Not Schlock at all: Tormented

DATELINE: Low-budget does not mean schlock.

Hang on, Juli Hang on, Juli!

We were a tad put off by the Amazon Prime description of a 1960 movie as a “schlock classic,” and then found the blurb noting that it was Richard Carlson in 1960 as a jazz pianist who is haunted by his former girlfriend.

This sounded intriguing at worst, and it was not truth in advertising. Tormented is a highly professional, thoroughly hypnotic little bit of ghostly lore.

Carlson cut his teeth on the Creature from the Black Lagoon movies, and after was relegated to B-pictures. Well, he was a B-star always. However, he was one of those actors who was far more intelligent than the material and gave everything a kind of gravitas.

The accidental death of Vi, or at least her deliberate lack of saving, haunts Tom (Carlson). In her earliest scenes in particular, Juli Reding sounds like Marilyn Monroe, and even has the hair style down pat. Her later appearances in a flowing flimsy dress seem like Marilyn’s “Happy Birthday gown” for President Kennedy.

Perhaps the most schlocky thing in the movie is when Vi appears to torment Carlson by showing up as a disembodied head on his coffee table. Her ghost is almost comical, to the point of reversing the Vertigo end in ironical fashion-plate boiler-plate.

Wonderful character actor Joe Turkel shows up here in a ghost movie and later made a big hit as a ghost in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. He speaks in the jazz lingo of the 1950s, Dad.

With its simple and elegant beach house and light house as main sets, the film has a minimalist quality that really does not impede its effect. We love the two bodies pulled from the ocean and dropped next to each other. Nice touch.

Art & Neon

DATELINE:  Hitch Loved Neon

 Neon Novak Novak in Neon!

An Australian film, Neon may seem like a subject hardly worthy of excitement. When some of the interviewees talk about the colored gas lights, you begin to think they need to get a life.

Neon, of course, defines American business, urban life, and a change in American perspective. Once you realize that the invention and adoption of neon lights in American business altered the landscape of the nation, you begin to recognize how special it is.

Not surprisingly, once again Nikola Tesla enters the picture as one of the prime inventors of neon light, but he never patented it, nor made a nickel off the product. Patent fights centered over a Frenchman who produced lights first stunning Paris.

Though the United States featured several World Fairs with cities of lights in the 19th century, the notion of neon changed the life of urban America when it seemed to debut and spread over Broadway and Manhattan in the 1920s.

Neon’s bright and jazzy colors and motion brought forth a new nocturnal culture. And, it was immediately picked up as a motif in movies, first in musicals and as a flashy jazz parallel. Only later did it turn dark with film noir—and then color noir.

Neon captivated movies. Indeed, Hitchcock loved to use neon—in his great movies like Psycho (that alluring Bates Motel) and as the garish green ghost of Kim Novak in Vertigo.

Las Vegas is where the light-scale went bonkers in the years after World War II. Nothing could compare to the garish, commercial call. Yet, the images of flashing logos became landmarks, not just sales gimmicks.

The film presents an array of magnificent shots of glowing neon signs and streets across the world.

Only when neon began its inevitable fade to black did artists and museums realize it needed preservation. As an expensive means of communication, it now seems to be finding homes in art refugee centers. However, mammoth chunks of 90 feet of neon is not conducive to indoor display.

The film turns elegiac when neon starts to lose the battle with time and timeliness. At least a movie like this will allow future viewers to see what magnificence it truly inspired.



Hitchcock/Truffaut Testimonials &/or Chitchat

 DATELINE: Directors & Stars


The two late filmmakers met for a book in the early 1960s. At the time the French movie director Francois Truffaut was hotter than Hollywood, and Hitch was thought to be a TV star who made entertaining fluff.

Truffaut saw more and wanted to interview Hitchcock about each of his films. For a week they recorded the audio of their chat, through a translator, and began a lifelong friendship.

A book emerged in 1966, but a film record of their insightful movie self-critiques only comes in 2016, fifty years later!

For those who know only the dark humor of a TV host and his Psycho movie Doppleganger, the revelation may be how many contemporary film directors owe him everything. The smart ones study him, and the dumb ones try to copy him.

That means Brian DePalma is not consulted—though David Fincher and Martin Scorcese are in on the documentary. Put aside the two weird Hitchcock docudramas that featured Anthony Hopkins and Toby Jones.

There is much discussion over the visual impact of Hitch’s images throughout his career from silent to the 1970s era when he was thought to be old hat.

The film boasts two closing sequences of some length that show the utter genius behind Vertigo and Psycho. Only obliquely do we find psychoanalysis of the Master of Suspense. Interestingly enough he demands Truffaut turn off the tape recorder when he wants to discuss Jesuit influence on his philosophy of crime and punishment—and more surprisingly when he discusses the notion of directing scenes when expects the heroes (Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant) are having erections over their blonde leading ladies.

This is a fascinating movie for aficionados of Hitchcock—or those with more than a passing interest in great movie making.




Fincher Gives Us a Return to Hitchcock Suspense

 DATELINE: Fincher Does Vertigo


The Master of Suspense would have approved. Yes, Gone Girl is a takeoff on Vertigo.

As T.S. Elliot said in his Prufrock poem, “Do I dare to eat a peach?” And as we say in our blog, “Do we dare to put David Fincher in the same category as Alfred Hitchcock?”

We hear the mermaids singing for sure, each to each. And this film is creepier than the Overlook Hotel.

Gone Girl is another in a series of David Fincher movies that holds you in a vise grip. He has put his finger on the pulse of media savvy entertainment and has combined it with the ruthless media of the entertainment world. You can’t tell them apart in this doozy of a thriller.

A man with a famous wife who goes missing finds himself under suspicion and under media condemnation. You can’t win if the fake news networks don’t like you. In fact, if you haven’t confessed to what they believe, you may as well jump off the first bridge your chickens cross before counting their clues.

Making dubious decisions and finding critics at every turn quickly makes Nick Dunne (Affleck) look guiltier than the wrong man in every Hitch movie. His cool blonde wife is more mysterious than Kim Novak and Grace Kelly doing a Tippi Hedren imitation.

Hitchcock loved to use red herrings in the clothes of Bob Cummings or Richard Todd. In this film Fincher has found his empty suit in the person of Neil Patrick Harris.

The only piece missing from this Hitchcock homage is a Bernard Herrmann score that lingers in the memory.

What an intriguing movie nevertheless.