The Embracing Fortitude of An Obliging AfterLife: The Kindly Ghost

THE CANTERVILLE GHOST 1947

One of my favorite film makers, Jules Dassin’s 1944 whimsical romp starring the always wonderful Charles Laughton as the cowardly, lovable and brooding, Sir Simon de Canterville. Also starring pixie Margaret O’Brien and Robert Young. Based on Oscar Wilde’s story of the 17th century cowardly Sir Simon who runs from a duel, only to be sealed into a room by his father who is ashamed of his son. Doomed to roam the castle until his American kin Cuffy can break the curse and set him free.

THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES 1946

Directed by Charles Barton this haunted history lesson stars the iconic comedy duo Bud Abbott and Lou Costello with Marjorie Reynolds. Lou plays Horatio Prim. Bud Abbott plays a dual role as Dr Ralph Greenway the ancestor of Cuthbert Greenway. The beautiful Marjorie plays Melody Allen. Horatio and Melody have been condemned as traitors during the Revolutionary War, and now must try and track down a letter from George Washington proving their innocence. There is a hilarious scene with a pair of women’s under things running down the stairs scaring the bejesus out of Gale Sondergaard.

THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR 1947

Directed by another favorite of mine Joseph L Mankiewicz and starring again, one of my all time favorite screen beauties, Gene Tierney as Mrs. Lucy Muir who moves into an old sea captain’s cottage only to find it inhabited by Captain Daniel Cregg played by the marvelously droll and often irascible Rex Harrison. This is such a poignantly well told story of a gruff and hearty love that reaches from beyond the grave.


TOPPER 1937

Cary Grant and Constance Bennett (Marion and George Kerby) drive way too reckless. After realizing that they have died, they decide to have some fun with their uptight friend Cosmo Topper played by Roland Young. Directed by Norman McLeod

PORTRAIT OF JENNIE 1948

Another beautifully poetic haunted romance directed by yet again, a favored director of mine William Dieterle. Starring the effervescent Jennifer Jones and everyman actor Joseph Cotten. Jones plays Jennie Appleton and Cotten is Eben Adams the struggling painter she inspires. Great performances by Ethel Barrymore,Lillian Gish and Cecil Kellaway. Is Jennie real or merely a dream?

AND OF COURSE THIS CUTE LITTLE GUY!


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Grande Dame/Guignol Cinema: Robert Aldrich’s Hag Cinema Part III Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte “He’ll Love You Til He Dies”

Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964)

 

Directed by Robert Aldrich, written by Henry Farrell, who also wrote What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), How Awful About Allan (1970) and the made for tv film The Eyes of Charles Sand (1972) scripted by Lukas Heller and Farrell. Starring, the legendary Bette Davis as Charlotte Hollis and Olivia de Havilland as cousin Miriam Dearing, Joseph Cotten as Drew. The inimitable Agnes Moorehead as Velma Cruthers. Cecil Kellaway as Harry Mills and Victor Buono as Big Sam Hollis,  Mary Astor as Jewel Mayhew and a very young Bruce Dern as John Mayhew. George Kennedy as the foreman and extra recasting of Wesley Addy as Sheriff Luke Standish and Dave Willock from Baby Jane.

Aldrich apparently had another hit with his 2nd genre film, which opened to generally positive reviews. With the exception of this scathing review in The New York Times, by Bosley Crowther who couldn’t have been more off the mark, he writes “So calculated and coldly carpentered is the tale of murder, mayhem and deceit that Mr. Aldrich stages in this mansion that it soon appears grossly contrived, purposely sadistic and brutally sickening. So, instead of coming out funny, as did Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? it comes out grisly, pretentious, disgusting and profoundly annoying.”

Again, I wholly disagree with Crowther, as this film wasn’t meant to be as campy as Baby Jane, and “funny” is an odd word for the film as well, nor was there an unwritten rule that said Aldrich, had to restrain some of the grisly details from this picture. I don’t believe chaining an invalid to a bed, feeding them road kill and slowly starving them to death, is the less disgusting proposal. And as far as being brutally sickening, I see Charlotte as a hauntingly nightmarish allegory.

Let me say that I loved Peter Shelley’s book. He compiled some great examples of the genre and added a lot of information and insight to the subject matter, I was with him all the way, so the few points of divergence in our opinions of Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte aren’t a slight to the author at all. According to Peter Shelley in his Grande Dame Guignol Cinema: A History of Hag Horror from Baby Jane to Mother , chapter on Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte the film suffered from the absence of Joan Crawford. Shelley considered the follow up film to be a “bloated reprisal of the pivotal components of the earlier film” (pg.57). Actually I think quite the contrary about this suspenseful, understated film. It has less feeling of a”bloated” extension of the first Hag film, as Charlotte appears more distilled, virtually more refined in it’s subtle use of hallucinatory machinations, with a very cogent argument for Charlotte’s sustained ire and melancholy. Shelley considers the location an attempt to surpass the Grande Guignol aspect of it’s predecessor by placing it in a southern Gothic milieu, the Ascension Parish but he thinks it fails with it’s “florid exoticism” again because it lacks the electrifying cast choice by not rejoining Crawford and Davis. Additionally, I say too much of a good thing becomes a device therefor a reuniting of the two would have minimized the impact that the prior collaboration by both film stars made with Baby Jane. I think that Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte is perhaps even an elegant piece and stands well on it’s own, as a taut psychological standpoint of the regressive woman and at it’s very essence is an ideal Grande Dame film.

I think Crawford would have brought a certain purposeful intensity that worked for her in so many films, but would have overshadowed the interplay between Davis’s Charlotte and Olivia de Havilland’s subtle malignant charm of her characterization of cousin Miriam. Supposedly after the great success of Baby Jane, Crawford agreed to do a follow up film. Aldrich encouraged writer Henry Farrell to create a new story called “What Ever Happened To Cousin Charlotte?” Bette Davis asked that the title be changed to fit the line from the song. And so Aldrich agreed and Davis signed on. Crawford however wanted her name to come first on the credits, unlike Baby Jane where Davis’s name appeared left of screen or side by side. Leftward being the more pronounced association as the star. Bette Davis even agreed to this provision. Once shooting began in Baton Rouge on June 4th 1964 Davis only got to film one scene with Crawford, where she watches Crawford enter the mansion. Otherwise they never did another scene together from that point on. The production was put on hold because Davis was called away to finish some re-shoots on Where Love Has Gone in Los Angeles. Continue reading “Grande Dame/Guignol Cinema: Robert Aldrich’s Hag Cinema Part III Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte “He’ll Love You Til He Dies””

The Killer Is Loose: Gutsy Crime Noir: Get Lila (1956)

Part of my women in peril series

The Killer is Loose (1956) directed by Budd Boetticher revolves around a bank robbery in downtown L.A. While the police have set up a wiretapping operation it is revealed that the meek bank teller Leon Poole is the inside man. Leon had faked going after the robbers and getting struck by one of them in the process. This impresses his old army Sargent who was in the bank at the time. We learn that the nickname Foggy was given to Leon by his superior officer and the entire company apparently to poke fun at Leon” Foggy” Poole for being a simple minded coward. Starring Joseph Cotten as Detective Sam Wagner, Rhonda Fleming as his wife Lila, and Wendell Corey as Leon “Foggy”Poole.

During the apprehension of Leon, detective Sam Wagner accidentally kills Poole’s young wife who wasn’t supposed to be home, and at Leon’s trial he swears to get back at Detective Wagner, while staring at Detective Wagner’s wife who is present in the courtroom.

This is the inception of the woman in peril theme once Leon sets his gaze on Sam’s wife Lila the object of his hatred fixed on her from here on in.

In a very chilling manner, Leon asks why Sam’s wife Lila should still be alive. Leon’s lack of affect shows us a more deranged man than someone who might be prone to violent outburst, and it is this subtlety of his underlying psychosis that is so frightening.

About three years later, Poole (until then a model prisoner) abruptly takes his chance to kill a guard and escape. It’s clear during the ensuing manhunt that Poole is obsessed in pursuit of a single end; but not quite the end everyone supposes.

After serving 3 years in prison, Leon gets assigned to an “honor” work farm, where because of his mild manner and seemingly model behavior is trusted to go on a ride with one of the prison guards to unload a truck. Leon seizes the opportunity to escape by brutally killing the driver, and then proceeds on his odyssey of revenge. Like a shark that never stops moving, Leon is driven only by his desire to exact the same outcome for Detective Wagner, to target Lila as retribution for the killing of his beloved wife. Leon becomes a killing machine. Going from one opportunistic murder to the next until he can reach Sam’s wife. So begins the full scale manhunt for the killer on the loose.

Budd Boetticher gives us a very bleak yet dramatic landscape of America’s man vs society, cop vs criminal, good vs evil. Like some of the wild west pictures that Boetticher is known for, except here it’s played out in an urban city setting. Leon is a man set on revenge with no other driving desire, and void of a consciousness that we can see.

Killer is uncompromisingly realistic and often brutal in it’s portrayal of the ordinary machinations of a psychotic murderer, especially for it’s time. I’m not a huge Rhonda Fleming fan, but I do love Joseph Cotten in anything even his later cult and horror period like Baron Blood, Airport ’77 and Soylent Green.

The really memorable star of this gutsy Mise en scene police vs criminal noir, is the killer himself Leon “Foggy” Poole played brilliantly by Wendell Corey who defined his sober character with simplicity, and an almost naivete childlike quality. This is what makes the film so compelling. That Leon doesn’t understand why he shouldn’t kill the people who are getting in the way of his fixing Detective Sam Wagner for having inadvertently killing Leon’s wife during a raid on his apartment.

Wendell Corey’s Leon never comes across as unhinged in an overt way, it’s the way he holds back his emotions that makes his killer enigmatic and makes your skin crawl.

There are moments of exasperation in The Killer Is Loose for me. The police often miss the mark when trying to effectively do their job, and I find Rhonda Fleming’s character as Sam’s wife Lila annoying most of the time.I  was more sympathetic for Mary, the wife of Sam’s partner’s Michael Pate (Curse Of the Undead)Detective Chris Gillespie’s played by great character actress Virginia Christine.

Still, The Killer Is Loose is a compelling watch, because of it’s existential informality in some of the more  brutal moments which are powerful. The tone of Killer overrode the failings of this film for me and so  I was able to separate myself from the few things that irked me like Lila’s stubborn harping and the police’s ineffectual fumblings.

There are some other great veteran actors in this film like the always jovial Alan Hale Jr and John Larch who plays Otto Flanders, Foggy’s superior officer in the army who gave him that nickname Foggy as an insult.

MonsterGirl’s Quote of the day! Dr Phibes

“Love means never having to say, you’re ugly”

The Abominable Dr Phibes” ( 1971 )