Archive for Vida Hope

The Milkman Always Rings Twice

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 12, 2018 by dcairns

I’ve been hoping to see a good Wolf Rilla film for ages: his work on VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED is so smart, and yet everything else I’ve been able to see was a letdown. THE BLACK RIDER was the one that used to turn up on UK TV, and it’s really pathetic — a crummy motorcycle film with a Scooby Doo plot. I wasn’t looking for the amusingly bad, but the unexpectedly good. Fiona and I once bumped into the Great Man’s son, Nico, at Edinburgh Film Fest, and he suggested THE WORLD TEN TIMES OLDER was a cult item that might be worth checking out, but I couldn’t get interested. But MARILYN — know in the US as ROADHOUSE GIRL, which sets you up for all manner of disappointment — has been gathering quite a strong reputation.

I guess the setting is, technically, a roadhouse of sorts, but we’d call it a greasy spoon cafe (pronounced “caff”) or maybe a tea-room. It’s that exciting. Vamped up to project class and glamour mid-film, it acquires the name Marilyn, after its owner, an impossible development — a cafe could be called Marilyn’s, conceivably, but not Marilyn. Snack-bars with human names? What’s next, a brasserie called Derek? Perhaps this is a case of the Berlin-born Rilla not being quite familiar enough with British idioms. Certainly the dialogue in his self-penned script is strangely flat and repetitive, and his cast are not resourceful enough to repeat a line two different ways, so whenever they echo themselves it sounds like they’re practicing their lines, or like multiple takes have been spliced together by an experimentally-inclined cutter.

The actors include Maxwell Reed (Mr. Joan Collins), who’s tall, and Sandra Dorne, who’s blonde (they were made for each other!), and Leslie Dwyer, the Punch and Judy man from TV’s Hi-De-Hi! It’s basically James M. Cain at a garage in the Home Counties. Also featuring Count Von Krolock and Hengist Pod. But the movie belongs to Ealing stalwart Vida Hope.

Reed gets a job as garage hand and spends time posing erotically under a sign reading LUBRICATION SERVICE. Dorne falls for him, they bump off the jealous husband more or less by accident, and then she starts pursuing more promising romantic prospects in the form of suave Ferdy Mayne, who must have played suave in a hundred quote quickies of this kind, filmed in a week or two and released to deafening silence in possibly-empty auditoria. Hope plays the waitress/confidante who’s obviously in love with Marilyn, the only daring aspect of a movie that bowdlerizes Cain’s “love rack” narrative at every turn. Even at the end, when the cops turn up, I was racking my brains to figure out if anything seriously criminal has actually been done. It would be a good Cain-style narrative if they ended up being done for murder, when WE saw it was an accident, and insurance fraud when it was basically on the level. But the movie ends, or runs out, before that can be dealt with.

But Rilla directs with admirable intensity — his angles are good, and he cuts to juicy close-ups at the most effective moments. And, As Matthew Sweet has argued, there’s something appealing about the sheer drabness of it all. Even the romantic music is lugubrious, despondent, like the rubber band’s gone on the gramophone. The actors are all road-company versions of the bare archetypes they’re attempting to evoke. The whole affair has a real post-war misery. This is to IT ALWAYS RAINS ON SUNDAY as DETOUR is to THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE. To quote Errol Morris’s best line, “Despair enacted on cheap sets.”

Inventive and lively direction keeps us engaged with a production that’s totally “from poverty,” and the script engages with the lack of glamour. Best line is when Dwyer rants about how his wife should show more gratitude: “I work my fingers to the bone so you can have all the comforts. Look around you: a gas fire in every room. Electric light!”

Wow. This is living.

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