Sept. & Oct. at The Movie Morlocks

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It’s that time again. Time to collect & share links to the writing I’ve published on TCM’s Movie Morlocks blog in the past few months. In September I spent a lot of time obsessing over TCM Star of the Month Susan Hayward. I reference her in at least three of the pieces I wrote that month and I refer to her again in my first October post about the neglected Gothic thriller, THE LOST MOMENT (1947). As usual, I spent the rest of “Shocktober” focusing on darker fare including horror films and morbid mysteries. Follow the links to read more.

September:
Susan Hayward in Her Own Words
“I didn’t know much about TCM’s current Star of the Month so I decided to delve into her past recently and was somewhat surprised by the way Susan Hayward had been portrayed (and ignored) by the media since her death in 1975. Nicknamed the “Divine Bitch” following the release of a similarly titled biography, the four-time Academy Award nominated actress didn’t make a lot of friends in Hollywood and is rarely described in flattering terms by studio executives and costars so the general picture we have of her seems somewhat skewed. I’m a firm believer that there are usually two-sides to every story so I decided to explore newspaper and movie magazine archives in an effort to learn more about the redheaded screen siren in her own words without the opinions of her biographers and colleagues getting in the way. In the process I discovered a complex woman whose turbulent real life was often more sensational than the fictional lives of the characters she portrayed.”

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Alberto Vargas in Hollywood
“If you love vintage pin-up art as much as I do you’ll probably recognize Alberto Vargas’s name. Between 1920 and 1975 the Peruvian artist created some of the most celebrated and recognizable pin-up art in America while working for the Ziegfeld Follies as well as Esquire magazine and Playboy . . . What classic movie fans might not know is that Alberto Vargas also had a brief but lucrative career in Hollywood painting celebrity portraits, working for film industry magazines and creating movie posters. I enjoy playing detective so I decided to dig through various archives and books in search of Vargas’s film related work and what I found surprised me. The Latin artist made a much bigger impact on Hollywood than I’d previously been led to believe.”

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Every Dog Must Have His Day
“The film is weighted with biting social commentary as well as religious and political allegory but at its heart, WHITE GOD is a rather simple and profoundly sad story about a helpless dog that learns he must rely on himself and rebel against authority if he wants to survive in a dog-eat-dog world. It also doubles as a sensitive coming-of-age story about the young dog owner who learns a similar lesson although the perils and circumstances she faces are much more privileged and forgiving . . . While watching WHITE GOD I was reminded of a few other films I admire that center around dogs like Hagen who were forced to take similar journeys while suffering the consequences of man’s inhumanity to man and animal alike”

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The Power of the Pantsuit
“The entire scene, between the time Hayward enters the bathroom and leaves it, only lasts about 2 minutes but she and her paisley pantsuit completely own it. It’s a spectacular exit and although plenty of people like to point out the campy elements in VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, Hayward’s sincerity is undeniable in that moment. She was living in Helen Lawson’s skin and it’s evident that she deeply related to the character’s desperation and disappointments as well as her success. And that dazzling suit she wears represents her achievements.”

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October:
Nameless Fear: The Lost Moment (1947)
“The film is wrapped in a shimmery fog and lit mostly by candles that dance off dusty walls. And the house at the center of all the drama, with its spectacular canal-side setting, long twisting hallways, dark balconies, spiraling stairs and decomposing garden, evokes plenty of ghosts. It may not be a typical horror film but this Gothic romance about conflicted characters, doomed romance and ever-shifting identities will haunt you . . . It’s a terrible shame that The Lost Moment was neglected for so long. If critics had been kinder and audiences more receptive, there’s a high probability that director Martin Gabel would have continued making movies and he might have been remembered alongside some of the more interesting filmmakers who were working at Universal in the late forties and fifties. But when he died at age 73 in 1986 after suffering a massive heart attack the New York Times didn’t bother to mention his singular directing credit in their obituary.”

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Fatal Charm: Cast a Dark Shadow (1955)
“The picture opens with a striking scene shot inside a funhouse ride at a carnival. Dirk Bogarde’s character is sharing his seat with his wife and future murder victim (Mona Washbourne) when the camera focuses in on his face hidden by shadows while his pupils appear to light-up. It’s a startling effect that makes Bogarde look like a hungry demon with hellfire in his eyes. In this clever title sequence, director Lewis Gilbert and cinematographer Jack Asher signal to film audiences that their male protagonist is a monster before he ever opens his mouth.”

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10 Trailblazing Horror Films Directed by Women
“All month long TCM has been airing films made by women on Tuesday and Thursday night as part of their groundbreaking Trailblazing Women series hosted by Illeana Douglas. According to Charles Tabesh, senior vice president of programming for TCM, the goal of Trailblazing Women is to “Highlight the impact of female filmmakers throughout history and encourage future female filmmakers.” The response has been overwhelmingly positive and it’s heartening to see TCM’s resources used to educate, inform and inspire viewers . . . I’ve been enjoying a lot of the Trailblazing Women programming myself but since we’re in the middle of Schocktober, I thought I’d set aside some time to highlight some of my favorite horror films and thrillers directed by women who have left their macabre mark on a genre that many mistakenly assume is not very female friendly.”

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Double Your Pleasure with a Dracula Double Feature
“Tod Browning’s DRACULA is rightly hailed as a horror classic while the Spanish version directed by George Melford was assumed lost and went largely unseen by modern audiences following its initial release until it was restored and distributed on home video in 1992. Both films were shot at the same time using the same sets but with different casts, which was a typical practice by studios in the early 1930s. Their goal was to appeal to international audiences eager to see new-fangled sound films in their own language. The idea quickly went out of favor due to the high cost of producing multiple movies but the Spanish language version of DRACULA is one of best examples we have of this popular practice.”

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Wine & Wolves: The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)
“This unique Gothic horror from Hammer is part love story, part social allegory and part monster movie. John Elder aka Anthony Hinds’s script was loosely based on a book by Guy Endor (The Werewolf of Paris) and it takes a grim but very modern view of life by stressing that the werewolf is a product of his environment and circumstance instead of just a supernatural beast. The impressive sets, which were borrowed from previous Hammer productions, still look fresh and are accentuated by Terrence Fisher’s direction. This is somewhat of a staid film for Fisher and lacks the abundant style that the director brought to The Brides of Dracula (1961) made the same year. Instead, the film becomes a creative showcase for Oliver Reed’s performance and he’s spectacular as well as deeply moving as the cursed werewolf. The film also provides a nice backdrop for some of the studio’s best make-up effects designed by Roy Ashton. Reed’s transformation from a handsome young man (he was just 21-years-old at the time) into a ferocious wolf is particularly startling but it’s matched by the makeup used to age and disfigure the beggar and the Marquis. The two men are not typical monsters but as their souls seemingly wither and die; their decaying faces illustrate the ravages of time and the darkness that has suffocated their hearts.”