Like the sweet stray dogs that run and play during the opening scenes of Mon Oncle, Jacques Tati’s Monsieur Hulot lives a free, unstructured life in an older section of Paris. He chats with neighbors, stops in the local pub, and takes things slowly. His only appointment is to pick up his 9-year-old nephew, Gérard after school. Hulot loves Gérard and the feeling is clearly mutual. With his uncle, Gérard can be a kid. He plays with other boys, gets his clothes dirty, and eats too many sweets. He has fun.
Author: Kerry Fristoe
Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”
— The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Because of its past and the rumors swirling around it, a building — like Shirley Jackson’s Hill House or Robert Bloch’s Bates Motel — can suggest to an impressionable mind, an evil presence. A person stuck such a place for a whole weekend with a guy who tells her he saw the ghost of a dead woman there might be on edge. If she gets little sleep, drinks a bunch of crappy beer, and struggles with bouts of asthma, she might careen right off the edge.
Often, in films, we see a character stand up for an underdog or the losing side in battle. Other times we get to see a character advocate for herself against a powerful foe. That can be tough when the enemy turns out to be Mom.
There’s no shortage of villainous mothers in films. The ones who send shivers down your spine, like Angela Lansbury’s Mrs. Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate, and Faye Dunaway’s Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest, rule by intimidation and cruelty. In the world of classic films, Gladys Cooper has the mean mom thing down pat. Two films showcase Cooper’s ability to play horrible mothers, Now Voyager (1942) and Separate Tables (1958).
In 1970s films, nothing signified independence and a disdain for authority like a muscle car with a V8.
Driving a car is a rite of passage. Teenagers are thrilled the first time they can take the car out without Mom and Dad. Owning your first car is an even bigger deal. It means you get to decide where you’re going. It also means you can go there alone. The makers of counterculture car films of the 1970s took that desire to go your own way further than most teenagers. For them, hitting the open road was less of a weekend pastime and more of a lifestyle. In vehicle-centric films of the late 1960s and 70s, the car was an extension of the man. Insulting a guy’s car was akin to questioning his manhood and stealing his wheels was like rustling in the wild west—punishable by hanging (or the modern equivalent).
1968 was a great year for demonic possession. In June, William Castle produced Rosemary’s Baby and put a hex on New York City real estate forever. A month later, in the UK, Hammer Film Productions pitted Christopher Lee against the fiendish Charles Gray in The Devil Rides Out. Both films brought the devil out of Gothic castles and into modern apartments and smart country homes, portraying the sects as more realistic and, therefore, more threatening. It’s terrifying to think that the tacky busybody next door is a witch plotting to set you up on a blind date with Beelzebub or that your neighbor might be summoning the Goat of Mendes.
O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.”
–Othello by William Shakespeare
In Basil Dearden’s 1962 film All Night Long, the writers shift Shakespeare’s Othello from 16th century Venice to 1960s London. Set in the black and white world of jazz clubs and smoky back rooms, All Night Long has a cool cocktail party vibe and a fantastic score. It also has a vicious plot full of innuendo, plotting, and lies. The writers obviously used Othello as a guide, but they may also have watched All About Eve once or twice.
“This damned burg’s getting me. If I don’t get away soon I’ll be going blood-simple like the natives.” – Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest
Commit a crime, and the earth is made of glass. Commit a crime, and it seems as if a coat of snow fell on the ground, such as reveals in the woods the track of every partridge and fox and squirrel and mole. You cannot recall the spoken word, you cannot wipe out the foot-track, you cannot draw up the ladder, so as to leave no inlet or clew. Some damning circumstance always transpires. The laws and substances of nature — water, snow, wind, gravitation — become penalties to the thief. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Compensation
Sex. It’s a great motivator. We see it in movies all the time. A loser/cad/playboy reforms himself after falling in love with the woman of his dreams. He changes his wicked ways and learns to think of others just to win her dainty hand. I said sex though, right? Well, sex and love get blurred a bit in the movies. So, what would happen if, instead of inspiring him to be a better person, the desire for another person does just the opposite? What if pairing with just the right…or wrong person reinforces his badness or spurs him on to ever more horrifying acts?
Until you watch HIS KIND OF WOMAN, you might not realize Vincent Price is the star. You might believe the credits and think you’re watching a Robert Mitchum/Jane Russell vehicle full of mobsters who crack wise and a beauty who sings a little. After all, up to this point, Vincent Price spent a lot of time in costume dramas or as the guy who didn’t get the girl. Gene Tierney threw him over for Dana Andrews in LAURA even after she was dead and she dumped him again the next year for Cornel Wilde in LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN. I’m not sure Hollywood knew what to do with the erudite actor. Handsome, articulate, and athletic, Vincent looked the part of the leading man, but had more to give. You might say he was too smart for his own good. Male ingénue parts don’t show off your sense of humor much so studios plugged him into the role of the witty, yet evil count. A few films, like SHOCK (1946) allowed him to show more range, but it wasn’t until Roger Corman’s Edgar Allen Poe phase in the 1960s that Vincent was really allowed to shine. The exception to that is HIS KIND OF WOMAN. Vincent Price sinks his teeth into the Mark Cardigan role.
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, (1624) by John Donne
Frank (James Caan) works alone. He and his partner, Barry (James Belushi) case the joints, research the electronics, have the proper equipment made, and pick up the ice themselves. They’re professional, sharp, and technically adept. They’re also thieves. After each robbery, Frank assesses the worth of the stolen diamonds and negotiates with a fence for a percentage of the street value. It’s a tidy operation. Frank funnels his end into a car dealership, a bar, and other businesses. Frank and Barry keep a low-key profile. Neither is flamboyant, violent, or prone to criminal outbursts. It’s the ideal set-up for a guy who likes control.