the gallows, and takes this seed and inseminates a prostitute. What he creates is a ‘daughter’ Alraune–who is incapable of feeling ‘love’ or having emotional human connections with voracious sexual appetites, portrayed as almost demonic or like a succubus.
the Cinematography of Friedl Behn-Grund (Murderers Among Us 1946, Confessions of Felix Krull 1957 and Titantic 1943) paints an expressionist foray into a moralistic fairytale of good & evil love & hate sin and redemption.
The film is dark and uncanny as Alraune mesmerizes every male she meets, while ten Brinken becomes more and more perversely sexually obsessed with his beautiful but unfeeling archetypal dark-eve.
The film has an awkward atmosphere about it as if it’s trying to be a the threshold of new medical research blended with the profane and taboo science of artificial insemination, Gothic romance fantasy and man’s desire to conquer reproduction. The fetish of creating life, controlling it as if becoming god-like, the question of individuality, morality and the seed of moral instinct and sin–misfire in shocking and dreadful ways.
Erich von Stroheim—as ten Brinken shows Karlheinz Böhm or Karl Boehm the diary and where Alraune’s mother came from “I made a long search for her in the convent of Hamburg.”
When ten Brinken (von Stroheim) is in the lab and sees Frank out in the garden with Alraune he asks Doctor Moh (Harry Halm) his associate “Did he kiss her”
Alraune-“ They were all in love with me and they all died and I killed them… You mustn’t stay I bring destruction. “
Frank-“You can’t believe that there’s something strange and different about you. You’re a human being like anyone else.”
Alraune- “You could never forget that I’m trained from birth. My life began as a horrible crime that I was part of a foolish experiment.”
Frank –“Alraune how can you say that… no one is all good or all evil. If only the bad were inherited then the world would be a HELL..”
Alraune-“In me there is no good-look where I came from. I was brought into being by the evil thoughts of a depraved man.”
Frank-“The crime was to bring you into the world and then to raise you without love. The plaything of insanity. Who ever is brought up without love is sick. You were never evil, you were sick. I won’t let you stay here. You must go away.”
At that moment von Stroheim shoots Alraune being carried by Boehm and Alraune begins to die.
ten Brinken (vonStorheim) says-“No one else should have have!”
ALRAUNE’S last words before he dies– “Now the toy is broken-the crime against nature that God didn’t want.”
BELA LUGOSI FINDS THE PERFECT GOOF TO TURN A GORILLA INTO A HUMAN AND VERSA VISA!
Directed by William Beaudinewho started out doing shorts in pre 1920s and directed several superior police procedural/noir/ dramatic Naked Citytelevision episodes in 1958, (The Living Ghost 1942, The Ape Man 1943, Ghosts on the Loose 1943, Mystery of the 13th Guest 1943, The Face of Marble 1946, Forgotten Women 1949, Billy the Kid vs Dracula 1966)
This is the only film that actually featured Bela Lugosi’s name in the title. It co-stars the comedy team Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo who is trying to take off on actor/comedian Jerry Lewis with several more doses of whiny asininery and though he might actually look like him, is not at all funny.
Duke Mitchell: You know, someday I’m gonna let you fry in your own grease!
Sammy Petrillo: Could you make it chicken fat, maybe?
Unfortunately the team does not nearly come close to touching the brilliant pairing of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Petrillo only did a handful of bit part appearances, Shangri-La (1961), The Brain that Wouldn’t Die (1962) Keyholes are for Peeping (1972) and Out to Lunch (1977)
As Phil Hardy states about the state of Bela Lugosi’s career at the time, “already bedevilled by management, money, marital and drug problems, is the star of this awful piece.”
Technically a screwball comedy starring, it still seems to want to fall into the mold of science fiction as it involves a mad scientist and a formula.
Mitchell and Petrillo play night club performers who are entertaining the troops in Guam who fall out of an airplane and land on an a South Sea island. Nona (Charlita) finds them and takes them back to her father, chief Rakos (Al Kukime). Nona convinces her father to spare their lives. The unfunny pair also meet Dr. Zabor played by our lovable yet tired actor by this time without some of the nuanced dialogue he had been given in the 30s & 40s… Bela Lugosi. Zabor is a scientist who is performing clandestine experiments on gorillas trying to transform them into people. He is obsessed with Nona, and when Duke catches her eye, Zabor injects him with the serum and turns him into what else but a gorilla!
Sammy at some point figures out that it’s his friend Duke when the gorilla begins singing “Deed I Do” by Walter Hirsch and Fred Rose.
Sammy Petrillo: This looks like Death not only took a holiday, but he got a hangover from taking it.
Directed by Stuart Gilmore (44 editor credits including- Sullivan’s Travels 1941, The Palm Beach Story 1942, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek 1944, Two for the Seesaw 1962, Toys in the Attic 1963, and The Andromeda Strain 1971), stars Robert Clarke as Robert, Margaret Field as Ruth, Gloria Saunders as Catherine, Ron Randall as Ridden, Stuart Randall as Gordon, Robert Bice as Bram Paula Dorety as first Captive, Chili Williams as second Captive, William Schallert as Carver. Once again some of the images are courtesy of matte painter Irving Block (Rocketship X-M 1950, Forbidden Planet 1956, Kronos 1957)
Not to be mistaken with Captive Wild Women (1943) starring John Carradine!
In a post-apocalyptic New York City, three tribes of mutants (the Norms, the Mutates and the Upriver people) battle each other to survive.
When Aubrey Wisberg and Jack Pollexfen saw they success they had with The Man from Planet X (1951)(incidentally re-using the cast once again, Margaret Field, Robert Clarke and William Schallert) they decided to try another science fiction story which had a British title originally called 3000 A.D. & 1000 Years from Now which reflect a much more science fiction sensibility that Captive Women which evokes that trend of jungle/adventure pictures. Howard Hughes who was running RKO at the time, decided to use the more sensationalist film title.
After the world is destroyed by an atomic bomb, the survivors in our story concern three tribes who hunt each other down throughout the desolate ruins of New York City. First there are the Norms who by virtue of their name tell us that they haven’t been effected by the nuclear fall out. The Mutates led by Riddon (Ron Randall) , are ancestors who have been deformed by the passing down of their mutated genes, and go on raids of the subterranean tribe of Norms to conquer their women who are portrayed as beautiful and perfect for procreation which the Mutates would like to cleanse their lineage of the mutation they have suffered and begin to have healthy offspring. Then there is the last tribe, the Upriver People who are an evil bunch who are violent and worship the devil- ruthlessly led by Gordon (Stuart Randall)
When the Upriver People attack, the Norm leaders Riddon and Rob (Robert Clarke) take off, finding the Mutates are willing to help them hide out. One of the Norm women Ruth (Margaret Field) falls in love with Riddon.
William Schallert plays Carver who has been banished by the Mutate tribe, winds up betraying them and showing Gordon the secret passage under the Hudson River, a tunnel that leads to the Mutate’s camp in New Jersey. In an ironic twist, during a battle between the tribes, the Upriver People are drowned. Though the story is very dark and brooding, there is a tinge of hope that with the budding romance between Riddon and Ruth they may begin a new civilization where all tribes work together.
Early on in the 1950s Rocketship X-M (1951) and Arch Oboler’s Five (1951) both dealt with the consequences of a nuclear holocaust, Captive Women plays out less about the effects of the atomic fallout weaving the story around the different factions of tribes that are trying to forge their own society in a post-apocalyptic world. People have regressed back to a time of primal necessity (well they aren’t much different today are they), to survive, to procreate to prevail over other threatening tribes… the nuclear warfare has changed the look and function of the world and it’s survivors. Humanity is all about biological need and the misogynistic tribal-warfare narrative drives the story. Man vs man, man needs woman, woman gets dragged off like a piece of property. Some tribes are worse than others…
The Hollywood Reporter said, “Captive Women was a ‘pretentious, long winded dissertation on the bleak future lying ahead… While the intent is certainly laudable, the pompous, hackneyed dialogue and the stilted performances make this… a long 64 minutes.” In Daily Variety “Is strictly for the exploitation houses.”
In The Monthly Film Bulletin called it an ‘unattractive farrago’ they also said- “preposterous story contrives to be both childish and absurd.”
THEY PUSH A BUTTON AND VAST CITIES VANISH BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES! (1956 re-release)
Producer Albert Zugsmith worked with director Douglas Sirk on a few classics-was at a time the house producer for Universal -International, including Touch of Evil 1955, Written on the Wind 1956, The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957, The Tarnished Angels 1958,
Invasion U.S.A. is directed by Alfred E. Green (Baby Face 1933, The Jolson Story 1946)
Albuert Zugsmith’s cheap exploitation film is a bleak journey laced with doom, scaremongering and feasting off of the vitals of paranoia of the McCarthy era Communist invasion scare, and plays off the worst of our fears back in the 1950s –the film did more as a propaganda piece than a truly insightful science fiction thriller. Using stock footage from World War II army training films.
From Bill Warren’s book Keep Watching the Skies–he cites In a letter to the New York Times, Larry Evans said the film seemed to be claiming “that peace is merely a space between wars”
A largely forgotten film that plays on the fears about communism featuring Dan O’Herlihy as a mysterious stranger who hypnotizes a group of people in a New York City bar and makes them believe that the Cold War is over and Russians have launched an all out atomic attack.
The film opens in a New York City bar littered with a variety of characters, you know the counter-intuitive groups of people who’s sensibilities will no doubt span the spectrum of American taste. They are involved in a heated discussion about the universal draft. Gerald Mohr plays Vince a television reporter interested in controversy and high octane filled conversations that stoke ideas,while Peggy Castle plays Ruth who isn’t too keen on the idea herself. Then there’s the cross section of America, the tractor manufacturer George Sylvester played by Robert Bice who is too pleased with his own success refusing to convert his plant over so the military in order to make weapons. Then there’s the rancher Ed Mulfory played by Erik Blythe who is on the attack against the system. Illinois Congressman Arthur V. Harroway is portrayed by Wade Crosby who goes off on his own rant about tax increases because of all the defense appropriations.
Dan O’Herlihy plays Mr. Ohman who expresses himself very carefully presenting himself as a ‘forecaster’ and tells the group that the future all depends on how we as a people will act presently.
Suddenly the television set in the bar becomes the focus as there is an emergency announcement that enemy troops have invaded Alaska and are now heading toward Washington to attack! The group in the bar scramble to get to where they need to be, the pall of doom hanging over everyone’s certain fate.
Before the various characters involved wake up from their trance they all die horrible deaths, plunging form the top of a skyscraper, drowning etc.
Vince goes back to his television studio to try and report that the enemy troops are invading Oregon, taking over air bases, bombing cities and devastating important landmarks all over the West.
The rancher returns home and he and his family are drowned when Hoover Dam is A-bombed. The manufacturer is shot dead in his office by his window washer who was actually a spy. The enemy is never clearly specified but the idea that they start their invasion with Alaska which is not far from Russia let’s us know who we are truly afraid of in this film.
Finally enemy troops not only descend upon Washington D.C. where the Congressman is shot to death while giving a speech, they reach Manhattan and set off another A-bomb- a scene which the film boasts as it’s only special effects sequence. Carla who worked for the Red Cross dies, and so does Vince, unfortunately there was no time for their budding romance to bud…
With many fantasy/horror/science fiction type stories that allow second chances or glimpses into the dangerous tomorrows, the scene at the bar shows all slowly awakening as if from a trance. Mr. Ohman has placed them into some sort of illuminatory stasis now giving them back precious time to go into the world and perform good deeds in the name of “Eternal Vigilance”
From Bill Warren’s Keep Watching the Skies“Russian MiGs are shown and some of the stock footage used is printed reversed left to right so that the letters are backward This was to make them look Cryillic and therefore, Russian According to Larry Evans’ letter quoted earlier , The American Mercury, then the self -appointed mouth piece of anti-communism , Anti-Unamerican fanatics is shown in the film. The message in Invasion U.S.A isn’t just that we should consider the possibility that another war and one with the communist nations in particular will take place, but that we should actively prepare for one to the point of providing arms & trained propaganda newscasters actually here fomenting the inevitable conflict.?
Hedda Hopper allowed her name to be used with the advertising of the film and it’s posters saying-“It will scare the pants off you” Edwin Schallert in the Los Angeles Times quotes the cheap exploitation picture by saying, ‘there is still a modicum of high suspense running through the production, and perhaps even something to cause audiences to think.”
Newscaster: The big mystery now is why have no cities been attacked? Why did the enemy throw away surprise yet fail to drop a single atom bomb?
Mr. Ohman: I think America wants new leadership.
Vince Potter: What kind of leadership do you suggest?
Mr. Ohman: I suggest a wizard.
Vince Potter: A what?
Mr. Ohman: A wizard, like Merlin, who could kill his enemies by wishing them dead. That’s the way we like to beat Communism now, by wishing it dead.