Remember My Name- Alan Rudolph, Robert Altman, Geraldine Chaplin, Anthony Perkins

Written by Joe D on April 8th, 2013

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What a cool movie! I just saw it on YouTube. A great story that unfolds like a mystery, simple, compelling, intriguing. Geraldine Chaplin is wonderful as a crazy, obsessed waif who can kill you. Nobody messes with this tiny beauty and gets away with it. Ans as you watch the film you realize she is sort of a female Charlie Chaplin, she looks a lot like him, she is such a wonderful actress, in this film and the Carlos Saura films she did, I am a true fan of her talent.

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Anthony Perkins is excellent too, so is Moses Gunn and a super skinny nerdy Jeff Goldblum. The way Geraldine plays all these people is amazing, it’s like she’s a ghost that can just walk into their lives, they don’t see her unless she wants them to. She actually is a kind of ghost from Tony Perkin’s past, and the way she causes Moses Gunn to fall for her is wonderful, a tough manager of an L.A. flophouse, he’s heard it all and seen it all. Nobody can break through his hard exterior except her, Emily. She has the guy loaning her money and doing chores for her in no time flat. And she is beautiful with her hair tied up in a classic style, transformed by buying a nice dress at a classy shop. this movie is kind of a paen to dedication, single minded attacking a problem, not letting anything stop you, and what a person can accomplish.

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Another interesting highlight is the score, which consists of songs by the great Alberta Hunter, she was recently (when this film was made) re-discovered and made some amazing music in her later days. Another factor you’d never see in a movie today.And the movie was produced by the late great Robert Altman, a real American maverick. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting him once at an early screening of The Player. I had an idea for a cut so I told Altman’s publicist, and lo and behold he liked it and implemented it. It’s fitting that he produced this film,  Alan Rudolph worked with Altman on some of his films as Assistant Director, Nahville, California Split, and The Long Goodbye.

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Alan Rudolph- Super Genius
This film falls into one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite genres, female revenge movies. It is one of the most powerful types of film story out there, so compelling by it’s essence.  To me this film is the true extension of Film Noir, like Altman’s Long Goodbye, PostModern Film Noir. Future filmmakers, be inspired by this film! It shows you what a great story, excellent acting, and great storytelling technique can do, make an entertaining, thought provoking film, without special effects or zombies. Check this out.

The Chase -Peter Lorre, Bob Cummings, Steve Cochran

Written by Joe D on March 23rd, 2013

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What a cool movie! Dripping with atmosphere and featuring some powerful performances especially from Steve Cochran and Peter Lorre.
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Lorre is one of my favorite all time film actors, check out Friz Lang’s M if you haven’t seen it. Cochran has one of the most distinct physical presences in films, his nastiness  just shoots off the screen in a way like no other actor. He’s just a bad dude.

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Bob Cummings is the perfect American everyman, sort of innocent, shocked by what he saw in WWII, messed up but a good egg. He brings to mind a comment Quentin Tarantino made to me about Joseph Cotten, “I love Joseph Cotten, he’s so weak.” Cummings is kind of in that category, but Cotten always had that down at his heels ex-Southern gentleman thing going on, Cummings is just from small town nowheresville.

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This film is a kind of confluence of many strange and wonderful things. Based on a book by noir maestro Cornell Woolrich called The Black Path Of Fear, (I ordered a copy) it’s film noir pedigree could not be higher, I believe Woolrich had more novels made into film noirs than anyone else,( I include Val Lewtons The Leopard Man, and Truffaut’s Bride wore Black and Mississippi Mermaid).

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The Producer Seymour Nebenzal produced Lang’s M, which Lorre starred in, the director , Arthur Ripley,was an old hand that got started in the silent days and would go on to direct Robert Mitchum’s Thunder Road and found the UCLA film school. Michele Morgan, the blond femme fatale, is still alive and living in France. A friend of mine (Duke Haney)reminded me that she was having her home built while this movie was being made,  A kind of French Chalet that would go down in infamy some years later, 10050 Cielo Drive, scene of the grisly Manson murders of Sharon Tate, Abigail Folger, Voychek Frykowski, Jay Sebring and Steven Parent.

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Michele Morgan at her Cielo Drive home

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The camerman was the amazing Franz Planer, a Vienese transplant who emigrated to escape the Nazis. Planer also shot the beautiful, atmospheric noir Criss Cross for Robert Siodmak. His photography is nothing short of amazing. There is a wonderful sequence of a black limousine racing a locomotive at night , it’s a tour de force of miniatures, rear projection, great low angle shots of Lorre driving, shot through the steering wheel.

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The film is in the public domain now, you can watch it on Youtube, but I just learned it was restored by UCLA and screened recently, unfortunately I missed it. Hopefully they will screen it again soon or at a noir festival.

Youth Runs Wild

Written by Joe D on January 10th, 2013

youth-runs-wild-1-1024.jpgFinally thanks to Youtube I had a chance to see Youth Runs Wild, the Val Lewton produced RKO film that’s eluded me for a long time. Was it worth the wait? Well, yes and no. An interesting premiss, youngsters running wild due to lack of parental supervision, owing to the fact that most parents were either overseas or working in WWII related industries.

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A LOOK Magazine story about a teenaged girl that started a Youth Club was the impetus for this project but once Lewton got involved he transformed it from a puff piece about wholesome Timmy and Jennie playing skittles in the church basement to a searing indictment of child neglect, abuse, and exploitation. This didn’t sit well with the brass at RKO, the State Department or even LOOK magazine so drastic re-editing was called for and Lewton disgusted at the end result asked that his name be taken off the project.  What remains holds clues to what might have been, Lawrence Tierney’s performance as a corrupter of youth, garage owner. Fencing stolen tires, in big demand due to War rationing. Tierney claimed in an interview that his character sold drugs to kids as well in the original version.

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Dickie Moore in Out Of The Past
Dickie Moore, one time Little Rascal and the deaf mute sidekick to Robert Mitchum in Out Of The Past appears and is often complaining about the treatment he gets from his father, in Lewton’s cut little Dickie offs his abusing psycho padre with a rifle.

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Dickie with chicks in Youth Runs Wild
The ending really comes from out of nowhere, hacked on by a studio hatchet man, a bizarre montage about the teenaged girl that started her Youth Club, trying to shuck and grin the film back to pure propaganda niceness.  A few other noteworthy items, John Fante is credited as screenwriter, the author of the wonderous Ask The Dust, one of Bukowski’s (and mine) favorite L.A. novels. Fante knew his way around abusive, alcoholic parents, check out some of his other novels.  YRW was directed by Mark Robson, Lewton’s pet director, elevated from the editing room to the director’s chair by Lewton on The Seventh Victim after cutting several films for Lewton including Cat P_eople, The Leopard Man, and the incomparable I walked With A Zombie. Robson later repaid Lewton for his help by cutting him out of an independent production company deal and having his agent deliver the bad news.  Vanessa Brown plays an overworked, abused teenager lured into prostitution by an older wiser babe and in one scene she sports a flowery coif that I am pretty sure inspired Beth Short, the Black Dahlia to imitate.

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Vanessa Brown with RKO stalwart Kent Smith

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Life Imitates Art

 Short probably related to the character Brown played. Brunette, sexy beyond her young years, struggling to make ends meet, hustling drinks in Hollywood Wartime nightclubs. Fascinating stuff. But anyway you too can watch via Youtube and judge for yourself. Too bad no copy of Lewton’s original cut remains. The trims and outs were probably burned to reclaim the 20 cents worth of silver in the emulsion, just like the missing parts of Orson Wells Magnificent Ambersons.

WatchYouth Runs Wild  for yourself  on Youtube!

Deadhead Miles

Written by Joe D on February 29th, 2012

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This is a film I’ve heard about for many years and now finally it can be seen, thanks to Netflix streaming. Written by the great Terrence Malick a couple years before he directed his masterpiece Badlands, Deadhead Miles is a paean to the open road, a picaresque tale of two and eventually one traveler. That one traveler is played by Alan Arkin, a terrific performance and one of the weirdest Southern accents ever. Arkin is the driver of the big rig of destiny. Beautiful cinematography, 35mm, rich color,awe inspiring landscapes, 1971 locations make this movie a kind of low ball visual feast. And a cool country music score, by Tom T. Hall. A great supporting cast, including some real gems.

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But the reason I knew about this movie is that a friend of mine worked on it. Bud Smith, great editor of such films as The Exorcist, Putney Swope, Cat People, Zoot Suit, Sorcerer, Personal Best and many other films, told me about his time on Deadhead Miles. Bud was hired to edit the film, he stayed in Los Angeles while the crew shot on location and sent the film back. Bud cut the film as it came in. At the end of the shoot the director took a few weeks off to recuperate from the rigors of a road movie. When he came into the editing room Bud was ready with his first cut of the movie. They screened it. The director said,” Can you take that all apart and put it back in dailies?” Bud said, ” You mean there’s nothing in there that you like?” ” Yes, that’s exactly what I mean.” “Well, I guess you got the wrong guy to work on your film.” And with that Bud left. Tony Bill , the producer, wisely duped Bud’s cut before having it disassembled and after a little while Mr. Bill fired the director. The new editor used Bud’s original cut for a lot of the film which then languished in obscurity until now. So check it out, a unique film.

Val Lewton Returns!

Written by Joe D on July 26th, 2011

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Here is the 3rd installment in my Val Lewton article extravaganza! This time it’s from Life Magazine. It’s mainly about Bedlam , the last of Lewton’s films for RKO, notable for it’s use of Hogarth prints as inspiration. Then there’s a short section on Lewton and a great photo of him in a screening room. Val got a lot of good press. Lewton constantly amazed his contemporaries by producing quality period films on a minuscule budget. His techniques are still well worth studying .

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More Val Lewton!

Written by Joe D on July 9th, 2011

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As promised, I’m posting a scan of another article about the great Val Lewton. This one is from Liberty magazine back in 1946. This was just after Lewton left RKO for Paramount, where he would be morassed in political intrigue and backbiting. It was not a good move for Val. This article is  sort of an overview of the Horror film  genre with special emphasis on Lewton. By the way I just got another old film magazine with an article on Curse Of The Cat People and a remembrance by DeWitt Bodeen, writer of said film. I’ll post that one soon as well.

Here’s the linkLiberty Horrors

Mark Robson remembers RKO, Val Lewton

Written by Joe D on July 4th, 2011

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Here as promised is a scan of a great article from an old issue of The Velvet Light Trap. Mark Robson describing his early days at RKO, where he worked his way up in the editorial department and eventually was given a shot at directing by Val Lewton. Those were the days, Robson’s accomplishments as an editor should not be overlooked, his work on I walked wih a Zombie and Cat people is nothing short of genius. He invented an amazing optical trick that is used in both films and I’ve never heard anyone discuss, it’s a transitional wipe that creates an undercurrent of fear and unease in the audience, I described it in my piece on Cat People. Robson and Robert Wise formed a production company after they left RKO , Lewton was supposed to be a part of it but was kicked out by his former proteges, two men he had raised up from editor to director. I don’t know all the details but Robert Wise said he regretted not telling Val in person. I guess they got rid of him by messenger. Too bad, Lewton’s wife said it devastated him and he passed away soon after. If anyone knows the true story write in and let us all know, set the record straight on what seems, on the surface at least, to be a grave injustice or business as usual in Hollywood, U.S.A. Click here for the article.Velvet Light Trap Robsen

Coming Soon, More Val Lewton

Written by Joe D on May 31st, 2011

I just scored a copy of Liberty magazine from 1946 that has an extensive article about the great Val Lewton, I’ll be posting scans of it soon, along with scans from a Life magazine article of similar vintage, I also got a copy of The Velvet Light Trap, a wonderful magazine that specialized in film history, interpretation, appreciation,and  criticiscm. This issue features an interview with Mark Robson about his RKO days. Coming Soon to a computer near you! Look For It!

I Walked With A Zombie

Written by Joe D on December 8th, 2010

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I went, I watched, I walked with I Walked With A Zombie. It was incredible! Really the best way to see this film is in a big theater with 35mm projection! There is no substitute, you pick up so many more nuances, the atmosphere becomes all pervasive, your psyche is opened up to the incredible images and fantasy pours in through your eyes and ears to your very soul! This is how the makers designed the film to work, they didn’t think about TV or video. To say the least it was a moving experience and it clocked in at a rocket fast 70 minutes!

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This film is crammed with ideas, Lewton and his team did exhaustive research and it shows, the music, the dancing, the Afro Caribbean culture give Zombie a rock hard foundation on which to build a castle of fantasy and terror. But terror in a Fairy Tale like way, sort of innocent yet savage, ruthless as Nature and as pure. This film is a textbook of studio filmmaking at a peak of artistry. The B&W photography,the lighting, the production design, the process photography, amazingly executed.

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The Great RKO Artisans of Storytelling-P.S. Check out the legal disclaimer at the bottom of the frame for a joke.

We start in Canada, in a Victorian office, snow falls furiously outside the window. Our Heroine (Francis Dee) is ta nurse being offered a job in the Caribbean, one stock shot of a big sailing schooner later we’re on board (thanks to process photography) with the boss of the plantation and his men, who sing a strange island song in the background. The scene here between Francis Dee and Tom Conway is a brilliantly written piece, it expertly sets the mood for the rest of the film. “It’s so beautiful” Dee thinks to herself only to be interrupted a second later by Conway telling her “It isn’t beautiful” Dee answers “You read my mind” , Conway replies, “You see those flying fish, they’re jumping in terror to escape being eaten, that phosphorescence in the water? The putrescent bodies of dead organisms, This is a place of death.” He sets a tone of unease, he unsettles Dee by reading her mind(supernatural), he belittles her naivety, he fascinates her with his honesty. That sets up their complicated relationship for the rest of the film. All in a couple of minutes.

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Then theirs a scene in the town of San Sebastian, probably the RKO backlot dressed up by D’Agostino and Keller. They filmed here maybe a day or two at most, it’s used a couple of times in the film but sparingly, you really get the impression that everything was planned out and organized with maximum efficiency, the budget was $134,000! A scene in a buggy (process) as an old black islander drives Dee to the plantation is also illuminating. The driver tells her how the slaves were brought to the island in chains on a ship, the figurehead of which is now prominently displayed at the plantation. “It’s so beautiful here” “He replies “If you say so miss, if you say so” She naively ignores the whole slavery aspect, the inherent inhumanity, brutality, focusing on the lush scenery. Lewton’s comment on Western insensitivity.

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Figurehead of St. Sebastian, a representation of the slave based history of the island

The story continues and some of the high points are, the first night at the plantation, Dee is awakened by a woman crying, she goes out to investigate and enters the Tower where the wife of Ellison is kept. It’s pretty creepy, the tower set is particularly effective consisting of a stone stairway slashing across a black frame. Dee climbs the stairs and is confronted by the wraithlike zombie wife of Conway, Jessica Holland. The zombie advances upon her and I swear they applied a skull like make up to her face, it’s shot in a long shot so you can’t see her too clearly but I want to watch it again and check.

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The next great set piece and my favorite scene of the film is when Dee brings Mrs. Holland to a Voodoo ritual, she leads the entranced blonde through a swamp, all artfully created on soundstages, the native drums beat ominously, they come across several talismans , a cow skull, a hanging goat, a human skull and finally a huge zombie guard, he reminds me of Gort from Day The Earth Stood Still.

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But due to their protective amulets , pinned to them by the maid at the plantation, they pass unmolested. The ceremony is great, excellent music by real voodoo drummers and authentic dancing that must have blown peoples minds back in 1943. Here’s another aspect of this film that added to it’s tabu appeal, the underlying hint of interracial sex, the way the maid wakes Dee up by tickling her foot, the fascination of the voodoo priests for the tall beautiful white zombie. The confession by Conway’s mother that she participated in zombie rituals and was possessed by a voodoo god! This is 1943! Lewton so skillfully implies all this and gets away with it! Genius! Also he employed a lot of black actors, including Sir Lancelot, the calypso singer who Lewton also used in Curse Of The Cat People and Theresa Harris who is wonderful as the maid Alma. She is funny and sexy and appears in Out Of The Past and many other classic films.

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The beautiful Theresa Harris-she is the crying woman that awakened Francis Dee on her first night on the Island. She was crying because her sister had a baby. The Islanders cry at a birth and rejoice at a death. The only freedom from their slavery.

There’s a transitional device used in this film that’s very subtle. I first noticed this technique in Cat People which was edited by the same person, Mark Robson. It’s a sort of a wipe, but it’s as if a black shape passed in front of the lens, in Cat People it feels like a black panther crossed very close to the camera, it creates a subconscious sense of unease, you’re not really aware of what happened, it seems like a quick fade out fade in but it isn’t. Watch Cat People and Zombie carefully and try to catch it. In Zombie it occurs late in the film, a transition between Dee talking to Conway at night at the plantation and Mrs. Holland trying to leave. Somewhere around there. A very subtle masterful stroke that I’ve never heard anyone speak of. The end of the film is a brilliant study in visual poetry, economy of storytelling, and the power of an ending. The drunk half brother kills Mrs. Holland with an arrow from the figurehead in the garden, just as the voodoo priest pierces the doll of Mrs. Holland with a pin.

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The half brother(James Ellison) carries Mrs. Hollands body away pursued by the giant zombie guardian. He walks into the ocean to escape the zombie only to be swallowed up by pounding waves.
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Dissolve to native fisherman spearfishing in the shallows ( a tank on a sound stage artfully lit and decorated) as they fish and sing they discover Mrs. Holland’s body,

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Studio Artifice

dissolve to them carrying her in a funeral procession back to the plantation where Dee and Conway wait. The END! No dialog explaining what happened, no happy ending with Dee and Holland rushing off to get married, we don’t know what they’re going to do, it’s ambiguous and it’s great! As a matter of fact there is no dialog at all in the last 10 minutes of the film! Pure visual poetry accompanied by music! Try that today. All I can say is thank you LACMA for showing this film in a theater, with 35mm projection! And every film lover out there should see it this way, it’s a blessing!

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I Walked With A Zombie to screen at LACMA

Written by Joe D on December 6th, 2010

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Treat yourself to a Holiday Zombie Afternoon. Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur’s classic I Walked With A Zombie will screen Tuesday Dec.7th at 1pm, how delicious an afternoon screening! When you come back from your trip to Zombie Island it will still be light outside, be like Woody Allen, share his guilty pleasure of seeing a movie in the daytime. Plus it’s a rare opportunity to see this gem in glorious 35mm B&W! Movie theaters are turning more and more to digital projection soon you’ll only be able to see film at museums and revival houses, Bah! Humbug!
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I want to see it in 35mm!

Here’s all the info. This is a great example of how Art Directors Albert S. D’Agostino and Walter Keller were able to create a poetic mystical world on a shoe string budget, ably abetted by Cinematographer J. Roy Hunt. So check it out, see for yourself what all the hubbub about Val Lewton and his gang of tricksters is about. Too Bad the Tiki Ti is closed or we could all meet there for a post screening Zombie.

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Godard’s Le Mepris, Mankiewicz’s The Barefoot Contessa, Moravia’s Il disprezzo

Written by Joe D on November 12th, 2010

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The Beautiful B.B. she looks a little like Ava Gardner

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Ava in Contessa

Jean Luc Godard is getting an honorary Academy Award! How great is that, of course he won’t show up for it. Maybe this was on my mind when I started watching Joseph Mankiewicz’s The Barefoot Contessa.

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Producer In Screening Room- Contessa

The films are similar, they both have Movie People as characters. There’s a director with integrity, Fritz Lang in Contempt and Humphrey Bogart in Contessa. A beautiful goddess, desired by all, Ava Gardner in Contessa, Bridgit Bardot in Contempt. They are both concerned with personal integrity in the face of a powerful prick,an American film producer that wants to control everyone, have everyone kiss his ass which they do for money.

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Producer wants Sex Goddess Wife

Michel Piccoli loses his wife to Jerry the producer when he accepts the job of re-writing the script for Jerry’s production of the Odessy, he says “I’ll be able to pay off our apartment!” This theme of estrangement between a husband and wife comes from Alberto Moravia’s novel, Il disprezzo. The book was published the same year that The Barefoot Contessa was released, maybe they somehow fused in Godard’s brain. The Rich American Movie Producer, The Super Sexy Star, The Director, The Writer, The Yes Man. These are the new Mythic characters for the 20th Century. Like the Greek Gods, they live on Olympus and they have petty squabbles that effect all life on Earth. They test your souls, tempting you, like the Devil on the mountain top offering Jesus all he can see.

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There’s even a big sceen in a screening room in both films, in Contempt Jack Palance (Jerry Prokosh) throws a film can at the screen like a Greek discus, expressing his displeasure at the footage screened. In Contessa Edmund O’Brien turns in a horrible over the top performance as Kirk Edwards ass licking yes man. Constantly mopping his face with a giant handkerchief, babbling like a baboon, chewing the scenery in an over the top style. Jerry Prokosh has a beautiful female assisstant that he constantly degrades, getting her to bend over so he can write a check on her back.

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Degradation Of Beauty By Producer In Screening Room- Contempt

In Contessa Bogart is the man in peril of losing his integrity, the director of the proposed film. In Contempt Michel Piccoli is the writer, the man in danger of losing all to the American producer, Fritz Lang is the director but he seems above it all, like a God Of Film already up in the Celestial Movie Studio, the eccentricities of the Earth bound barely affect him. Maybe someone should make a new film about the New Gods, The New inhabiters of our Cinematic Olympus, The American Producer! The Sex Symbol, The Director in trouble, like Odysseus trying to get back to Ithica.

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New Gods - New Myths replace the Old

Val Lewton’s Curse Of The Cat People, Mario Bava’s Operazione Paura

Written by Joe D on September 21st, 2010

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I recently re-watched Curse Of The Cat People, Val Lewton’s masterpiece. Running an extremely efficient 70 minutes, it’s incredible how much story, atmosphere, character, and artistry the filmmakers have packed into this B thriller. The brilliant script by DeWitt Bodeen picks up the characters from 1942’s Cat People 7 years or so later and now living in Tarrytown, NY, nearby to where Lewton grew up. This setting enables Lewton to inject local lore from his own childhood, notably the legend of the Headless Horseman Of Sleepy Hollow. Lewton was primarily a writer and even though he gets no screen credit as such, this script was a collaboration between Bodeen and him. Robert Wise, crack editor of such RKO gems as Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, The Devil And Daniel Webster was called in to replace the original director Gunther Von Fritsch, who had fallen behind schedule, Wise began his directing career with a bang. Cinematography was by the terrific Nicolas Musuraca, lensman of the incomparably shot noir Out Of The Past. Art Direction by the prodigiously talented Albert S. D’Agostino ( perhaps a distant relation of mine) and Walter Keller. Top it off with excellent performances most notably that of the wonderful child actress Ann Carter. Curse Of The Cat People is an incredibly sensitive film, dealing with the fantasies of a lonely, mis-understood child. Amy Reed creates a “friend” that cares for her and plays with her, partly because her father refuses to believe her stories. Oliver Reed (played by Kent Smith) was married to Irena (Simone Simone) in the original Cat People. He’s afraid his daughters’ flights of fancy will lead her to a similar end as Irena. His loss of the woman he loved has made him afraid for his daughter and really for himself, he does not want to go through the loss of a loved one again, as a result he clamps down on his daughter, seeking to snuff out her “dangerous” imagination. He only succeeds in driving her into the arms of her friend Irena. Amy had discovered a picture of Irena and her mother’s guilty response triggered an unconscious identification with the beautiful, mysterious figure in the photo.

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Winter comes and it gives Musuraca and D’Agostino a chance to really shine. Irena gives her Xmas present to Amy, transforming the garden behind the family home to a glittering cathedral of shimmering lights, fantastic winter forms of ice, snow, the bare limbs of trees, a magical application of Movie Studio Artifice, effects done in camera with lighting changes, some of the most beautiful examples of this lost Art ever created.

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Another noteworthy sequence is when Irena appears in Amy’s bedroom, telling her little friend she must go, never to be seen again. This is accomplished with a tracking shot, Irena is there and then she is obscured by the camera tracking behind a chair,when the camera emerges Irena is gone, the open window letting some mist cascade in where she once stood, also pay careful attention to the sound track lest you miss the whispered “Goodbye” a beautifully mixed sequence. A group of carolers comes by the house and the shots of the family framed in the front door of their home listening are superb.

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Sir Lancelot appears as the faithful man-servant and he is as always great. Lewton used him several times in his films and he always played a character of great dignity, a tribute to Lewton’s egalitarianism. Lewton was hired at RKO ( my favorite studio) to run their “B” horror unit. The movies had to be short ( these were the days of the double bill), produced for under$150,000, and based on a title the studio brass came up with. Lewton disliked this title and the marketing of the film was off base suggesting a straight horror revisit to the original Cat People but I think the title is good, the curse is what happens to the traumatized survivors of the first film, mainly Oliver and Alice Reed. Cat People was a huge hit, saving RKO from the brink of ruin so the studio left Lewton alone and he was able to create some wonderful fantasies on a shoestring budget, a real tribute to the talents involved. Culminating in his masterpiece Curse Of The Cat People, a very personal film.

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Val Lewton
This brings me to Part Two of this essay, something that struck me while recently viewing this film. Does it contain the root of a character from Mario Bava’s masterpiece Operazione Paura (Kill Baby Kill) .Curse Of The Cat People was made in 1944, as soon as WWII was over the USA flooded Europe with films. They had been prevented from distributing films in Europe during the war. I’m sure Mario Bava went to see this film in Rome and it made a deep impression on him. Bava’s father was a special effects artisan, a sculptor who made creatures for films. Bava was an effects cameraman, master of the in camera effect, matte painting, trick lighting etc. He had to have seen this masterpiece of studio artistry and been deeply moved. The story goes that when he was casting Operazione Paura he searched high and low for a young girl to play the part of the ghostly killer. He couldn’t find one, finally he got a young boy to don a wig and play the part. I think he was looking for his own Ann Carter. A child that resembled her. There are some similar images in the films, for example when the girls are seen in Close Up looking through a window pane.

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Another paralell, a child’s ball provides the key to another dimension in both films, in Curse Irena is first revealed tossing Anne’s ball back to her, the little girl throws the ball offscreen to her friend and Simone enters with it and throws it back. In Paura the bouncing ball of the devil girl is often the first sign of her coming.

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Bava’s film is an illusion inside of an illusion, a puzzle at the heart of which is a subversion of innocence to evil, a baroque fantasy about the loss of childhood innocence. Perhaps not so far fetched considering the realities of a war torn country. One thing that always struck me about Curse Of The Cat People is the hominess, domestic peace of it’s setting. You want to live there in Tarrytown amongst the legends, old bridges, fireplaces, gardens. Life seems so peaceful, serene. Maybe Operation Paura is a reaction to that idyllic vision from an artist that lived through real horror. Another interesting fact, the girl who falls to her death, impaled on a wrought iron fence at the begining of Operazione Paura is named Irena.

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Mario Bava