I started off the week by watching a most entertaining 1964 film by a most colourful director, Samuel Fuller, The Naked Kiss.
Off the bat, I noticed some exciting names in the credits–Betty Bronson, silent film actress, best known for playing the title role in the 1924 version of Peter Pan and Mary in the 1925 version of Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. Here she plays the main character’s sweet, motherly landlady, Miss Josephine.
Next, Patsy Kelly’s name popped up and I wondered if this character would be different from her usual lusty, sarcastic, take-charge persona. Here she plays a nurse, a minor, likeable one but Patsy is never quiet. I couldn’t help but notice in one scene, while attending a dinner party, that a reference was made to her finding a mate, which only stood out if you knew she’d be more interested in our heroine than the handsome host of the party.
But the icing on the cake was seeing that the director of photography was Stanley Cortez. I’m guessing he’s most well-known for shooting the 1955 The Night of the Hunter but he’s acted as cinematographer on numerous other important films including The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Flesh and Fantasy (1943), Since You Went Away (1944), Secret Beyond the Door… (1947) and one of my favourites, The Three Faces of Eve (1957). Cortez was the brother of famous actor Ricardo Cortez and when Ricardo changed his name from Jack Krantz to romanticize his image, Stanley followed suit, changing his surname as well.
Constance Towers plays Kelly, a beautiful woman who quickly realizes that the prostitution business isn’t for her. Her pimp isn’t honest and the opening scene lets us know what she thinks of him in no uncertain terms.
Something that caught my eye in a very early scene as Kelly is walking down the street, is the name of the film, Shock Corridor, on the marquee of a theatre. This was Fuller doing a little promoting of his previous film, bless his heart.
Kelly cares about youngsters and eventually finds a job in an orthopedic hospital for children. The staff and kiddies love her and her only nemesis comes in the form of Detective Griff (Anthony Eisley) who attempts to thwart her choice of doing good in the world because he once bought her services. What a messed up, judgemental character he is; he continually waffles between the light and dark side of life.
When it looks like Kelly’s life is on track to complete happiness, she has an epiphany, realizing she was disturbed the first time she kissed her lover, Grant (Michael Dante), describing it as “The Naked Kiss”. After her discovery, when things go from bad to worse until they don’t, you are rooting for our heroine. I was skeptical but glad that the jail they kept her in had a window facing the alleyway where all the children seemed to gather to play in. I’m sure it’s where my mother would have sent me and certainly where I would have wanted my children to play.
I thought that Kelly’s little wards, who all loved her, couldn’t help but be prone to notice that she directed all her focus on one particular boy, Kip (Jean-Michel Michenaud). I know I would have been very jealous of this noticeable attention.
The film was wonderfully campy, but the subject matter was really quite forward-thinking and important and I applaud Sam Fuller for his script. Watching this on a Criterion copy, I was able to view a rather interesting interview by the director, who never gave a moment’s pause to think of something to say. Possibly my favourite quote, which went something like this, was, “Screenplays are like women, but movies are like cigars,” which he said while lighting, then puffing away contently on the longest, fattest cigar you’ve ever seen. Fuller seemed to say that the movie is the thing, but I thought there were a lot more subtle twists, such as, if you don’t have a good script, you won’t have a good movie, so really the woman is more important than the cigar (although he didn’t seem to emphasis it that way.) The cigar was rather phallic, and I wondered what that implied, if anything at all. Or did he mean, perhaps, that a cigar lasts longer than an intimate encounter with a woman? Who knows? It was just amusing.
The next film I watched was a good little noir, They Won’t Believe Me (1947), with Robert Young, Jane Greer, Susan Hayward and Rita Johnson. Lately, I seem to unconsciously be choosing films directed by Irving Pichel. I’ve seen him in quite a number of films as an actor and just last week watched his The Miracle of the Bells which he directed. I also seem to be running into Joan Harrison, producer of the film. She wrote several screenplays for Alfred Hitchcock films, was the producer on a number of his television shows, and produced three films which I saw just this summer, Phantom Lady (1944), Nocturne (1946) and Ride the Pink Horse (1947).
I was never a Robert Young fan, but I find getting older I’m liking people I never thought I would when I was younger. I like that Young plays a cowardly, devious cad who seems to attract beautiful women. His wife, Greta (Johnson) isn’t quite as beautiful as Janice (Greer) or Verna (Hayward), but she is extremely wealthy, which is what attracted Larry (Young) to her in the first place. But all these women just can’t keep their sights or hands off of the man. Although you are aware that he does have some charm, can appear down-to-earth and straightforward, it’s still not enough to explain all the different reasons these three women fall for him. But don’t let this prevent you from watching the film. There’s lots going on and the women are the most intriguing characters.
The film opens up with a court trial and from there we get the story of why Larry is fighting for his life. Hence, the title of the film. I’ll leave it at that!
Next, I just picked something more randomly than I usually do, choosing Evelyn Prentice (1934). I felt it had been a while since I’d watched a pre-Code and this was one I had never seen. Directed by William K. Howard, a name I know well, but someone I know nothing about, I also figured it would be nice to see William Powell and Myrna Loy in a film they made together just after The Thin Man. It featured an actress I always enjoy, Una Merkel, who seems to play the best friend, hardly ever the “bride”. Also noteworthy, this film introduced Rosalind Russell in her very first role in a version of a femme fatale.
John Prentice (Powell) is a prominent criminal lawyer who represents Mrs. Nancy Harrison (Russell) for killing a man by automobile. She’s ever so grateful and Prentice has a weakness for the ladies. He’s also extremely neglectful of his lovely wife, Evelyn (Loy), who spends a lot of time arranging social events with the help of her best friend Amy (Merkel). While out for the evening, sans husband, Evelyn is targetted by Lawrence Kennard (Harvey Stephens) who insists they have met previously. Eventually he manages to ingratiate himself, and Evelyn allows him to spend time with her. Unbeknownst to her, he has a longtime girlfriend, Judith Wilson (Isabel Jewell), who’s obsessiveness with him he doesn’t take seriously enough.
The final court scene with Judith on the stand, Evelyn looking on with guilt, and the whole mess unraveled by the clever John Prentice, you understand why this is a pre-Code film, and it’s somewhat heartening. People get their just desserts and morality isn’t necessarily different for women than it is for men.
I got a jolt of pleasure to see Cora Sue Collins in the role of Dorothy, the Prentice’s little girl. When you meet a person in real life, one who is 92, especially one who is still so vibrant and beautiful, you can’t help but feel a thrill seeing her at the age of seven in an 85-year-old film.
The final film I viewed, I had last seen at Toronto Film Society in October 2014 and I thought might be something my son would like. It was the 1957 UK shot film, Night of the Demon, directed by Jacques Tourneur. Tourneur was no stranger to occult-based films, directing Cat People (1942), I Walked With a Zombie and The Leopard Man (both 1943) for producer Val Lewton. Released in the US in a truncated version as Curse of the Demon, both are available on DVD. I chose to watch the full British-released version and didn’t compare it to see what was left out of the US release. With an intelligent, adult script, and beautiful sets exceptionally photographed by director of cinematography Ted Scaife, there are some truly creepy moments in this film.
Does Satanism exist outside of the minds of those who believe? American professor John Holden (Dana Andrews), in London to lecture at a paranormal psychology conference, finds himself entrenched in a powerful evil. He meets up with Joanna Harrington (Peggy Cummins–who I always think of as Annie Laurie Starr in Gun Crazy (1950)). Here she plays someone who is a far cry from that wild woman and uses something closer to her true Welsh accent.
She believes her uncle, Professor Henry Harrington (Maurice Denham) didn’t die by misfortune but had actually been demonically murdered by the wishes of satanic cult leader Doctor Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis). Is Holden the next victim?
There are some particularly spine-tingling moments, one being the seance scene organized by Karswell’s mother (Athene Seyler) and the hypnotist session conducted in the hopes of understanding patient Rand Hobart’s thoughts (Brian Wilde) which relate back to Satanism.
The only two flaws I felt this film had was, first, the opening sequence where we see how Professor Harrington meets his fate. I felt that if that scene wasn’t shown explicitly, but had been left implied, it would have kept the audience more skeptical of what might be going on until the end of the film. The other flaw was the graphic close-up of the demon. Perhaps in 1957 that image would have incited fear into the viewers, but certainly not even a decade or so later. Otherwise, the rest of the film was grand and rates up there with the best in the subtle horror genre with films such as Dead of Night (1945), The Innocents (1961) and the aforementioned Cat People. You can check out Toronto Film Society film notes here where there is more discussion about the director and why this graphic image was included in the final cut.
This ends last week’s film viewing. I hope this inspires you to watch some of these, or rewatch if it’s been a while since you’ve seen any of them.