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White Corridors & The Carroll Formula

Ring a Ding Ding

     I recently watched two more Screen Directors Playhouse episodes, one of which was highly thrilling the other of which was greatly amusing. The first, White Corridors, was like a mini horror movie. We open on Linda Darnell as Ellen who is distressfully driving her convertible with a panting passenger lying in the back seat. She pulls up to a hospital and wanders through the strangely empty nighttime halls until she meets Pat Hitchcock (daughter to Alfred) playing an unhelpful Nurse Windrod. The woman essentially refuses to admit the sick woman because she has no doctor instructing her to. When Dr. Bruno (Scott Forbes) appears, he agrees to help and brings the patient in.

     Ellen waits as her friend is operated on for a burst appendix and is told she should return to her hotel, and Nurse Windrod seems rather annoyed that visitor will not depart. Wandering the halls, Ellen overhears some moaning and shouting and cracks a door to witness a man dressed as a doctor strangling a patient who is threatening to expose him as a fraud. This happens in silhouette behind a curtain, so Ellen is unsure what the murderer looks like. She attempts to call the police but chickens out and instead confesses the scene to Dr. Bruno. When Dr. Gorwin (John Bentley) enters and informs the woman they two are the only doctors on duty, she realizes one of them must be the murderer, as do they.

     Upon inspecting the scene of the crime, Ellen and the doctors find a male patient fast asleep and no sign of a body. The doctors want to give Ellen a sedative, but when she gets the chance she re-examines the crime scene and hides in a closet where she overhears a doctor and nurse talking about the crime. The story will end with a chase scene once the murder is revealed to us.

     Director Ted Post‘s White Corridors was highly suspenseful and sets the viewer on edge as soon as we meet Hitchcock’s unpleasant and shady nurse. We get the impression seedy things happen in this hospital all the time and the plot pushes us toward our own conclusions about the murderer that will be turned on their head by the end. The performances are all great even if Darnell is rather unattractive. The shady set is also wonderfully eerie, setting us in the proper mood to be frightened.

     Next was the fun but not quite as exciting The Carroll Formula about a “nut case” who derived a magical power from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” story. Michael Wilding is a patient in a mental asylum because he insists that a box of toys were once full-size objects that he can shrink and reconstitute at will. As this David speaks with some psychiatrists, we learn that in researching Lewis Carroll, he discovered the man had found a way to do just that and so he used the technology to create his own shrinking gun.

     Showing this to his girlfriend Sylvia (Havis Davenport), the two realize this holds great potential for world peace because nations could shrink their armies and deliver them on one plane to the opposing country. David, therefore, starts visiting various branches of the military to demonstrate his discovery but does so in a way that baffles and enrages the government officials, which is how he winds up institutionalized. The man escapes, however, by shrinking the bars on the hospital window and re-enlarging a table and rope to allow for him to rappel out the window.

     The Carroll Formula, directed by Tay Garnett, was a lot of fun. One can easily get a laugh by showing people in utter disbelief of a goofy magic trick of sorts. Wilding is entertaining as ever and Davenport is enjoyable as the perhaps surprisingly supportive girlfriend. Some things are simply too real to deny, I guess. The funny device David uses to shrink thinks makes goofy sounds and has a twitching antena that makes it seem like it has a life of its own.

     This episode also made me realize the great resources directors must have had in creating these Screen Directors Playhouse shorts. This one depicts a hangar full of military planes and uses a huge cannon as part of the character’s stunt. This was one impressive series.

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Torch Song

Yipes!

Torch Song (1953)

     Oh, Torch Song, how can I describe thine flaws; let me count the ways. Your star is dreadful, your plot full or sorry similarities to All About Eve, and your racist musical number far outdated.

     One would have thought that Joan Crawford’s return to MGM for a two-picture deal would have brought with it the glamor that studio embodied when Crawford lived out her contracts with the powerhouse at the start of her career. Instead we got that strange aging, yet ageless Joan that would haunt the sad flicks that marked the end of her career. Both Torch Song and Johnny Guitar that followed it at MGM would flop, and it is easy to see why. Crawford had “minor” surgery prior to Torch Song to improve the look of her face and breasts –the rear end remained all her’s, she bragged. Although, Crawford would retain some image of youthfulness for far too late into her life, she certainly lost the beauty. I have found it hard to put a finger on just what is wrong with her look in these later years –her figure was great, her face free of lines– but the sexyness was long gone, and she looked more of a brute than anything else.

     A brute is essentially what she plays in Torch Song as Jenny Stewart, an older stage musical star who finds her personal life far too lonely. The story has tones of rival Bette Davis’ All About Eve except without the meddling Eve character. Instead, Jenny finds herself fighting and falling for a blind pianist hired to help her rehearse. Michael Wilding‘s Tye intrigues and infuriates Jenny by being rather uninterested in her.

     Crawford’s look and performance might be what kill this picture the most. She sings and dances and while the movements are good, the singing was allegedly dubbed by India Adams, although Crawford boasted she did her own vocalizing. The voice does sound unnatural on Crawford, despite her adroit lip synching. The star also sports in this her fist color film an ugly strawberry blonde page-boy hair cut that also reduces her sex appeal. Frankly, it is hard to grasp through her nearly emotionless performance that a romantic plot is under development in Torch Song. Thankfully the love making is limited to a single kiss at the film’s close.

Good thing Tye can't see her new hairdo and facelift.

     Also digging a grave for Torch Song is a totally unnecessary number performed with the entire cast in blackface. I thought this practice was long gone by the 1950s, but I was mistaken. Nevermind that Crawford looked absurd in the makeup and bejeweled eyebrows; she makes the whole look worse by tearing off the black wig in anger and exposing the red hair against the black makeup. Pure terror for those watching.

Chin up, Joanie. Your routine wasn't that offensive. No, you're right. It was.

 

     I understand Torch Song holds a special place in the hearts of Crawford fans for its pure camp nature. How tragic that such a huge star in the golden age of cinema would go on to rule the kitsch film arena (see Strait-Jacket and Berserk). This is, however, a so-bad-it’s-good sort of movie, so it is sure to attract many viewers. Ironically, the film did garner an Oscar nomination for supporting actress in the mother character played by Marjorie Rambeau, a part that was rather thin.

Source: Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud by Shaun Considine

Hitchcock Blogathon #3: Under Capricorn

Dullsville

Under Capricorn (1949)

     Hitchcock had always been adverse to what he termed “costume” pictures, or period pieces, and Under Capricorn only served to prove his deterrence correct. I went to lengths to acquire a copy of this film years ago after seeing and old poster for it. This, perhaps, was my first lesson in “good casting does not necessarily make for good movies.”

     The plot reminds me more of a Tennesee Williams play than a Hitchcock mystery in that it contains secrets gradually revealed the viewer. Unlike a TW work, however, there are multiple secrets revealed fairly quickly that lack any sort of shock factor. The movie also fails to provide a real romantic plot, which is something Hitchcock always incorporated into his stories. The most we get is when Michael Wilding‘s character kisses Ingrid Bergman in her bedroom, seemingly only to give her “courage”. From then on out we are unsure if the man actually cares for the married woman in that way.

     Set in New South Wales, Australia, Wilding is Charles Adaire, cousin to the country’s new governor who both have just arrived to the continent. He quickly befriends Joseph Cotton‘s Sam Flusky who is a former convict we later learn was imprisoned for killing his wife’s brother. The wife, Hattie Flusky, played by Bergman, is perpetually “ill” but she really is just drunk and delusional. People in Sydney are afraid of the vast Flusky estate saying “something’s not right” there, but that is never really explained. Adaire, who knew Hattie when he was younger back in Ireland, moves into the estate and tries to get the woman back to her old self. There is lots of talk about all the Fluskys have been through and all that has come between them over the years. Despite killing her brother, Hattie had followed Sam to Australia while he was imprisoned because she actually killed her sibling, and the single woman had to endure questionable things to survive during that time. Despite not being the same people they were when Sam is released after seven years, the two marry because they are essentially indebted to each other.

     As part of her recovery, Hattie tries to take control of her household, which has been run by a nasty maid. She struggles to do so but eventually the maid opts to leave. Before she goes, however, the servant manages to plant the seed in Sam’s brain that something untoward happened between Hattie and Adaire when in the bedroom together. A row occurs between Sam and Adaire and the former accidentally shoots the latter. Because Sam would be a second offender in this case of “attempted murder”, he could be hanged whether the man lives or dies. Hattie confesses to killing her brother, which would mean Sam is not a second offender, but she cannot be tried without Sam’s statement to confirm the facts, which he refuses. And if that was not enough going on, we discover the maid had been planting a shrunken head in Hattie’s bedroom, thus causing her madness and “delusions”, and forcing her to booze up. She also attempt to poison her at the end.

     The story is a horrid mess. The part dealing with the maid and Hattie’s psychosis is poorly developed –toward the beginning she mentions seeing something on her bed but not until the end do we add on and conclude that plot– and the sinister nature of Sam is not well illustrated. The performances are not bad, and I could say if some aspect was better executed it would be a fine film, but I do not think there is any redemption for Under Capricorn. This, the second project under Hitchcock’s Transatlantic Pictures, bombed at the box office and rightfully so. One of the writers, Hume Cronyn, recalled a session working on the script with Hitchcock  when the director said, “This film is going to be a flop. I’m going to lunch.” Smart man that.

The MacGuffin: No MacGuffin here, which perhaps is another reason this film disappoints.

Where’s Hitch? At the start of the film he is in town square during a parade wearing a blue coat and brown hat. About 10 minutes later he is one of three men on the steps of Government House.

Source: Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan

I will be posting reviews of Hitchcock movies every hour ending at 8 p.m. today, but other members of the Classic Movie Blog Association, which is hosting the blogathon, have plenty to offer also. Links to their articles is up at the CMBA site. Check them out!

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