“I can release a destructive power in a human being that would make the split atom seem like a blessing.”
If a male scientist had said that, folks would say: “He’s mad. He’s a genius. Give him some more funding!!” But let a woman say it and folks are like: “What’s her problem? Why isn’t she married yet?” Blaaargh! In fact just saying the word “Scientist” connotes Male. Sexism
( or perhaps my OWN biases ), rears its ugly head where Science is concerned in Herbert L. Strock’s 1957-classic ( ??! ) “BLOOD OF DRACULA” not to be confused with 1970’s “Taste The Blood of Dracula” with Christopher Lee. This is the film I’ll explore in my contribution to the “MOVIE SCIENTIST BLOGATHON: The Good ♦The Mad ♦ The Lonely” hosted by Christina Wehner and Silver Screenings.
I jumped at this idea and my choice came down to two films I enjoy a lot. Though Karloff was lonely and poignant in “The Devil Commands”
( practically bullied by occultist Anne Revere ) I wanted to have fun with one of my favorite favorite fifties schlocky movies: “Blood of Dracula.” Our Science teacher crosses all boundaries of science and ethics when she chooses one of her unstable students to experiment her theories of harnessing destructive powers so we have no need Atom and Nuclear bombs. Who needs the expense of manufacturing these things. Have a baby. As a Scientist she is just as bananas as her male counterpart, and that sort of makes for a level playing field. It’s good to know gender knows no bounds where crazy is concerned.
Oh, like these guys never made a mistake. You know you’d give them a pass. Our
scientist ~ Miss Branding is played by Louise Lewis with calm even-temperedness and no female highsterics. Miss Branding goes in with the cold scientific logic of not giving a crap what happens to the guinea pig in collecting her data. But before I get into her, I’d better start with her guinea pig…I mean student. Sit back and relax on this Winter’s day and I’ll tell you the spoilers of all the twists and turns of “Blood of Dracula.” Why don’t I start you off with the trailer where you can whet or lose your appetite:
The film uses day-for-night It’s summer time. The girls Uhmmm, well THIS would
shots. You can see death just wear a light sweater. be very very true.
coming a block away if even
the teenagers don’t.
* * * * *
WHAT HAPPENS TO A DREAM DEFERRED…
The opening theme music of this great classic portends good important things to come. It’s a nice complex composition. The movie s(t)inks like a boulder though. But what can I say …I love it.
It’s a rain-soaked night and a man and his ( 2nd ) wife drive his quick-tempered daughter, 28-year old teenager Nancy, ( Sandra Harrison ) to the Sherwood School For Girls. Backseat driver Nancy reaches over his shoulder, grabs the wheel and tries to steer the car off the road. Her Dad hauls off and smacks her right in the chops. Her step-mom says to Nancy’s father:
“Give her another one!”
Whoa! Here’s a gal who won’t spare the rod to spoil the brat. ( #STEPMOTHERS! )
STEP-MOM: “You could have killed us all!”
NANCY: “That’s what I tried to do.”
Then all three of them have a cigarette. A dysfunctional family that puffs together, needs therapy with Dr. Phil together. Director Strock gets artistically auteurish with his UN-Dutch Angle-underneath-the-steering-wheel-shot looking up at Dad. Actually the shot disturbed me ‘cuz I wanted to know what I was doing down there on the floorboard looking up at him. Dad’s a widower going for his 2nd chance at love with a “B” girl with fake pearls, mink coat and a mere six weeks after Nancy’s mother’s death. Actually, don’t quote me on the mink part; I’m not sure what kind of animal had that fur first. It takes a good low budget “B” movies to get down to brass tacks. None of this: “you’re grounded, go to your room” malarkey. A smack in the kisser and then light up a cigarette. Forget “Leave It to Beaver.” Keepin’ it real, 1950’s-style. The honeymooning couple leave Nancy at the boarding school with her blessings:
“Don’t give me that blushing bride routine. You put a ring
through Dad’s nose.”
As her parents say their goodbyes ( and not a minute too soon ) there’s this exchange:
SCHOOLMISTRESS to PARENTS: “You’re driving all the
way home tonight?”
NANCY: “They’ll probably stop at a motel.”
Geez…wash that kid’s mouth out with another cigarette. You’ve got to admit, it’s pretty frank conversation for 1957.
Nancy is taken to her dorm room by Miss Thorndyke, the school’s kindly headmistress. Nancy also has a serious set of matching luggage to boot that would make Bob Barker proud. Four sorority sisters bust into Nancy’s room, led by Myra…teacher’s pet and chief sorority sister and pony tail. They rough house Nancy a little. She’s okay with them taking her cigarettes and rifling through her underwear. Even eating her chocolates is not that big a deal. But when one of them touches her 8 x 10 glossy of her boyfriend Glenn, you guessed it…hair-pulling ensues.
* * * * *
MISS BRANDING BUILDS HER DREAM GIRL
But enough of this silly over-aged teenage girl drama. Let’s look at The Big Picture. This movie ( and blogathon ) is about Science; there’s a lot of discrimination towards Women’s contribution to science in most sci-fi movies. In much of these movies from the 50’s, women’s contributions seem to be looking good in a tight sweater, no white lab coat, making coffee and not moving the story forward much, except to be rescued. NOT that there’s anything wrong with that. Well…we certainly can’t accuse Louise Lewis of that. Lewis plays Miss Branding, Science Rebel. Why, next to Madame Curie, Miss Branding is, well…Miss Branding. Branding is not chasing spiders, minotaurs, ants, tarantulas, octopi, robot monsters, radioactive crawling eyes, Rodans or other beasts from twenty thousand fathoms deep or twenty millions miles from earth. I think the professor makes her case quite succinctly:
“We live in a world ruled by men for men. They won’t even consider my thesis. They mock me…my work. But they’re convinced that they’re on the right track…they search for power in the wrong place.”
She talks of the effects atomic war will bring if science continues the way men have been running things:
“Monsters. Grotesque mis-shapen frightening fiends. Isotopes and fall-out in our lungs and our glands. Distorting natural shape and proportion. No one can calculate the hazards of radiation. Wreckless fools; they search in the wrong place.”
I’ve never heard
a female movie
scientist talk like
that … not even Greer Garson as
Miss Branding has an apt
disci-ple uhmm… pupil in our prissy Little Miss Sorority Queen. She’s a future scientist, with a ponytail. Miss Bran- ding trolls her students for a human guinea pig to help prove her cockamamie theories. She’s looking for: “…a disturbed girl, perhaps, but with a will of her own.” And disappointingly Miss Ponytail will NOT do, even though she has an abiding over-achiever interest in all things Science. And just how is Miss Branding going to lure rope scare up a volunteer for her science-y experiments? She has to pick her out of a crowd full of girls in her chemistry class. Notice…it’s not a Home Ec class. I think it’s interesting that the movie shows, when no boys are around, girls can learn anything
( chemistry, calculus, etc. ).
One of these girls will not make it to the end of the movie
Miss Branding picks Nancy for a chemistry experiment that purposely goes awry and she is burned by one of the girls. Do I have to tell you what happens? That’s right…more hair-pulling ensues. Nancy lashes out and makes with the beat-down.
“You needn’t be ashamed of that impulse. For some people, special people, no injury gets better until the score has been evened…You remember the bible? An eye for an eye?”
Nancy’s father paid tuition for this?
Professor Branding blurs and basically obliterates all kinds of lines of the teacher/student relationship. But if Miss Branding’s going to mix eye for an eye theology into her Science Lesson Plan, then academia goes down the tubes.
Can anything good come of an amulet? Miss Branding hypnotizes Nancy with a Carpathian amulet, thus setting Nancy’s transformation in motion. Nancy’s about to do some very bad things to some snooty sorority sisters. Shades of “THIRTEEN WOMEN”? And taking a drag off her cigarette afterwards will not help.
Our first victim is sent downstairs to pick up some supplies. She hears a noise. She doesn’t pay attention to the ominous music signifying there’s a monster in the midst. She’s attacked by some…Monster in the Midst.
The police are baffled but they don’t realize that they’ve already figured out the culprit of the crime. You see, one of the lieutenants has laid out the entire movie plot for his boss
and those kids in the audience who drove to the drive-in in the middle of the movie. “…a Dracula,” says the young cute detective, as any hope of him collecting a pension disappears. But face it, these cops couldn’t find the ties around their necks.
The dead sorority sister is forgotten after two weeks b’cuz high school hijinks must go on, right? Another sorority sister is attacked by the fiend Miss Branding unleashes in Nancy. We actually see her transformation this time. It’s horrifying ( and horrible ). She looks like Eddie Munster’s sister ( with a scarf. ) It’s not a good look, especially in broad day-for-night light. Nancy’s questioned by the cops. This crack team of detectives has her strapped to a lie detector. One good cough would have loosened those flimsy straps.
While she’s being given the third degree, schoolteacher/scientist/monster-maker Miss Branding stands right outside the door fondling her Carpathian amulet and sending telepathic messages to our young(ish) Nancy. Dang that thing is big and doesn’t go with ANY of Miss Branding’s outfits. She looks like Flavor Flav with that medallion dangling ’round her neck. Maybe it’s because I don’t know science, but I fail to see the science in Miss Branding’s actions. Is she taking notes? Does she have a petri dish? Is unleashing Man’s destructive power in a “teen-aged girl” really the way to go to stop wars? I have questions, and so do the police. Trying to get to the bottom of things, the cops’ first question to Nancy:
POLICE: “How old are you, Nancy?”
CINEMAVEN: “Book ’em, Dano!!”
I would have read her her Miranda rights, and slapped her butt in jail right then and there for THAT lie. But the cops swallow that and the rest of her malarkey testimony and release her to Miss Branding. I think we know by now that Science was jilted at the altar. She does what any good, mad scientist does…she loses sight of what her experiments’ objectives are, and dives head first into power-tripping for power’s sake. Or maybe this is just cool calm collected scientific logic. Here, you be the judge:
NANCY: “You’ve got to help me. You’ve got to tell me Miss Branding, who am I? What am I doing? I’m living a nightmare. A horrible urge comes over me. I feel a strength that’s almost frightening. It takes possession of me. I must do something awful but when I try to remember, all I can see is…you! I’ve got to know Miss Branding.”
MISS BRANDING: “…And when you know the whole truth, when you realize the part that you’ve played in saving mankind from its own destruction, you’ll be proud.”
NANCY: “But in the meantime what do I do? What you make me do, I feel it’s wrong.”
MISS BRANDING: “Wrong. Who’s the judge of that?”
Nancy’s boyfriend Glenn comes to visit. He’s borrowed his dad’s car, cut two classes and made the three-hundred mile drive in less than six hours. ( Would your man travel like that for YOU? ) There’s been two murders on the grounds, he’s desperate to talk to her and when he gets her in the car he tries to jump her bones and get to second base. When she and Glenn kiss she feels that ol’ monster feeling coming on and she runs away from him into Miss Branding’s lab. Again she asks her monster mentor for help:
NANCY: “You’ve got to set me free.”
MISS BRANDING: “Free to do what?”
NANCY: “Free to be myself. I just left Glenn, my boyfriend. You tried to stop him from seeing me.”
MISS BRANDING: “I didn’t think that was important.”
Uh – oh.
Does the pursuit of science mean that scientists ( male or female ) can betray the public’s trust? She misuses her position. Poor Nancy tries to strike a blow for her own independence. I feel sorry for her. She wasn’t really a bad egg. She just smoked and sassed her parents back; but she was a girl who was grieving for her mother and her anger and grief was turned against her.
It’s pretty obvious Miss Branding never watched classic movies, or at the very least read this blogathon where she could have followed the model of some good scientists, which you can read by clicking this banner. She stayed cooped up in her lab working on her experiments. There might’ve been a reason her theories were mocked. If she had looked at a movie, she’d have seen what happens to Scientists when their experiments turn against them and wise-acres like me lovingly mock their mis-guided efforts. I don’t know if you can upload this: ( http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x17y0ic_blood-of-dracula-1957_shortfilms ) but I highly recommend this film and strongly recommend you click the banner to read the cautionary tales of movie scientists, good, mad or lonely. If you don’t, you know what’ll happen.
That’s right…hair-pulling will ensue.
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