“I’m gonna cube that mother but good!”

Realising that Bunuel’s old cinematographer from his Mexico days shot a movie about LSD was enough to make me very grateful to a kind providence. Realising that said movie starred Lana Turner was enough to make me want to kiss God full on the lips.

But the TV-style yellow credits and flat, unimaginative staging of  most of the regular action was a warning that THE BIG CUBE was not going to be a real masterpiece, even of the camp variety. The trip sequences turned out to be enjoyable but not too inspired: plasma lighting, flash cuts and solarisation effects were the extent of it, and while I enjoy all of those things, sometimes you want a little more. And sometimes you think, gee, they really haven’t done their research, have they?

Basically THE BIG CUBE is Patrick Hamilton’s GASLIGHT on LSD, and while that may sound alluring, the combination of hip trendspotting and old-fashioned morality tale is pretty stodgy in reality. Dopey Karin Mossberg is jealous of her new stepmother, Lana T, a glamorous stage star. When dad Daniel O’Herlihy is killed in a yachting accident (NEVER go boating with Dan O’Herlihy, movie-goers: that’s basic), her venomous stepchild is seduced into a fiendish plan by George Chakiris, an acid-peddling med student: drive Lana mad by spiking her tranqs with lysergic whatnots. Cue faux-trippy montages and much screaming.

More compelling than that, and more compelling than Lana’s bizarre performance in the everyday scenes — incompetence + total self-belief = a Maria Montez-like mindblowing poise and preposterousness — and more compelling even than Dan O’Herlihy’s bizarre attempt at a performance (good actor: what was he thinking?) are the two female supports, the stepdaughter and her best pal, Bibi (Pamela Rodgers).

As you can see, Pam gives a bizarre, strained, one-note performance that’s like a third-hand imitation of Marilyn Monroe misremembered in a trance. (Next in her career, THE MALTESE BIPPY beckons.) On the other hand, at least it IS a performance (she can’t really be like that). At least it HAS one note.

Karin Mussberg manages to convey all the different kinds of bad acting you could ever hope to see, entertainingly wrapped up in one package. What can go wrong with a performance?

When normal people try too hard to act, they tend to sound stiff and forced. Sometimes they fall into copying, badly, something they’ve seen that they think of as “acting”. This kind of strain is well-evoked by Julianne Moore in BOOGIE NIGHTS when she adopts a forced high-pitched voice when her character attempts to act.

When you encounter trained actors who are simply untalented, as I’m afraid I have from time to time, you sometimes get a tendency to load “import” and “meaning” onto lines by heavy stress. This isn’t actually import or meaning because it has no actual importance or meaning, it’s just stress. And also, clumsy or inexperienced actors sometimes place the stress on the wrong word. In this way, trained actors can actually be worse than amateurs. Real people, in real life, never ever stress the wrong word in a sentence.

Even good actors can make other kinds of blunders — I’m really only dealing with dialogue here. If an actor is confused they can read a line with the wrong meaning in mind, with the wrong tone or mood. They can be unintentionally funny, as I think Dan O’Herlihy is at the end of that first clip a clip you’ll find in the comments section.

What’s impressive about Mussberg is her ability to blend and fuse all those errors together in a single performance. It’s not like these mistakes are blemishes upon the performance. They ARE the performance. It’s quite fascinating.

The only really comfortable player in the film is Chakiris, as the villain, who’s actually good. Our faith in him as a heartless Machiavellian seducer is hurt by the fact that he embarks upon this plot with a complete idiot for an accomplice, but he’s still got more on the ball than anyone else. Life is so unfair! Nic Cage eats a cockroach in VAMPIRE’S KISS and the world swoons. George Chakiris puts an ant in his breast pocket in THE BIG CUBE and his only reward is weary indifference. It’s exactly this kind of injustice I established this blog to rail against.

The film reaches a new and, I must admit, agreeable height of insanity after Lana is plunged into amnesia by all that acid, so her playwright friend resolves to cure her by writing a play that will force her to reenact the trauma and confront what’s happened. Quite incredibly, they not only rehearse the play with a full cast, but proceed to opening night with a full audience. Lana recovers her memory, is reunited with her repentant step-brat, falls in love with the playwright and scores a theatrical smash-hit. Meanwhile George Chakiris freaks out and overdoses on acid-laced sugar cubes. An ambulance hurtling him to hospital passes Lana’s limo. Cue jaunty music, the end.

23 Responses to ““I’m gonna cube that mother but good!””

  1. You know, the words “willfully eccentric” may not still be visibly contained in the banner of this blog, but they’re still there. Having read the lion’s share of this post I can still see them.

  2. I think it’s become not so much willful as involuntary!

  3. As in The Boy Can’t Help It.

  4. “They can be unintentionally funny, as I think Dan O’Herlihy is at the end of that first clip”

    Are you sure you don’t mean ‘The Big Cube (1969) Clip 4’?

  5. Well spotted —

    This clip is not work-safe, unless you maybe work in a commune for strippers.

  6. david wingrove Says:

    OK, I still haven’t seen THE BIG CUBE…but I would like to recommend a later Lana Laugh Riot called PERSECUTION.

    Directed by Don Chaffey, it’s a cheapo British horror flick starring Lana as a wealthy, cat-obsessed widow, Ralph Bates (DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE) as her disturbed son and Olga Georges-Picot as a sexy French maid (is there any other kind?)

    From the description of THE BIG CUBE, these two would make a killler double bill. They really don’t make stars like Lana any more!!

  7. The only thing that gives “Cube” the edge over “Percy Cushion” is that Lana doesn’t spend the latter film zonked out of her gourd. She just acts like it.

  8. There’s more Lana antics over at David Ehrenstein’s place. http://fablog.ehrensteinland.com/

  9. Here’s the link you’re looking for. (My latest concerns Adam Lambert.)

    After The Big Cube I reccomend Orgazmo Starring Caroll Baker and Lou Castel.

  10. Here’s the trailer:

  11. Thanks!

    Carroll Baker had quite a busy exploitation career en Italia — two movies called Spasmo, both for Umberto Lenzi, if memory serves (to make ONE movie called Spasmo for Umberto Lenzi is unfortunate, to make two seems like carelessness!) and the deranged Baba Yaga, which I just obtained in its new director’s cut courtesy of Mr Wingrove, that fabled procurer of the rare and… unusual.

  12. Kirk Douglas didn’t need LDS. He had Elaine Stewart.

  13. LDS? Lana’s Drugged Stupors!

  14. Here’s George Chakiris again. And I think he’s about to slip a tab to George Clooney’s aunt!

  15. And here he is again!

  16. Spoilsports!

    Chakiris probably emerges from The Big Cube with more credibility than anyone else, not that that’s saying much. Director Tito Davison, I should have mentioned, had a long and honourable career helming Mexican melodramas since the 30s. He continued into the 80s, somehow.

  17. Christopher Says:

    I would never drop acid with any of these Squares!..lol..THat yappy Bibi would have me clawing at my flesh..and then hers!

  18. Christopher Says:

    I recognised a few people when I watched this awhile back.that are still real active in Mexican Soaps..

  19. Wow. Karin M seems to have pursued other options though. Who needs hallucinogens when you’ve got Bibi?

  20. david wingrove Says:

    Any idea what the lovely George Chakiris is up to nowadays?

    Other than having some truly woeful cosmetic surgery! (See the 2002 Oscars, where he and an 85-year-old Jennifer Jones look like identical twins!)

    He is one of the most beautiful men ever to grace the screen.

  21. Well he’s no longer the fetching young thing he once was (and who of us is?) but he’s shown up at West Side Story events to talk about the film and how hard it was to work for Jerry Robbins. He’s also shown up for screenisn of The Young Girls of Rochefort. Jacques was of course tons more fun — as were the Dorleac sisters and Grover Dale.

  22. He’s one of those actors who would be very interesting to see in a movie now, but only the likes of David Lynch would use him. It’s like Tony Curtis: what can he plausibly play, apart from who he is?

    Maybe a remake of La Fin du Jour set in the screen actors’ home, with everybody’s faces stretched tighter than a Jess Franco budget. Hell, maybe Franco should direct it.

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