Archive for Douglas Dick

Forbidden Divas: Oh, Doctor, I’m in Trouble

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on April 2, 2021 by dcairns

Yesterday’s piece from Chris Schneider malfunctioned slightly going into WordPress and lost a couple of paragraphs. They’re restored now. Today’s piece is also from a regular Guest Shadowplayer, David Melville Wingrove, who takes us through Loretta Young’s stations of the cross in William Dieterle’s THE ACCUSED.

FORBIDDEN DIVAS

Oh, Doctor, I’m in Trouble

or

Confessions of a Psychothymiac Cutie

“You hit me right in my inferiority complex.”

  • Robert Cummings to Loretta Young, The Accused

When first we see Loretta Young in The Accused (1949) she looks as if she’s impersonating Humphrey Bogart. A huge slouching fedora hat hangs low over her beautiful face; a vast baggy trench-coat envelops her dainty ballerina’s physique. She is staggering away slowly, haltingly, from the scene of a killing. It is a crime where she was both perpetrator and victim. A cute but undeniably psychotic young man has tried to rape her in his car. Her instinctive and natural response was to grab a handy metal object and bludgeon him to death. Then she got a bucket, filled his lungs with water and sent his corpse hurtling over a cliff and down to the sea and rocks below.

There is crime passionel and there is cool premeditated murder. This one is both. What makes it worse is the fact Loretta knows that. She is Doctor Wilma Tuttle, a rising professor of psychology at a small but prestigious California college. Not many Hollywood stars can play an academic convincingly and Loretta is one of those very few. (Just try to imagine Joan Crawford in the role. Or rather, do yourself a favour and don’t.) Her looks here are strictly Movie Star Frump. Stark and mannishly tailored suits, hair wound so tightly in a bun that it looks like an excrescence of her skull. But she still has those delicate cheekbones, those haunting and luminous eyes. When she takes a jittery puff on a cigarette or anxiously grasps the receiver of a telephone, we are riveted by her exquisitely long and sinuous fingers.

But then Loretta Young was always famed for her contradictions. Tales abounded of both her fierce Roman Catholic piety and her voracious appetite for sexual adventure. “Every time Loretta sins she builds a church,” went the joke. “That’s why there are so many churches in Hollywood.” In the 30s she gave birth in secret to an illegitimate child by her co-star Clark Gable and then made a public show of ‘adopting’ this poor motherless girl. When the child grew up to have freakishly large ears, she challenged her mother as to why she had never told her the truth. “How could I?” replied the star. “You are a walking mortal sin.” Both on and off screen, Loretta Young played the image of a perfect lady. But in her most effective movie roles, that image is seldom if ever the full story.

Like many academic high-flyers, Doctor Tuttle is somewhat less than sophisticated outside her chosen and desperately narrow field of expertise. Hailing originally from Kansas, she has a childlike fear of the ocean and has no idea what an abalone is until someone explains it to her. That someone just happens to be a handsome but unruly male student who flirts with her blatantly in class. The professor is in no way blind to his appeal. In fact, his appeal is spelled out hilariously by the fact that the actor who plays him is called Douglas Dick. Undeniably easy on the eye – and perhaps not wholly without talent – this actor was hampered by more than his impossible name. He seemed unable to appear in any movie without being murdered in the first act. His other role of note was as the victim of the gay killers in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope.

Once his professor has unwittingly killed him, her chief concern is how to cover up the crime. In a decision only a movie star would make, she goes out and buys a new and far more stylish wardrobe and lets her hair tumble loose about her shoulders in long and luxuriant curls. That is to make sure that no witnesses (if there were any) will ever to connect her with the killing but also to make sure that Loretta Young’s adoring fans get their money’s worth in terms of glamour. Her best or, at least, her most eye-catching outfit is a classic Edith Head atrocity. A sharply tailored black suit with white gloves, a white lace collar and twin sprays of white lilac on either side of her black hat. The psychology in The Accused is necessarily Freudian in tone. Hence it is imperative that our heroine be visibly torn between poles of Light and Dark.

Her incipient schizophrenia carries over into every aspect of the movie. Not one but two conflicting love interests seem to materialise out of nowhere. Robert Cummings is a dashing lawyer who was the dead boy’s legal guardian. Wendell Corey is a tenacious cop who investigates the case. The tailoring of their suits is alarmingly alike; the styling of their hair is all but identical. Of course, Cummings is handsome and Corey is not but apart from that they might be identical twins. They can be slotted neatly into the Freudian grooves of Eros and Thanatos. One has the power to seduce our sexually uptight heroine and, eventually, to screw her senseless. The other has the power to send her (however unwillingly) to the electric chair. In case you think this is an accident, please note the director is the veteran German Expressionist William Dieterle. Note also that Expressionism did not die. It just moved to California where the light was better.

It seems distinctly cruel when Cummings drags Loretta to her first boxing match. Predictably, the young man being pummelled into unconsciousness is a dead ringer for the boy she has but lately beaten to death. (Dieterle even superimposes one actor’s face over the other, just in case anyone in the audience has stepped out for popcorn and might otherwise miss the point.) This barbaric spectacle reduces her to an ever-so-ladylike fit of the vapours. We know it cannot be long until The Truth comes out. Her young victim describes his killer, oops, sorry, professor in his end of term exam as ‘a psychothymiac cutie.’ I confess I have no idea what a psychothymiac is but I do think Loretta plays one superbly. It is critical cliché that nobody can play a bad girl like a good girl and nobody can play a good girl like a bad one. Unless you are Loretta Young, in which case it is anybody’s guess.

David Melville

Still in Saigon

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on August 22, 2019 by dcairns

Working my way through the Ladd-Lake catalogue (see here, and here). For some reason, SAIGON (1948), their last collaboration, was only findable on fuzzy ex-VHS, a shame, since you can still see evidence of Paramount’s soft, lambent house style, in the hands of DOUBLE INDEMNITY’s photographer, John Seitz.

Alan Ladd is Major Briggs (it’s tempting to imagine him settling down in Twin Peaks and putting on weight), hanging out in the far east after demob with the two surviving members of his wartime flight crew (Ladd played a lot of “post-war disillusion” roles, which I guess nobody was embarrassed about because he HAD served, even if he got invalided out with ulcers and a double hernia after a few months, poor guy). His youngest buddy, Douglas Dick (ROPE), has some kind of unconvincing war injury that’s going to alluvasudden kill him in a month or two. Rather than telling the kid, Ladd decides to “pack in a hundred years of living, with no rough spots, no bumps in the road” (the film’s best line, repeated a couple times). This requires dough, so he and his pals take on a suspiciously remunerative job flying an oily tycoon to Saigon.

The titan of industry misses his flight due to a shoot-out with local cops — I *knew* this guy was up to no good — but his secretary, Veronica Lake shows up. She and Ladd cordially hate each other on sight but young Dick falls for her. A few balls are now in the air — Ladd at first tries to protect Dick from Lake, who’s no good, in his view — then he blackmails Lake into being nice to Dick, because the kid’s stuck on her and this would give him a couple months happiness. But we know the creepy businessman’s going to turn up looking for the half mill he entrusted to Lake and which Ladd now has. And, once in Indochina, there’s a sinister-seeming local policeman (“Eurasian” Luther Adler, quite good fun) lurking around, determined to nab somebody, anybody, on a money-smuggling rap.

Some of what follows is predictable — we have, after all, been told that one character is doomed — and some pans out in a fairly uninspired way, which is a shame because the leads are so good together, underplaying their socks off. Lake’s thawing is very nicely played. Leslie Fenton directs — he was quite a good actor in the pre-codes — alas, the script doesn’t have enough zingers to put over its surprisingly downbeat conclusion. Deserves a release, though, a Ladd-Lake box-set would be a desirable item, except I suppose they’d have to put STAR SPANGLED RHYTHM on it.

SAIGON stars Jay Gatsby; The Girl (in the picture/with the peekaboo curl); Kenneth; Cotton Valletti; Rudi Janus/Adolf Hitler; Morris Gershwin; and Heinrich Himmler.

Young and Innocent?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on November 26, 2010 by dcairns

Loretta Young stars in THE ACCUSED, as a repressed psychology professor who beats a student to death with a steel half-spring when he tries to rape her. William Dieterle directs, Ketti Frings scripted. Frings (great name) supplied the story for HOLD BACK THE DAWN, a favourite of mine, and also wrote on THE FILE ON THELMA JORDAN, DARK CITY, GUEST IN THE HOUSE… noir with a strong female side.

Young’s job allows her to psycho-analyze herself, her assailant/victim, and even the cop (Wendell Corey) who’s trying to prove her guilty. Meanwhile she’s in fallen love with her victim’s guardian, Robert Cummings (from here on known by his REIGN OF TERROR alias, the Butcher of Strasburg). This results in some dollar-book Freud, ably delivered by Loretta, who has acquired some gravitas since her days of pre-code flouncing. Although the nonsense about a doppelganger syndrome would be a stretch to put over on an audience, even for Lew Ayres or Herbert Lom.

At times, the desire to find symbols or pop-psych explanations for everything can be a bit much, as is the Victor Young (no relation) score. A mouse running into a cage summarises Loretta’s situation nicely, but a good composition does better. When she imagines detective Corey and forensics boffin Sam Jaffe as ghoulish persecutors, Dieterle puts the concept over with heavy hands — but it’s still fun.

What’s fascinating about this movie, besides Dieterle’s superb blocking and framing, is how it’s hard to know sometimes if Frings is trashing the patriarchy, or so enmeshed in it herself that she’s uncritically reproducing its sexism. I figure that when Loretta jettisons her prim look in order to less closely resemble the description the police have, and the Butcher of S reacts to her new glamour by panting, “Your brains don’t show a bit,” we have to take this as satire. But who really knows?

The one really jarring note is the assault itself, where everybody seems to have become really confused. The assailant is a psychotically grinning kid, and everything about the story would seem to indicate that Loretta is repulsed and lashes out in self-defense, her emotions causing her to rather overdo things. But for a moment before that, Dieterle and Young seem to have decided that she’s starting to enjoy his attentions, and it’s her own sexual repression which causes her to strike him down. This seems a lot more unpleasant and reactionary, and makes one wonder how exactly a woman is supposed to qualify as “healthy” in a Hollywood film. If she’d yielded, the movie would have condemned her. By resisting, and successfully, she gets tarred as frigid. The best solution is to simply ignore that eggy moment and follow the script’s suggestion, which has it that Young overcomes her modesty only later, under the gentle guidance of the Butcher of Strasburg.

Oh, and did I mention that Wendell Corey is very nearly the best thing in this movie? He falls for Young himself, and is even hitting on her as he attempts to get her prosecuted for murder, and his self-loathing as he nearly succeeds is skillfully portrayed, the most subtle emotion in the movie.

Amusingly, Douglas Dick, the psychopathic psychology student bludgeoned by Loretta (and isn’t it reassuring that it only takes the death of one trust fund brat to unleash her latent sexuality: a price worth paying, says I) retired from acting and became a psychologist himself. Did I say “amusingly”? Maybe “unnervingly” would be better.