Archive for Blood and Black Lace

I ask you, is THIS the face of a killer?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on March 18, 2020 by dcairns

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LA MORTE RISALE A IERA SERA (DEATH OCCURRED LAST NIGHT) is a strange and unsavory crime thriller that seems midway between the genres of gialli (sex, murder, mystery) and poliziotteschi (cops, detection, procedural).

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Raf Vallone is a lower-middle-class working stiff with a bum knee whose daughter is kidnapped. She’s a very tall girl (why does the script insist on this? No idea) with a mental age of three. Because she has an innocent tendency to promiscuity, Vallone keeps her shut in the apartment while he’s at work. One day she’s gone.

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Detectives Frank Wolff and Gabriele Tinti take the case — the girl has vanished into Milan’s brothels, where her passive, childlike nature would seem to make her an object of fantasy for the clientele. This is all very, very uncomfortable stuff, and the movie is not above regarding Gillian Bray’s character with a lecherous eye.

Things are already dark and they just get darker. Shadowplayer Andre Ferreira identifies a theme in director Duccio Tessari‘s giallo-type films, where the victims are unusually sympathetic. Most gialli make the murders easier to enjoy without guilt by making the victims fairly unappealing except sexually, and the detectives/investigators are often grumpy, low-charisma types (Cameron Mitchell’s Inspector Morlacchi in BLOOD AND BLACK LACE is both prototype and paragon here).

So Vallone is treated with respect by the movie and by Wolff’s character, who gains our respect for his attitude. Then things unfold in an odd and gradual way. Wolff and Tinti plunge into the sexual underworld, visiting whorehouses undercover as johns with the state paying the bills. Lots of montages with the inexplicably jaunty pop soundtrack by Gianni Ferrio bouncing away as if this was all a big romp. Some of the cutting gets quite M-like.

Then the victim is found dead and half-burned, and then Vallone gets a clue which he keeps to himself so he can get revenge. It all bends genre norms out of shape, not always in the best of ways, but it’s interesting. I’d never seen a man killed with a washing machine, for instance.

Two things are typically poliziotteschi: (1) there’s widespread anomie with a bunch of people who know stuff about this unbelievably heinous crime who don’t share it with the cops because society is rotten and nobody cares and (2) there’s a somewhat fascistic DIRTY HARRY attitude that the cops will sometimes need to break rules and noses in order to get the job done, damnit.

As a procedural, the film is daft. We don’t see our heroes fucking their way through the sex industry, which seems to be threatened at first: they just use their undercover guises to open doors. But there’s a hilarious bit where a witness is made to draw a suspect, even though he can’t draw. He produces a smiley face with no upper head, and then this is passed on to a police artist to be transformed into a better drawing, with no contact whatsoever between witness and sketcher. The result is as you might predict, ludicrous, but all the later witnesses agree that it captures the essence of the guilty party.

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You have now.

There are some nice human touches, though: Wolff plays the whole thing with sinus trouble, sticking a decongestant stick up a nostril at inopportune moments. Donald Pleasence would surely nod his approval.

The Sunday Intertitle: Silly

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , on August 14, 2016 by dcairns

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More Harold Lloyd. In NOW OR NEVER (1929) he hangs under a moving train and runs along the tracks, a feat accomplished in the studio (Lloyd wasn’t as addicted to suicidal risk-taking as Buster Keaton, despite all those carefully-prepared skyscraper-climbing scenes). The background is painted on a rotating screen so it can rush past, and the whole thing is furiously undercranked.

In a closeup, we see Harold’s head bobbing furiously as he’s forced to run at superhuman speed. I wondered what he would look like if I freeze-framed him. Harold is in fact head-banging as fast as he can, rather than nodding gently and allowing the accelerated-motion filming to do its work, so the answer to my question is: “Pretty weird.”

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In fact, he looks like a series of Francis Bacon paintings. He’s moving too fast for the camera eye, and in some frames the top of his head has been photographed in one position and the bottom in another, resulting in funhouse elongation. As if Harold were on the lip of a Black Hole, being sucked in and spaghettified. In other frames, Harold’s jacket and cap remain sharp, but his face has been erased, like the masked killer in BLOOD AND BLACK LACE or the laughing victim of Charlie X in Star Trek (which traumatised me as a child).

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Bats

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 3, 2008 by dcairns

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My Mad Scheme to see all the films pictured in Dennis Gifford’s Pictorial History of Horror Movies — a scheme also known as See REPTILICUS and die! — continues apace with the last of the book’s frontispieces, which depicts Vincent Price in THE BAT. This movie is easily available on cheapskate DVDs, but I’d always resisted because I’d been reliably told it sucked, and hard. Still, it’s an excuse to revisit the previous films of this particular play, Roland West’s THE BAT and THE BAT WHISPERS.

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Scandal first, movies later. West, who had a busy career directing Lon Chaney thrillers and the like, was married to Thelma Todd, a comedienne who co-starred with Laurel & Hardy (numerous times) and the Marx Brothers (twice). One day she was found gassed in the garage. The rumour-mill has ground out theories about mob hits, spousal homicide, suicide and accident. At one point a servant surfaced with the story that the whole tragic affair had been triggered by a badly botched blow job in the West car (I’m picturing, no doubt erroniously, a Laurel & Hardy Model T Ford) — after the drunken Todd inadvertently bit down, West stormed off and slammed the door, forgetting that the engine was running, and Todd fell asleep. Putting aside the unlikeliness of the scenario (it requires more explaining than drunken suicide, anyway), I have to ask, bearing in mind Kenneth Anger’s description of the death of Murnau, why is it that when anyone dies in the western United States, it’s always due to oral sex? I guess this firm mental marriage of b.j. + mortal peril maybe stems from the fact that, as Chaplin discovered, it was illegal in California back then (I believe it’s compulsory now).

Anyway, asides from maybe killing his wife, West directed a silent and a talking version of a somewhat creaky comedy-thriller called The Bat. His first go-round, titled simply THE BAT, is super-stylish, with amazing camera moves across a miniature city and up a skyscraper, which seem to have inspired Tim Burton’s similar views of Jack Palance’s penthouse in his BATMAN. It’s an erudite piece of homage, since West’s films apparently inspired the creation of the caped crusader by Bob Kane. Another movie, THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, was a major influence on the creation of Batman’s nemesis, the Joker. The twist being that West’s Bat is a criminal, not a crimefighter, and Conrad Veidt’s anguished grinner is a hero, not a villain.

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West’s remake is even better, for THE BAT WHISPERS has not only sound but w i d e s c r e e n  — an early process which didn’t catch on at the time: the talkies were still relatively novel and a further gimmick was surplus to audience requirements. The elongated frame shows off West’s expressionistic sets and lighting admirably, and a slow, silent moment when the bat crouches and unfurls his wings benefits enormously from the extended frame. Unlike the only other ’30s W.S. epic I’ve seen, THE BIG TRAIL, the effect is mesmeric, enchanting — as if 1930s filmmakers had travelled forward thirty years and come back with scope technology. (Raoul Walsh in THE BIG TRAIL seems somewhat paralysed by the additional width — he holds the camera as far back as possible then, when the shot can’t possibly be sustained any longer and a closeup seems essential, he cuts to even further back. I kind of feel that widescreen, when it finally caught on in the ’50s, had a similarly disabling effect on Walsh.)

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And then there’s the wild and crazy performance of Chester Morris. Unmasked as the titular fliedermaus, he hisses and grimaces, lit from below like a Halloween kid with a flashlight, hamming up a storm. Why was Chester Morris never ever interesting apart from this scene? He had entire decades before and behind him of failing to elicit the slightest moment of surprise or curiosity in an audience, but here he’s electrifying: that crackling sound you hear is NOT the old soundtrack, it’s the sparks flying from Chester’s tingling skin! “The Bat always flies at night… and always… in a straight line!” What does that even mean? It doesn’t seem to matter.

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Flash-forward to 1959 — never mind World War Two, you can go back for that later — and we find Vincent Price and (joy!) Agnes Moorehead in a remake helmed by screenwriter Crane Wilbur, who has some pretty good credits as scribe. I’m very fond of his B-thriller THE AMAZING MR. X, directed by Bernard “Mad” Vorhaus, and one sees that he also wrote the story for SOLOMON AND SHEBA (didn’t that already exist?) and was one of a small army deployed on André DeToth’s CRIME WAVE (more writers than actors, nearly). Intriguingly, he also collaborated with Roland West on a Lon Chaney vehicle called THE MONSTER. It’s not terribly good, but its weird mismatch of surgical horror and daft comedy anticipates Antony Balch’s grim-n-sick HORROR HOSPITAL.

Wilbur’s BAT entry starts off with a title ZOOMING at us, accompanied by blaring stripper music, a wildly inappropriate and therefor quite welcome choice. Such dynamism lasts only as far as the first 30 frames of the titles, however, and we soon settle down to the plodding exposition of your standard Saturday-night comedy thriller play. Enlivened, it must be said, but the presence of not one but two GAY COUPLES.

The first G.C. we meet is Agnes Moorehead and her Comic Maid, Lenita Lane. Agnes is Cornelia van Gorder, crime writer, “Please don’t call me ‘Corny’ when referring to my books,” and she’s just moved into a dark, scary, mysterious model shot. The model shot is a welcome point of connection with the previous versions, but sadly no stylistic unity is achieved, since all the other exteriors are life-sized, including the log cabin where we meet this delightful pair:

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They’ve gone out “hunting” “deep in the woods” we’re told. The bank manager is cleaning the guns while the doctor, Vincent Price, does the dishes in a fetching mini-apron. The scene takes a surreal turn when the bank manager confesses, casually, to embezzling a million bucks from his own bank. He needs the doc to certify him dead so he can abscond, or something. The doc obliges, shooting his pal dead on the spot so he can pocket the cash. Now he has to collect the money from a hidden vault in the dark, scary, mysterious model shot. Cue plot.

At this point, any residual interest wanes. The comings and goings are rather flatly written and directed, although veteran Joseph Biroc lights it all elegantly and atmospherically, and whenever master-criminal The Bat shows up, in his featureless black mask, things have an additional creep factor. With his no-face look and snazzy hat, he’s a clear precursor to the masked murderer of Bava’s BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, and his Freddy Krueger finger-blades are a welcome touch, though I miss the unfurling black cape of earlier bats.

The film’s biggest drawback, as well as its most interesting trait — in theory — is its old-fashioned air of pre-Scooby Doo bogus mystery. By 1959 audiences were ready for stronger meat, and were starting to get it…

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