RUTH ROMAN / TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY ( 1951 )

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[ 12 / 22 / 22  ~  9 / 9 / 99 ]

There’s nothing like diving into a series of films in one fell swoop to watch the breadth of a talented performer or director. I did this with RUTH ROMAN. I call her The Mighty Roman. I find her a very commanding presence. Her darkness could be part of it. She’s sable; with a dark touch of Dana Wynter Suzanne Pleshette Gail RussellGail Patrick Jean Simmons / Barbara Rush~thing going on…all rolled up into one fierce package. Someone in my FaceBook group mentioned another actress who did not have the chops to stare a man down. Well Ruth certainly can. My  God its withering. ruth-romanThere’s a touch of danger in her. Her performances are believable and with conviction. I’m not quite sure why she really wasn’t a bigger star. Why couldn’t she truly break out though she’s done 60+ films. Could it be she was more character actress than leading lady?

Well I’m going with that and nudging Ruthies name as a participant in the “WHAT A CHARACTER!” blogathon. To be included in this peren nial favorite, now in its fifth year, is a big deal for my little blog. Hosted by Aurora of “Once Upon A Screen”, Kellee of “Outspoken and Freckled” and Paula of “Paula’s Cinema Club” this blogathon shines a spotlight on those somewhat unheralded in our cozy little classic film community. So let me showcase the Mighty Roman here and later talk about one of my favorite films of hers “TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY.”

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Ruth Roman is a Yankee, a New Englander born in Revere, Massachusetts in 1922 ( though different sources cite different years for her birth ).  She studied acting at the Bishop Lee Dramatic School and cut her teeth with the New England Repertory Company before heading out to Hollywood. She tooled around in bit parts in ‘uncredited girl’ roles young actresses are wont to do before getting her break by studio head Dore Schary to appear opposite relative newcomer, Kirk Douglas in CHAMPION.”

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Roman plays housewife to dopey Glenn Ford in “YOUNG MAN WITH IDEAS.” She tones it down. For me it’s a crime to see her wearing an apron, running after three kids and puttering around the house, when she seems like she should be in a board room…but I went with it. Next up she’s a glamorous Nancy Drew trying to figure out if Richard Todd is indeed a murderer in “LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE.” I enjoyed this movie. While in my kitchen I heard the familiar voice of that other tigress, Mercedes McCambridge and ran into the living room to confirm it. Yup. It was her. I love that crazy McCambridge and her staccato delivery. Ruth is a good girl in this; falling in love…and then in fear. She’s light, easy…witty and clever with black shining eyes.

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Ruth does another turn as a good girl in Hitchcocks masterpiece of double trouble: “STRANGERS ON A TRAIN.” Ruth doesnt have much to do in this Hitchcock classic but be the supportive girlfriend. And see…she can be that way too. Again I think she tamps it down to make it plausible for Farley Granger to get a girl like her. ( He really is more suited to a Cathy O’Donnell-type ). But thats okay Ruthie. Youre in a Hitchcock film. Hell, what blondes can do, so can brunettes.  

Roman had a real~life drama on her hands when the cruise ship she was on sunk. In 1956 returning to the States from Europe, the Andrea Dorea collided with MS Stockholm. Roman ran back to her cabin to grab her three year old little boy and put in a lifeboat. The boat took off before Ruth could board it. She got on another lifeboat and was reunited with her son via the Ile de France. Dont know if her career could ever compare to that.

If my preference is seeing Roman on the mean side ~ ( hey, what can I tell ya? ) ~ thenINVITATION” satisfies my need. Starring Dorothy McGuire and Van Johnson, Roman plays Johnson’s ex-fiancee ( Maud ) who is dumped so he can marry McGuire. Roman does not suffer loss easily and is a stone cold bitch when she discovers Johnson only marries McGuire because shes dying. Oh yeah, she makes sure she knows this:

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“Oh, don’t worry, I just happened to be in the building, and dropped into his office. Oh, he’s still yours, at least for the time being. I told you, remember, the day of your wedding, ‘I don’t give up so easily.’ Remember? I said, ‘The first round goes to you, or your father’s money … You can have Dan,’ I said, ‘for about a year on loan.’ And that’s why you’re really here, isn’t it?  Because the year’s dwindling out fast. Only a couple of months left, and you’re scared to death. Well, Ellen, do you think I have given up?”

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I’ve only seen pieces of “THREE SECRETS” many years too long ago. One of my friends has reviewed this film in his cozy corner of my blog. Tell me THIS doesn’t whet your appetite. Roman is comfortable in westerns as proof is in the sasparilla of “BELLE STARR’S DAUGHTER” “COLT .45 “REBEL IN TOWN”, the famed Anthony Mann’s THE FAR COUNTRY” with James Stewart and “DALLAS” with that lovely stalwart tall drink of water…Gary Cooper. Also in the cast, waiting in the wings, is the other side of midnight: Steve Cochran. She worked with the dark, handsome and dangerous Steve Cochran in a film I’d like to look at in detail. “TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY.”

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I had never heard of this movie, didnt know what the heck to expect; its better that way. I was pleasantly surprised. TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY reveals a couple of layers I enjoyed.

THE BOY CAN ACT

STEVE COCHRAN plays an ex-con just released from prison. I always liked Cochran…his lush deep dark looks and tough guy persona. But thats not quite what I got in “Tomorrow…” ( no tough-guy, but still killer looks. ) See, hes been in prison for eighteen years since he was a thirteen-year old boy. So his new life on the outside is really quite an adjustment. And Cochran plays his character as slightly emotionally stunted. He never waivers from that, and it’s always subtly evident; this is a testament to his ( very under-rated ) acting. He pulls it off. ( His dark humor in “Deadly Companions was an eye-opener as well. ) There was a boyishness to him in “Tomorrow…”. He is hurt, defensive, mistrustful. There is a sweetness to him that endeared him to me.

Now remember, he was thirteen when he went into prison eighteen years ago. When it dawned on my thick skull what that “really” meant, I confess it quickened my pulse a bit, seeing how good Cochran looks. And the first woman he falls hard for?

Brittle, hard as nails, bottle blonde Ruth Roman. Mama mia!! The poor lug doesnt know what hit him. Sometimes ten cents a dance is a high price to pay.

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Hes socially awkward, and sweet as well; and that makes for an apt pupil. She sees “something” in this young man. Uhmmmm…mostly, she sees a patsy.

A STAGEDOOR JOHNNY….WITH NO BAUBLES, BANGLES or BRAINS??

Using his prison pay, he buys her a gold-plated watch. She cant let herself be soft; its a hard cold cruel world for a blonde alone. With a twist of fate and Ruthies lies, they are now on the run.

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ON THE LAM

This is some kind of wildly subversive Hitchcockian plot twist. Not only is Cochran, ‘the wrong man’ but he think he IS the man. “Tomorrow Is Another Day” is a unique “on-the-lam” tale because shes tricked him into thinking he must run. He never wants to go back to prison, hes never really ever able to breathe comfortably, he thinks she’s going to tell on him…so hes always on edge. Not the fey-jittery-Farley Granger-edge, but a darker weightier edge. Shes actually kind of holding him hostage with her secret. You feel sorry for him.

The laughs on her when she realizes shes hitched her little caboose to a convicted murderer. Into the frying pan.

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Theyre on the lam. They change clothes and hitch rides. Theyre not out in the open. They do a lot of walking, and hopping on trains. They talk. Hes a survivor in this environment. They register in a seedy motel as man and wife with phony identities. Ruth still holds Cochran at arms length. “Dont get any ideas, Buster” is easier said than done; shes warming up to him. TOM'W ( I )In spite of herself, she slowly falls for Cochran. In an effort to disguise herself from The Law, Ruth dyes her blonde hair brunette. Yay!!! Finally! Its Ruth Roman, dark and lovely as she should be, like we know and love her. Cochrans man/boy gets plenty of ideas. After all, theyre now married ( if in name only )…it has been eighteen years…and it IS Ruth Roman. Ruth turns girlish, asks him if he likes her new hair color. He does. He likes her. He loves her. The wait is over…they really become man and wife here.

TRUST…THE BEGINNING OF LOVE

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Now a brunette, her glam toned down and her softness revealed, Ruth and Cochran catch a break by helping migrant farmers Ray Teal and wife Lurene Tuttle, one of my favorite character actresses. ( See my contribution about her for the 2014 ‘What A Character blogathon at the Once Upon A Screen blog. )  Ruth has softened considerably and Cochran seems more at ease. She’s toned down her hardness and he takes the lead a bit more in their new life together. Even if she has to scold him she never pulls out the beeyotch card, but does it a maternal wifely way. They live the life of lettuce pickers in a small itinerant California community. Whoa! This is far afield from the bright lights of a 40-watt dim and dirty dance hall, and Ruth takes to it. It was easily and subtly done to watch her warm up to Cochran and gain his trust. He begins to trust. She’s wifey now in a little wooden shack…making dinners, sewing patterns, and pregnant to boot. They’re both able to exhale.

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AS USUAL, GREED REARS ITS GREEDY, UGLY HEAD

Cochran’s true identity is discovered by Tuttle and Teal ( sounds like an old vaudeville team, doesn’t it? ) and trust begins to break down with everybody. I love Lurene Tuttle’s acting here. Her character is in conflict about a choice some might find easy to make. That she struggles with this choice, is a testimony to her.

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I have waaay more Ruth Roman films to discover, but I’ve got a good head start. “Tomorrow Is Another Day” weaves a tale of folks trapped by circumstances. Showing the growing love of two distrusting people was an added bonus for me. I heartily recommend this film to you. The Mighty Roman is in good company with other character actors and actresses who rarely get the spotlight. Want to read about ’em? Click onto Aline MacMahon. and Guy Kibbee and read about other great character actors. Start with Day 3 and work your way back to Days 1 and 2:

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( HOME )

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I WALK ALONE

I MET SPARTACUS!

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Yep, I actually met Kirk Douglas. My friend Chip Duckett was getting memorabilia autographed for a giant AIDS ball being held in Vienna he helps brings talent to. He invited me along to Barnes & Noble with him for a Kirk Douglas book signing. ( “Let’s Face It: 90 Years of Living, Loving, and Learning.” ) Chip was going to get some Kirk memorabilia autographed. I wasn’t going to buy the book just go along for the ride. The seriousness of WHO I was actually going to meet struck me when we were taken to the bookstore’s “green room” ~ a storage room of books ~ to actually meet him, thanks to one of Chip’s connections at the store. We were going to meet him before the formal book signing began. Just before the B&N guy knocked on the door, Chip gave me one of his Kirk memorabilia items to have something in my hand. Wha’? The door opened and  there was Kirk Douglas sitting at a table. I knew I was going to see him, but I didnt know I was actually going to MEET him.

He looked old and small. I hung back while Chip introduced himself and chatted with him briefly while he got his memorabilia signed. After Chip was done, he introduced me to Kirk Douglas. Yo, you can be all nonchalant meeting a legend if you want, but I’m telling you straight up…I am a fangirl.

Mr. Douglas started to stand to greet me. The full import of who he was was hitting me dead in the face as he rose up. What the hell happened to that old and small man, because all of a sudden, in those few moments he didn’t seem as old and small as I initially thought. As he was standing up I said “Sir, please sit. You don’t have to stand for me.” And he said “Of course I do. I always stand for ladies.” ( Thats me guys…a lady!! L0L! ) We shook hands and I gave him Chip’s memorabilia, stammered innocuously and then stepped back.

I attended the book~signing ~ ( yeah, I bought the book a little later ) ~ met him again in that book signing factory line sort of way that handlers handle it. He smiled at me with recognition. Don’t worry, I didnt linger. I kept it moving.

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He was a major star my entire lifetime. When I met him, of course I had seen so many of his films already. When I saw SHADOWS and SATIN was throwing a birthday blogathon for Kirk’s 100th, well, how could I not…

You’re going to see a lot of great films covered in this blogathon. I’m going to look at an early-in-his-career-Kirk Douglas-film, before his teeth were clenched in stone. So far he’d done The Strange Love of Martha Ivers Out of the Past” “Mourning Becomes Electra.” I will cover his fourth film, 1948s I WALK ALONE.”

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With  “I Walk Alone” comes Kirk Douglas’ first of seven screen pairings with fellow newcomer BURT LANCASTER ( this being his fifth movie ). RIght from the beginning, their chemistry was dynamite; I find them to be as evenly matched as any two stars were. ( Well maybe with the exception of Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn ). They’re 

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more closely associated with each other ( their pairings also include: “The List of Adrian Messenger” [ 1963 ] and “Victory at Entebbe” [ 1976 ] ) than they are with their leading ladies ( though who can argue Burt with Ava and Deborah Kerr or Kirk with Lana and Kim and Jean Simmons ). If they ever were to really get into a fist fight, I don’t know who’d win…but I do know they’d each give as good as they got.

“I Walk Alone” is the story of a man released from prison after fourteen years, expecting to become half owner of a successful night club he invested in ( before going to the slammer ) with his old rum-running buddy.

He is in for a rude awakening.

i-walk-alone-kirkKIRK DOUGLAS is the old pal, Noll ( nicknamed ‘Dink’ ) and Douglas plays him as far from scared little Walter O’Neill as you or Martha Ivers could get. Noll is mucho suave-aaaay. He can talk his way out of, or smooth over anything. He’ll use the night club’s chanteuse to pump Frankie for info, while continuing to string her along in their romance. He’ll hook up with an ice queen socialite to further his business and social standing. He’s not above blackmailing an old friend. Noll will do or say whatever it takes. He is ambitious. He is a smooth operator.

i-walk-alone-burtQuite the opposite personality is BURT LANCASTER as Frankie Madison. He’s been cooped up for fourteen years. ( “FOURTEEN YEARS!!!!” he says tightly…and with reason ). Oh, he doesn’t look any worse for the wear having been in prison. He’s tall, fills a suit nicely…a big strapping fella. ( I think it should be de rigueuer for Burt Lancaster to wear a t-shirt in every movie from 1946 – 1952! But I digress ). Lancaster’s Frankie, is a man of few words…very defensive, sensitive and coiled as tightly as a snake. Where Noll is cool as a cucumber, Frankie is a hothead. He’s a bit awkward socially, being out of practice for so long. Noll’s Socialite Gal Pal, Alexis Richardson. speaks to him:

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SOCIALITE: “You know, you’re quite an attractive man.”
FRANKIE:    “Keep going.”
SOCIALITE: “How far do you want me to go?”
FRANKIE:    “I’m at the plate. You’re doing the pitching.”

The socialite is played to an Alexis Smith-ish fare-thee-well by actress KRISTINE MILLER. But that interaction ends poorly with her wanting Frankie thrown out of the club:

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“You looked like a man who might have three or four interesting sentences to say. You’ve said them. Goodbye!!”

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Well…he was out of practice.

Frankie’s wined and dined by club chanteuse: Kay Lawrence played by LIZABETH SCOTT, whose been sent by Noll to wine and dine Frankie. Noll tells her:

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“That’s why men take women to dinner. So they’ll have someone to talk about themselves to.”

Kay goes along with it, but gets mangled in Noll’s machinations because of her love for him. And there’s the usual requisite tension between two women competing for the same man. Alexis wants to marry Noll:

“You’re so utterly no good I should marry you.”

…If you call that love.

( ASIDE: Kristine Miller shared screen~time with Lizabeth Scott in “Desert Fury” and “Too Late For Tears” ).

i-walk-alone-kirk-lizabethFrankie realizes the ruse to pump him for information and unjustly lambasts Kay. He trusts no one except the book~ keeper Dave. He lumps Kay in with all the snakes. She finally sees what a user Noll really is when he tells her he’s marrying the Socialite:

“You love me but you’re marrying her?”

[ Oy, #IFIHADADIME! ]

The jig is up for Noll and Kay when Frankie realizes hes been played like a cheap fiddle.

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“The oldest trick in the world. You want to pump a guy, use a woman. And I grabbed.”

I love Lizabeth’s display of pouty anger when she tells off Douglas’ slimy caddish character since she was not in on his scheme.

NOLL:   “You’re in Frankie’s league now.”
KAY:      “I couldn’t ask for better company.”

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She sides with Frankie ( when she finally gets him to trust her again ). Look, I know this romantic coupling is pretty quick and just a plot contrivance. But I say, in the scheme of 40’s films, relationships happen at the speed of a writer’s Underwood.

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I know things like this can make or break one’s enjoyment of a classic film. But I don’t mind the shorthand in these old movies. I know it doesn’t make psychological sense for the script, but it sure gets things moving a lot quicker. I like Lizabeth Scott in this film. Yes, she’s stiff and wooden, down to her walk and her hairstyle. I know the voice they dubbed was wrong for her and her singing stance was all stiff. But a better pal a guy couldn’t have in the 40’s ( depending on the film’s budget ) than Lizabeth Scott. ( Ella Raines is a different vibe…she’s not really The Victim ). So Scott is part of the triumvirate and Im fine with that. Kay and Frankie are now an “item.” She falls for the right wronged man.

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Poor Frankie. It’s like he is stuck in a time warp… when  handshakes were as bonding and binding as a contract. A Promise meant something before he went to prison. Well he’s going to make Noll live up to his promise of fourteen years ago, ( “FOURTEEN YEARS!” ) by using some muscle. He’s going to take what’s his. He speaks to his old pal Nick Palestro to help round up the gang. I thought it was a great casting choice to have MARC LAWRENCE play the gangster Nick Palestro. He was such a staple in 30’s movies when he played “The Gangster.” ( When I see Lawrence in “The Man With the Golden Gun” or Diamonds Are Forever ~ I smile at the nod ).

It’s with Palestro we see that times, they are a-changing; that the old gang just ain’t what it used to be. Nick is a businessman now who owns a car lot. He’ll assemble some new boys, but things are not the same he tells Frankie. When Frankie and the boys meet Noll, Dave is asked to show Frankie “the books.” This was a sad scene to me on a couple of levels…time passing Frankie by, Noll’s lies, the book~keeper’s betrayal. That cut Frankie to the quick. The shame and humiliation Frankie suffers in front of EVERYone was tough to watch. I felt embarassed for him. He’s like a caged animal. The day of the old-time gangster in spats and Tommy gun is gone. The books are cooked and Frankie’s fight is with an amorphous enemy. He rails against The Corporation. Noll leaves him no dignity. It was sad to watch his powerless rage.

mazurski-chokes-walk-aloneCheck out the men who watch him ( especially that wiseass guy ). Think of those soldiers who came back from the war, having difficulty adjusting to Society. Cagney’s film The Roaring Twenties comes to mind. Frankie now wants to settle the score…but it seems he’s the only one living in the past. A relic. And now the ultimate indignity…getting a beatdown, by the one and only: Mike Mazurki.

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Who is this Dave, the book~keeper?  Well its WENDELL COREY. And this is his second movie ~ ( the first being “Desert Fury ). I was never really a big fan of his; his skeletal features and pale blue eyes kind of pushed me away. But…he did have a great speaking voice…and he really could handle Stanwyck in “The Furies.” Hmmm…let me think about this.

Okay!! I’ve settled it in my mind.

I am now totally coming around to Wendell Corey. ( Welcome to CineMaven’s Van Heflin Club, Mr. Corey. Step right up .) Now, maybe not with lust in my heart, ( I’ve got to see him in a t-shirt ) but with some hard core respect for this fine Actor, I’m coming around. With “I Walk Alone” I do think he was the heart and soul of the movie. My heart goes out to him, Corey’s Dave, the bookkeeper…and he’s really caught in the thick of things between these two old friends. Dave was torn between his heartfelt loyalty to Frankie…and the “hooks” Dink had into him: forgery. Corey plays Dave wonderfully. We see a beaten man, heavy with the weight of guilt and resentment. It is weighing him down. Frankie says,

“You’re two years older than me and I’ve been in jail. You look ten years older than me!!”

When the inevitable happens, ( and you’re a movie buff…so you know what will happen), it springs Frankie into action. It takes him OUTSIDE his Self to think about someone else. And goes to action he does. I think this is a testimony to how Wendell Corey plays Dave. ( Kent Smith would’ve played him differently and we might’ve cheered for his demise…but that’s for another thread ). 

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I really like “I Walk Alone.” Kirk Douglas is the son of a bitch you love to hate. Burt Lancaster is the hero you want to root for. And Lizabeth Scott ~ the girl you want to love. When the movie finished it felt like a satisfying meal. The film feels to me like the quintessential nineteen forties movie in style and dress and dialogue. It has all the archetypical characters you could want to have; all the characters that were perhaps already old hat by the late forties: The Big Lug, The Girl, The Smooth Operator, The Strong Arm, The Snot-Nosed Up & Comer, The Bored Socialite, The Erudite Servant/Restauranteur. Is this movie officially a film noir…I’ll leave that to wiser movie buffs to define.

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I think audiences knew they had a tiger by its tail with this intense young actor. Kirk Douglas would prove his star power time after time in film after film. Click on the blogathon’s banner to read accounts of others’ favorite Kirk Douglas films. Not many people live to be one hundred years old. Douglas is one of them. He’s tough and tenacious. I think he will give Father Time a real run for his money. Kirk Douglas is someone still with us, that is a connection to the golden age of Hollywood we love.

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You know, after I got my autographed book by Kirk Douglas, I couldn’t wait to go up to my parents house and show them the book. My father is more the movie buff. Maybe this was his reaction when I brought home from school, an ashtray I made of clay in the fourth grade…but I cant quite remember my father ever smiling so broadly and with awe before.

“Whaaaaaaat?!! You met Spartacus???”


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CROSSFIRE: GLORIOUSLY GLORIA

GLORIA GRAHAME ( Crossfire )

[ November 28th, 1923 ~ October 5th, 1981 ]

CROSSFIRE (1947) Robert Young, Robert Ryan and Robert Mitchum, directed by Edward Dmytryk.

The testosterone level is high in this rough and tumble drama. You see those leads? But there’s another piece ot this movie; the girls they left behind.

Vulnerability. Regret. Pathos. This describes the very good performance of Gloria Grahame in “Crossfire.” The blare of a trumpet and a soft focused shot comes into focus announcing the appearance of Gloria Grahame as Ginny. Her Ginny reminds me of a young Joan Blondell. Grahame plays a dance hall girl ( to put it politely ) and the young soldier the police is searching for for murder ends up there. Mitchell is having a hard time adjusting, he’s missing his wife. Grahame could be that pretty girl-next-door, with delicate features and shoulder-length hair softly cascading onto her shoulders he could cry on.

But she’s not.

She doesn’t readily have a sympathetic ear. It’s all about the ca$h. It usually is with the men she meets in this place. He hooks up with her. They talk. She sarcastically tells him she knows she reminds him of the “girl he left behind.” He tells her, in fact, she does, This upsets her. She leaves him at the bar and goes out back to the garden patio.

Gloria’s angry and hurt. Hurt because she is no one’s wife; hurt because being a dance hall girl probably ruins her chances of ever becoming anyone’s wife. As she says: “I’ve been working for a long time.”

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She finds him corny but dances with him…close. Very close. Her arms are around him; she looks him squarely in the eyes when they dance. Slowly, softly, tentatively she puts her cheek next to his; her body is pressed up against his. We can see her let her guard down…like a street cat who learns to trust. The hard, cynical edge she’s hidden behind to protect her, is slowly melting. She finds him corny but it’s probably because she misses what she never had…one guy, one steady guy to love her. She’s letting him in. There’s something about this soldier.

She invites the soldier to her place. She wants to cook for him. She gets to play house but in a different way. She gives the soldier a key to her apartment. Director Dmytryk chooses to use a very long dissolve from her face to her apartment building. We linger on the close-up image of her face.

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The next time we see Gloria she’s changed into a robe. And she’s cold and hard as the soldier’s wife and detective Robert Young are at her door. They want to see if she can serve as an alibi to the soldier’s whereabouts, but she is unwilling to help. Why? The soldier was sweet and gentle and didn’t want to use her. What’s turned Gloria against him to not want to help?

Well, she could be sore that he wasn’t there when she came back to her apartment. She could be sore that the soldier’s wife is now at her door. She could be sad and hurt at the realization that she’ll never get a decent break with a guy. She could be sore at just being used for information she could provide with no thought to her own feelings. She is all those things. No one could play sad, hurt & defiant in one fell swoop like Gloria Grahame. We see her catch a glimpse of what she could have had: welcoming home her soldier with dancing, dinner and a sweet homecoming. But alas that was not to be.

GLORIA GRAHAME ( VI )   PAUL KELLY ( %22Crossfire%22 )

And who DOES she have? She has a crazy old coot of a lover/husband, played sympa-thetically by character actor Paul Kelly; probably a shell-shocked vet from the Great War, or an officer from this war. We’re not really sure who he is. A delusional man who loves her. It’s very telling she hasn’t sent him away permanently. THAT’s who she has. Grahame does a wonderful job in this mystery, the girl-left-behind in so many ways.

Grahame does a lot with this small but pivotal role. In fact, I can’t think of another actress who could show pain and hurt and vulnerability and hardness and sexiness simultaneously besides Gloria Grahame. “Crossfire” was a good post-war noir film. All three Bobs (Young, Ryan & Mitchum ) were well-cast, ( Ryan – psychotically chilling ) and George Cooper was wonderful as the soldier.

But Gloria Grahame…she just adds that lovely edge of cold sarcasm softened by her vul-nerability. She’s a wonderful addition to this classic motion picture.

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And let me give a brief shout out to Jacqueline White, who plays the Soldier’s wife. I saw her interviewed by Eddie Muller at the TCM Film Festival in 2013 before the screening of her last movie, The Narrow Margin.”  Check out the trailer for  “Crossfire.”

 

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ALL ABOUT EVE

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( April 30th, 1908 ~ November 12th, 1990 )

Wisecracking. One~liners. Devastating delivery. If you’re cynical, you might say she’s played the same part over and over again. To that I say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, because over and over again, a girl’s best friend is EVE ARDEN.

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friends-blogathon-11-18-20-2016Entering Moon In Gemini’s “YOU GOTTA HAVE FRIENDS!” blogathon ( click the banner to read more entries on the nature of friendship in the movies ) Eve Arden’s name comes immediately to mind . She doesn’t have ‘Oomph’ or ‘It’ or play the bombshell. Men consider her a ‘pal.’ But I think she is sexy in her own right if you like the level~headed gal, who could drink her whisky straight and tell you like it is. There’s beauty in that. Besides, I think she IS pretty attractive. If you’re a woman, she’d be a valuable ‘consigliere’ to tell you what you need to hear, not want to hear. And while she’s pinched you if she has to with her tart tongue, she’ll bite the heads off those who try to hurt you. In movies she’s rarely in a relationship though in real life she had a husband and children. eve-arden-husband-kidsHer screen self basically travels alone, a self~sufficient, self~contained, self~aware single woman. She floats through society with the greatest of ease…unencumbered, pollinating quips, wisecracks and bon mots as she rolls along. Eve Arden made 99 movies between 1929 and 1987. Younger audiences might remember her as Principal McGee in Grease. If they were smart like the rest of us, they’d do well to explore Eve Arden in all her younger movie career glory.

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THE ARNELO AFFAIR ( 1947 ) [ Vivian ] 

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Vivian is good friends with Ann ( Frances Gifford ) who used to be an interior decorator and who’s now a wife with a son and husband who is a workaholic. Vivian’s there for moral support and a shoulder to lean on, on her way to her own boutique, with sage advice for Ann when the frances-gifford-arnelo-affairmore attentive and slickly handsome John Hodiak starts making a play for her and feeding her grapes. Eve’s clothes are wonderfully over the top…but it’s that same devastating delivery. And even over~the~top, Eves got the frame and statuesque figure to be a clothes horse like Kay Francis. << Sigh!  >> Has Edith Head ever dressed Arden?

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“You know Ann, just give me a plate of bacon and eggs, a full pocketbook, a chinchilla coat and a man and I’m happy. I’m such a simple girl.”

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THE UNFAITHFUL ( 1947 ) [ PAULA ]

Eve Arden shows who she is from the first. Her character throws a party for herself to announce she’s back on the market:

ARDEN: “The time has come to tell you why I gave this party. Come in closer. Six years ago I committed a crime against society. I married a man. Anyway I’ve taken my punishment and I was pardoned. Or was it paroled?”

Friend: “Divorced.”

ARDEN: “Don’t be crude. Now I want to pay a tribute to the man who made all this possible. Larry Hanniford. Larry take a bow. Am I embarassing you?”

Larry: “You are.”

ARDEN: “I’m so glad.”

Larry: “Besides, I only do the paperwork. The rest I leave to the ladies.”

ARDEN: “Don’t you believe it. This morning he stood in court and made a speech that belongs to History. In twenty minutes I was a free woman. I’m now again on the open market. Do I hear any bidders? My hair is my own. My teeth is my own. Well, practically everything is my own. Speak up Gentlemen.”

Husband ( enters ): “Go on! Tell ‘em! Tell ‘em all about it! Tell ‘em how wonderful you are. Then I’ll tell ‘em a few things.”

ARDEN: “Well the corpse at the post~mortem. What’s the matter, did I forget something when I packed your things? What do YOU want!”

Husband: “I wanna sock you right in the jaw.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is our introduction to the very caustic, newly~minted divorcee Paula in “The Unfaithful.” Arden plays Ann Sheridan’s cousin~in~law. And she’s rather a bitch.

There’s a good scene in the restaurant when Arden  and her harpy side-kicks ( Peggy Knudsen and Jane Harker ) come over to give their “condolences” to Sheridan for the trouble she’s in. All they really want  is to gossip and drop innuendoes. They’re pretty transparent about it.

Friend #1 [ to Sheridan ]: “…I must say you look awfully well considering what you’ve been through.”

ARDEN: “Really Joan.”

Friend #1: “Oh, I could bite my tongue in half.”

ARDEN: “You’d have plenty left.”

She feigns leaving but stays longer to get some more dirt about this scandal. But as the movie goes on, I have to say, when the chips are really down Arden comes through. Yes she chatters on…

ARDEN: “Chris! Darling you weren’t even listing to me.”

Sheridan: “Oh I’m sorry. Would you like some more coffee?”

ARDEN: “Oh Heavens no. I’m going to meet the crowd downtown and I want those cocktails to have plenty of room.”

But I do love her heartfelt change of heart when she deeply apologizes for her behavior…in her own ‘Eve Arden-ish’ way:

“Chris. I know you won’t believe this. I’m awfully sorry about all this. Too bad we were never friends. ‘Course I know you don’t approve of me. But I don’t approve of me either.”

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Arden has a good strong scene with Zachary Scott when she has to tell him some hard truths about himself. No irony, no snide~ness. Just straight talk. Eve Arden is wonderful in this scene and director Vincent Sherman lets her have all of it:

This film deals with adultery and its extenuating circumstances; It doesnt treat the wife like she’s at the Salem witch trials. I like this movie for many reasons. Eve Arden is one of them.

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MY DREAM IS YOURS” ( 1948 )  [ VIVIAN ]

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Eve co~stars with the new girl on the Warner Brothers lot: DORIS DAY in her second motion picture. Eve is on the behind~the~scene end of show biz when talent scout Doug Blake ( the affable Jack Carson ) brings this blonde bundle of energy to the West Coast to break in to that biz called show. He bulldozes Arden to take in Day as a roomie, and puts the bite on her to also take in Day’s little boy and overgrown dog:

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Doug: “Vi, isn’t he wonderful?”

ARDEN: “Yeah, cutest little lease-breaker I ever saw. Where’s his mother?

Doug: “She’s downstairs, she wasn’t sure how you’d take this.”

ARDEN: “Yeah I’ll bet.”

He even convinces her to pawn her favorite ( and only ) mink coat to loan him the cash to put Day over. Arden’s a pal alright. Or is she a patsy? She’s a good sport about it all, ultimately looking out for Doris like a big sister… with one eyebrow raised. Arden also plays Day’s friend in “Tea For Two” in this re~working of 1920’s No No Nanette.” It’s fun watching Arden spar with Billy De Wolfe.

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MY REPUTATION ( 1946 ) [ GINNA ] 

Barbara Stanwyck is a strong woman in the movies, right? Well not in this 1946 woman’s picture. And I use strong quotes not to put the movie down in that category the way it’s usually used. But for a story specific to women who may need to give themselves permission to live again…or be responsible only to herself. Or at least Her Self FIRST. Stanwyck suffers from “DMS” = the Domineering Mother Syndrome of “Now, Voyager.” This time Mother is played by Lucile Watson, as usually played by women who look like conjugal duties clearly were a duty. Now Stanwyck doesn’t quite have the breakdown our neurotic Charlotte Vale does, but she does melt down a bit.  Stany’s a widow, feeling some built up pressure from a nice steady vanilla friend of her husband’s, two growing boys and what her social set ( and Mother ) expect of her. She can’t take it. And who does she lean on? You guessed it…her best friend Ginna played by the object of my affection: Eve Arden. And you and I and Eve Arden knows exactly ‘what~she~needs.’ 

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Jessica [crying]: “I don’t know what’s the matter with me. I seem to be going to pieces!”

ARDEN: “It isn’t only the body that breaks down, Jess. The mind can go too, you know.”

Again Arden is the urbane friend, fancy apartment. Shoulder to lean on. But this time the script actually has her as married…to the ubiquitous John Ridgely. And she’s not the domineering wife either. He good~naturedly tolerates her but keeps her in check. Arden is quieter in this movie. She invites Stanwyck out to their ski lodge to spend a weekend. Fresh air and downhill skiing will take the ‘edge’ off of what ails you. ‘Meeting cute’ will take care of the rest.

It’s a cinch that Stanwyck can’t talk to the dames in her tony set. Arden is outside the she~wolf pack.

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ANATOMY OF A MURDER” ( 1958 ) [ MAIDA ]

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This is a great courtroom drama from Otto Preminger, starring James Stewart, George C. Scott, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara and Arthur O’Connell. Good cast, good story. Eve Arden plays Maida the office Secretary for James Stewart’s Paul Biegler. You can see she’s the chief cook and bottle washer for Stewart’s law office. She’s his quiet supportive cheerleader sitting in the courtroom. And quietly, good~naturedly admonishes him.

“If this refrigerator gets any more ish in it, it will swim upstream and spawn all by itself.”

~  OR ~

Paul:  “You’re fired.”

ARDEN: “You can’t fire me until you pay me.”

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Click here –> Anatomy of a Murder (1959) from Aitor Garcia on Vimeo.

She’s not harsh or brash. She downplays the brightness of her delivery.  She’s quieter. She doesnt have to punch these lines because we already know who she is. In my mind, I like to think of her Maida, and Jimmy Stewart’s Paul Biegler having a quiet drink in their office or at the local inn listening to jazz after a trying day in court.

…And then having some quiet comfort together back in her apartment. She’s a pal. She’s a woman. She’s in your corner. She’s a friend.

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STAGEDOOR ( 1937 ) [ EVE ]

In a sea of beautiful girls with quick quips and wisecracks, Eve Arden stands out with her cat, her champagne voice and the effortlessness of skill.

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A pleasant little foursome. I predict a hatchet murder before the night’s over.

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And of course…

MILDRED PIERCE”  ( 1945 ) [ IDA ] 

eve-arden-xxviiiThis is the creme de la creme of friendship with this film. ( Arden works again with Crawford in 1950Goodbye My Fancy” ). Eve plays Ida, the first person to give Joan Crawford’s Mildred Pierce a job as a waitress. She shows her the ropes and guides her. When Mildred branches out with her own franchises, who’s right there helping manage her businesses? And who’s there to advocate for the waitresses when she has to tell Mildred Veda is borrowing money from them? Ida sees Monty Beragon for the  heel he is before Mildred…is ready to admit it. Ida drops some lovely words of contempt on Monty for good measure. And she has a wonderful retort for Wally’s admiring ogle. I present IDA:

  • “Leave something on me. I might catch cold.”
  • “When men get around me, they get allergic to wedding rings.”

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  • Monty: “Oh I wish I could get that interested in work.”
    ARDEN: “You were probably frightened by a callus at an early age.”
  • “Oh men. I never yet met one of them that didn’t have the instincts of a heel. Sometimes I wish I could get along without them.”
  • ARDEN: “Laughing boy seems slightly burned at the edges. What’s eating him?”
    Mildred: “A small green~eyed monster.”
    ARDEN: “Jealous? That doesn’t sound like Wally. No profit in it ~ and there’s a boy who loves a dollar.”
  • “Personally Veda’s convinced me that alligators have the right idea. They eat their young.”

       

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G
ee…a great collection of the 1940’s right here in “THE DOUGHGIRLS.”

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She floats above the fray of everyday heartache. She’s smart. She’s a business woman. She’s wise. In most of her appearances she’s not the bombshell who gets home and hearth. It’s not that she doesn’t want it. What does Ida say in “Mildred Pierce” that when men get around her they see her as a pal. Well I for one would be glad to have her as a pal. I’ve said it before and I say it, Eve Arden is the best friend a girl could have.
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D’ya want to read about some other great friendships in classic film? Well just click on Bob & Bing and read many more entries. And if you want to read a more in~depth view of Arden’s performance as Ida in “Mildred Pierce” read the blog post at Once Upon A Screen. Thank you Debra for hosting and sharing this great idea for a blogathon. Hmmmm…think I’d better call my best friend now.

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A FACE IN THE CROWD ( 1957 )

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One of my favorite films is “A FACE IN THE CROWD.” Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal and Walter Matthau were wonderful. In fact, I enjoyed every one’s characterizations and Elia Kazan’s message of cynicism was spot on. Power brokers…false prophets… charlatans…snake oil salesmen and demagogues. Oh my. This film is more relevant today than ever before, especially as we head two days from electing a new President.

face-crowd-3a-face-in-crowd-griffithIt was not
hard for me to reconcile
the warm
folksy Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry persona, with the megalomaniac he becomes in “A Face in the Crowd.” Maybe his Lonesome Rhodes was Sheriff Taylor on steroids. Griffith gives a strong performance in this his first film. His lusty heat obliterates all thoughts of
 Opie and Aunt Bee and Barney and Goober/Gomer Pyle, for me. If that big big laugh of his isn’t indicative of a large…a-face-in-crowd-andy-griffithuhm….‘appetite’, then I don’t know my megalomaniacs. Andy Griffith Rhodes wallows in his power; he revels and rolls in it like a pig in  **it. He is besotted with it. But when he gets in the least little trouble he calls for his Marcia again…suckling her for comfort and reassurance.

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But Lonesome Rhodes was also a drug for Marcia! Marcia! Marcia! as well. Behind every great man is a great woman, right? Here, the woman “makes” the man…in more ways than one. Patricia Neal is so good as career girl Marcia Jeffries, who tries to further her  

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career when she finds Lonesome Rhodes in a local hoosegow and has the idea to make him a tv personality. She discovers this diamond in the rough…polishes him and becomes drunk for him. She struggles the further things go along. When success and more powerful men come a-callin’ on Lonesome she is iced out, as women sometimes are. After all her help in creating him ( and sleeping with him ), she finds he’s married a pretty little vacuous majorette named Betty Lou played by pretty as a summer’s day Lee Remick in her first

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movie. It’s a blow to Marcia as though she is the “wife” who has helped her husband through medical school…only to be cast aside like a used Ace bandage, while he takes up with a younger, prettier nurse. Marcia gets him this far and now Lonesome Rhodes is feeling his oats and making decisions. What’s that line in “All About Eve” about the piano thinking its written the concerto? I’m a little torn about this. Why shouldn’t one be in control of their own image? Sure, why not. I do think Lonesome was two steps ahead of those who wished to co-opt him. But he begins to believe the hype and gets drunk with power. You cannot control a heat-seeking missile.

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Walter Matthau is Mel Miller, who works with Patricia Neals character, but sees through Lonesome. Hes kind of sweet on her. Hell be her Rock of Gibraltar at the end, but for now he watches her indignities from the sidelines.

Alas and alack ( especially alas ) no one is really indispensable; everyone is  replaceable as we shall see. Lonesome’s elevator ride after his final broad cast was a great metaphor for Kazan to use for his descent. Why, there’s even a new Lonesome Rhodes just waiting in the wings at the ground floor. Not to worry. I’m sure Lonesome Rhodes 2.0 will be doomed to repeat the same mistakes. Might be human nature at its worst. A shout out to a good smarmy performance by Anthony Franciosa. As press agent hell tell anybody what they want to hear…put em over on the gullible American public and get his 10% for doing so.

I find the movie ends in two beats: ( Spoilers! )

  • Marcia faces her “addiction” to Lonesome with all the strength she can muster. And even with the help of colleague Mel Miller ( a  solid performance, by Walter Matthau ), she still finds it a little hard to leave Lonesome.
  • Secondly, Lonesome screams into the night like King Kong having a tantrum. This time, his call will go unanswered. I loved how Kazan ends the movie with his screams.

 

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We end the movie with Marcias struggle. She walks away a changed woman: battered, bruised, but changed. She learns something about herself and people…while Lonesome remains the same. Rhodes screams into the night air of New York City, the city that never sleeps…the city that ( sometimes ) doesn’t care, the city that swallows his screams and blends it with the cacophony of noises in the night. Lonesome is alone with applause machines applauding his screams, applauding his slide. You know what they say:

“Whom the gods would destroy…they first make mad.”

 

(   H  O  M  E   )
 

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ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN ( 1958 )

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Yes, you’ve seen THE ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN about as many times as I have, though I may have the jump on you being a Baby Boomer and have been watching old sci~fi films a little longer than you. I hope with this Halloween post here,  you’ll let me take you through this great ol’ cult classic through my own bloodshot, candy corned eyes. I’ll be all over the map, not in much chronological order. But no matter. You know this movie…you’ve seen this movie…and you’ll know what I’m talking about ‘cuz therell be spoilers galore:

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Allison Hayes ( as Nancy Archer ) is a married, wealthy, alcoholic woman~on~the~verge~ of~a~nervous~breakdown because of her husband Harry’s affair with Honey. AND to top it off, she claims she’s seen an alien.

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She’s become a bit of a laughing stock in town…to be pitied and tsk’d tsk’d!

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She has a waist like a wasp, and dig those crazy striped peddle~pushers she’s wearing. Her make-up’s on pretty 1950’s thick. She reminds me of the Queen Onfale from “Hercules Unchained.” Her husband Harry does the typical move of telling her EVERYthing is her imagination. He tries to smooth and cajole her into not believing what she sees and feels. She just cant quit him.

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Seems like there’s is one crazy tv channel in this one horse town. What kind of news broadcasting does KRKR-TV do? It’s geared specifically to Nancy and her alien sighting:

“Was he pink with big ears and tusks…Nancy Archer finally found a man from out of this world who will love her.”

What the??? Journalism pre-Fox News.

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attack-ivNancys nemesis Honey ( Yvette Vickers ) is the girl Harry is coo-coo for coco puffs about. Yvette has that Joey Heatherton Tuesday Weld Eartha Kitt Gloria Grahame  Lola Falana c’est si bon petite feline vibe thing going on. These gals are fighting over Harry. Harry? Actor William Hudson plays the prince of a prize; just a lying cheating husband who wants his Honey and Nancys money. ( You can do better girl!! ) The only one loyal to Nancy is her butler Jess ( played sympathetically by Ken Terrell. ) Hes as loyal to her as Max is to Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.

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Sheriff Dubbit and Deputy Charlie go out to investigate Nancys story but find nothing. The deputy is no help being the corn~pone comic relief cross between Wally Cox and Earl Holliman. He does take Honey out for a whirl on the dance floor later when he should be doing police business.

As Nancy and Harry drive out of town to see if they can spot the man in the flying saucer who she saw earlier, the landscape looks like they’re driving on the moon. I love day-for-night shots  in these old 50’s movies with crickets chirping in the background to lend authenticity. But what kind of non~self respecting woman would run TOWARDS an alien space ship? The kind who really needs to prove to her husband she’s not alcoholically mendacious. And what kind of weasel of a husband would drive away like a bat outta Hell in a Jetsons convertible and not stay and save his wife? A weasel. He hightails it back home…packs a bag…fights the butler and picks up Honey Bear ( Yvette Vickers ) he’s been making time with. It all looks so tawdry, and low-budget. I love it.

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Nancy fights for her life from the alien attack. Actually it doesnt really look like much of an attack because this thirty foot giant moves as slow as molasses. He goes for her diamond
( Kardashian style ) but at least he takes her home when its all over, which is more than I can say for Harry. He’s left her on the roof of her pool house. And Nancy’s in a state of shock..stone cold sober.

Harry’s still a prince of a fella. When he goes into Nancy’s room to give her an overdose of medication so he can finally be rid of her and get her money, he turns on the light and sees Nancy’s hand is GIGANTIC. A gigantic papier maché hand. The Nurse is cross-eyed with blood~curdling screams behind him:

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NURSE: (screaming) “Some thing’s happened to Mrs. Archer!!!!”
DOCTOR (calmly): “Astounding growth!”

That Harry was in the room with that big fat hypodermic needle is not even addressed. 

Here is the shopping list of supplies needed to keep a buxom fifty foot woman in check:

  • meat hooks
  • 4 lengths of chain
  • 40 gallons of plasma and
  • an elephant syringe

Sounds about right.

Nancy’s family doctor, Doctor Cushing consults specialist Doctor Heinrich von Loeb whose diagnosis is a totally garbled jumbled mess of incomprehensible pronounciations. In other words, I never understood not one word of what the hell he was saying.

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Apparently there’s also only one night club in this one-horse town and Harry and Honey have no shame being seen there together even after Nancys public breakdown. What I only just now noticed this one~billionth time seeing the movie is while Harry and Honey are talking, there is a couple dancing behind them that have really cool and smooth moves. Look at ‘em go, 50’s~style next time you watch.

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Now that Nancy is Gigantic, the Sheriff and Jess~the Butler can do some retroactive police work and go out to see if they can find the source of those giant footprints by Nancys pool house. Jess suggests they call for help but the sheriff nixes that idea, not wanting outside interference. Either the Sheriff is a maroon or something tells me the budget couldn’t stand for more actors. The spaceship is out on the middle of nowhere, in day~for~night shots, hovering like a giant pearl in the middle of the field with its doors wide open. So of course The Sheriff and the Butler walk inside the steamy spaceship. They fear no extra~terrestrial microbes here in the desert air. Listen, my curiosity is as strong as the next Earthling…but Im not walking willy nilly into a sauna~like spaceship even if the door is open. ( Stranger Danger ).

I guess the morphine wears off and Nancy wakes up. She is none too happy!!!  [ “Do these reams and reams of bed sheets make me look fat?” That astounding growth thing. ] These two hick doctors thought they could handle this fifty-foot giant by themselves and are only just now calling for outside help. Hippocratic, schmippocratic, you need help, you quacks!

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DOCTOR: “MORE MORPHINE!!!”
NURSE:   “SHE’S LOOSE, SHE’LL TEAR THE ROOF OFF!!!!”

I love that we dont see a full shot of Nancy except through reaction shots by these horribly valiant actors. Or is that valiantly horrible actors? In any event, Im dying to SEE Nancy.

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When Nancy breaks through the roof all slo-mo and everything, she looks quite majestic
( and transparent ) to me…and she has turned into a blonde. Scientifically speaking folks, did the pituitary malfunction change her hair color as well as her shoe size? Revlon might look into this.

DOCTOR: “She’ll tear up the whole town until she finds Harry.”
DEPUTY DOPEY: “Yeah, and then she’ll tear up Harry.”

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Man’s worst fear…a giant woman

 

There’s something sexy and powerful about watching Nancy stride through the country side and tearing off the roof of the club to find Harry. She kills Honey easily because instead of running for her life, Honey hides under a table in the club and screams her head off into the camera, crushed by falling debris. And now…for Harry. attack-viiThe Dopey Deputy is not willing to shoot a woman, but Harry sure is. Nancy’s gigantic papier~maché hand reaches through the hole in the roof and wraps itself around him as she picks him up out of the club. When she holds him up in the air in that bedsheet bikini of hers…she’s awe-inspiring. It’s a low-budget film, so I won’t quibble about the thread count of those sheets. Suffice it to say it’s a very empowering moment for all those wives who’ve been done wrong.

Giants are none too bright as they walk near power lines with their giant steps. Youd think theyd avoid them. The sheriff gets one good lucky shot off and hits the power line which  brings Nancy down. She is still holding her crumpled up doll of a husband in her giant man-size hands. [ Shades of Ellen Berent? “I’ll never let you go. Never. Never. Never”?? ] It’s only fitting the doctor, who has known Nancy since she was a little girl, have the last line in this classic:

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“She finally got Harry all to herself.”

Directed by Nathan Hertz, the film is nothing like the movie poster at the top of my review. Nancy is not some giant behemoth attacking the world. She is not a menace to society or a danger to rush~hour traffic. She is a menace to herself. She is single~minded in her path of destroying herself. She wants her husband back. I could say the film is a parable about unloved housewives of the fifties and their outsized love to hold on to their men; or women being silenced by the patriarchal power structure; or a film where Men’s worst fears are realized: a woman who is too big for him. But why spoil it with psychobabble. Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is just a plain fun. But its not a movie I laugh at. Oh no. I feel terribly terribly sorry for poor mixed up Nancy Archer.

 

 

P.S. And even though I missed entering my submission here in the: KEEP WATCHING THE SKIES Blogathon doesn’t mean you have to miss reading any of the entries. Check ’em out.

 

(   H  O  M  E   )
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PITFALL ( 1948 )

PITFALL ( I )PITFALL ( III )PITFALL ( II )PITFALL ( IV )Husband                     Wife                         Mistress                   Creep

PITFALL is taut tense quiet drama and I like how it plays out. You think it’s going to go one way and director André De Toth takes you in a different direction.  For Dick Powell who plays John Forbes, your average, postwar, 9-to-5, Everyman, Insurance man, what happens outside his marriage comes crashing into his suburban home like a tsunami. (Gosh, insurance guys sure lead fascinating lives; remember Walter Neff?) Powell’s a hero to his son, a good provider to his wife, but his life is in a rut. Then Lizabeth Scott falls into his lap.

PITFALL ( V )RAYMOND BURR is Mac, the private investigator Dick Powell sends out on Lizabeth Scott’s case and he’s developed a hankering for her, to put it mildly. He’s just a guy who can’t take “No.” Basically he’s a one-track minded terminator, obsessed with Scott beyond all rhyme and reason. He’s having that relationship with her all by himself. In fact, Burr spends much of the late 40’s and 50’s not getting the girl. Scott wants no part of this hulking brute. Any girl would take a ten-foot pole and vault as far away from him as possi-ble. Visiting her in the shop where she works, he has free rein to sit and watch her model clothes for him as long as his cash holds out. All perfectly legal. All perfectly “Eeeeew!” I told you he was a creep.

DICK POWELL ( PITFALL )

I like DICK POWELL as John Forbes. He gets all caught up in a web of his own making but I do feel sorry for him. It’s not that he does not love his wife; he does. He’s just frustrated and bored with the routine and predic-tability of his own life. He did not look for this; doesn’t initiate it. Yes, lying by omission is still lying. Yes, he should have gotten a hobby. Yes, he could have said no, but…c’mon.

“I guess I’m a little out of practice. I never quoted anything but statistics. I’m a little unsure of  myself whenever I crawl out of my briefcase.”

WHO’S DRAWING OUT WHOM?

PITFALL ( VII )

Forbes takes inventory of the items Mona Stevens received from her ex-boyfriend who’s now in jail for embezzlement. LIZA-BETH SCOTT plays Mona and if you know anything about Lizabeth in the 40’s, you know she rarely caught a break! As Forbes investigates her, he is strictly about business. Says Mona about her ex:

“He was just too much in love with me. He wanted to do things for me and he didn’t have the money. So he went out and got some…I liked him mostly because he was nice to me. Very few men are. That means a lot.”  

( RULE #1 – HOOK THE HERO WITH YOUR TALES OF WOE )

Forbes warms up to her when he sees she’s not a bad egg; she is not a femme fatale in the strictest sense of the word. She just got caught up in something herself. It’s the begin-ning of getting-to-know-you. Mona offers Forbes a life raft out of his sea of boredom. She lets him have a ride on her ill-gotten gains of a boat before he confiscates it, and he gets a brief glimpse of how the other half lives; a respite from his ordinary existence. I think they recognize they’re each caught up in life’s circumstances. She invites him to a home-cooked meal where one thing leads to another. See…he just falls into it.

GUILT – THE GREAT MOTIVATOR

PITFALL ( VIII )
Maybe moguls got JANE WYATT confused with Jane Wyman due the similarity of their last names. Wyatt did not get all the meaty roles Wyman or Dorothy McGuire were offered, but she was a fine actress as well – ( I love her voice ) and it shows here in “Pitfall” as Sue Forbes, John’s wife. As Sue she is pretty, competent and has a sense of humor; she tries to sensibly cajole him out of his doldrums. She seems like a true partner in that marriage; someone who can go to a PTA meeting or country club, and is probably a good bridge partner. ‘The Wife’ usually is a thankless role in movies, painted as nag, shrew, harpy. But not here. ( Anne Archer in “Fatal Attraction” comes to mind. )  As Sue, she’s not too busy for her husband and accepts her adult responsibility. Yes he strays, but we can see there’s nothing really wrong with Sue.

 

ENDING WHAT NEVER SHOULD HAVE BEGUN

PITFALL ( IX )

After she accidentally discovers he’s married, he breaks off the affair.

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JOHN: “I’ve done something I’m terribly ashamed of. I’d like to make it up to you.”

MONA: “Well if you think I’m going to stand in competition with a wife and child…even I’ve got more sense than that.”

JOHN: “What’s going to happen to you?”

MONA: “What do you care, really. Honestly Johnny, aren’t you a little relieved to get out of it this easily. This is the set up Johnny. This is the kind of girl you’ve always dreamed about. I’m going to let you off without an angle. I could be nasty. But I’m not going to be.”

JOHN: “Why?”

MONA:  “I don’t know. But I’m not going to be…what happens to men like you, Johnny? If I had a nice home like you did Johnny, I wouldn’t take a chance with it for anything in the world.”

JOHN: “I’ll do anything I can.”

MONA:  “Will you really? Alright. Then go home. Stay there.”

JOHN:  “Alright. If that’s the way you want it.”

MONA:  “If that’s the way I want it? Have you got any other ideas?”

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It’s a clean break. A sad one. Hurtful. John gets away “scott”-free. He’s learned his lesson and is now back in the fold, content with what he has at home.

Uhmmm…not so fast.

BLACKMAIL MAKES STRANGE BEDFELLOWS

PITFALL ( XII )What intrigues me about this film is that it’s not just your usual married-man-cheats-and-slinks-back-home-feeling-guilty sort of thing. There are tangible consequences, not just emotional ones. His outside actions intrude on his home life ( again, like in Fatal Attraction” ) and in a big way. Big as in RAYMOND BURRThe conflict between the two men is an in-teresting dynamic and it puts Forbes in a pickle. They both like Mona. One offers protection, the other – his obsession. How can John protect Mona against Mac without his wife finding out about the affair? And if pounding  Forbes to a pulp won’t keep him from Mona, ( John has to lie to Sue about why he was beat up… )  Mac decides to create a human heat-seeking missile out of Mona’s ex, Smiley, ( Byron Barr. ) And Smiley heads straight to Forbes’ house after being released from prison. It all comes to a head.

PITFALL ( LOGO SHOT )

Sue tells John:

Conscience? You make it sound like a dirty word. You worrying about your filthy little conscience… you’re not going to the police. You lied once. It came to you easily enough then. You’ve got to lie now. I mean this Johnny, if you drag this family through the dirt I’ll never forgive you!

Lots of compromises in “Pitfall.” Everything is not tied up in a nice tidy bow. That only hap-pens in the movies.

CineMoral: If your husband gets a beat-down and doesn’t report it to the cops…he’s having an affair.

You can read a more in depth look at Raymond Burr in “Pitfall” here: at the Caftan Woman blog that covered his performance in this movie for last April’s GREAT VILLAIN BLOGATHON hosted by Speakeasy, Silver Screenings and Shadows and Satin.

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