Lost in Space

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I think this one is a pretty good example of the merits of watching minor, or even bad films. THE GLASS WEB is a Jack Arnold noir made right after IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE and featuring Kathleen Hughes, who had played a telephone repairman’s slutty girlfriend in that film (“George always has a healthy appetite,”), as a blackmailing vixen.

The plot is a retread of THE BIG CLOCK, mixed up in various ways that don’t constitute improvements, but might just about pass muster, and the whole thing is set in the world of TV.  Edward G Robinson kills Hughes and tries to frame everybody in sight, while also producing a TV play for his Crime of the Week show, recreating the murder. None of it’s exactly inspired, and the moment I lost faith was when William John Forsythe, having gone over his relationship with Hughes as she puts the bite on him, has a flashback in which he revisits all the events we’ve just heard about, learning nothing new…

But then there’s this scene. Forsythe goes for a walk, panic-stricken after discovering Hughes dead. Arnold, who has restrained himself on the 3D shock effects, suddenly cuts loose and throws object after object into our faces, like an angry chimpanzee operating a tennis serve machine. It’s goofy and fun, but also effective at showing Forsythe’s sudden disorientation and vulnerability. And it’s the only time I’ve seen a filmmaker hold back on the 3D all through a film, and then go NUTS.

Too bad the film’s not better. Hughes, completely venal and without sympathetic traits, nevertheless emerges as the most appealing character because she shows signs of life. Robinson’s activities as an office sneak, maneuvering against Forsythe to boost his own career, are more compelling than his actions as murderer, suggesting that the film might have made a good NETWORK-style assault on television culture and the workplace, rather than a pallid noir imitation. Weirdly, it’s more shocking to see Robinson hinting darkly that his colleague is having marital problems, undercutting his boss’s confidence in the guy, than it is to see him dispose of his mistress (because let’s face it, Eddie was ALWAYS doing THAT).

9 Responses to “Lost in Space”

  1. The Glass Web is pretty neat in 3-D, and Kathleen Hughes is a trip. Appearing personally at the 2nd World 3-D Expo – and looking good – she talked about how much fun it was to kiss Edward G. Robinson (even though she had no kissing scenes with him in the movie) and how parts of It Came From Outer Space were shot in Roswell, New Mexico. (NOTE: ICFOS was shot long before the whole aliens-crashed-in-Roswell story became part of popular mythology, so this shows either that the filmmakers were extremely prescient or that they had inside information or that coincidence operates in strange ways or that Kathleen Hughes likes to make things up.)

  2. Christopher Says:

    reminds me of the Mynah Bird in the Warner’s cartoon,struting along to Mendelssohn’s Fingal’s Cave,oblivious to the catastrophes going on around him..

  3. Having seen Kathleen Hughes in two Jack Arnold movies now, I would believe her capable of ANYTHING.

  4. Randy Byers Says:

    Sounds more like a remake of Michael Curtiz’s THE UNSUSPECTED, with Robinson in the Claude Rains role.

  5. That clip’s hilarious, almost a parody. By the way, it’s John Forsythe, William’s dad.

  6. You are correct, sir. Corrections in progress.

    I agree that it’s goofy, but it seems like an interesting idea — using 3D to suggest a mental state. Certainly a more interesting idea than purely physically shocking the audience. Maybe 3D is inherently cheesy so something like this won’t reach the Murnau-like place it wants to attain?

    Apparently the film is based on a Max Ehrlich novel — he may have been influenced by The Unsuspected (a very nice WB movie) or The Big Clock. Both those movies derive from novels… One deals with radio, one with publishing, and now this one with TV (the enemy of 50s cinema, and the reason 3D was invented…)

  7. Subtler 3-D spatial effects are less likely to be noticed when one views a film “flat.” Two of THE GLASS WEB’s best are: (1) the opening pullback from a desert scene to reveal it’s actually a staged drama taking place within the confines of a television studio, and (2) a confrontation between Forsythe and Robinson taking place on a high cliff overlooking crashing waves. As you noted in your IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE post, director Jack Arnold had a flair for the 3-D usages of height and space. Arnold’s expressive use of the space around his actors is apparent even in his “flat” films like THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN.

  8. The opening shot is nice, although the cheapness of the set kind of ruins the surprise. And 3D does seem to be more useful for height effects, adding that sense of vertigo that’s usually missing, than it is for depth.

    It’s nice that Arnold was fully aware that Shrinking Man was his masterpiece — he was very proud of it and knew it stood far above the rest.

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