Thursday, September 20, 2018

LIGHTS OF NEW YORK (1928)

We are told that this is a tale of two milieus: small-town Main Street and big-city Broadway, a story that "might have been torn out of last night's newspaper" (just like TV's Law & Order!). Two bootleggers who have been hiding out in a small town hotel not far from New York City find out that legal charges against them have been dropped so they plan to head back to Broadway to run a speakeasy. They talk Eddie (Cullen Landis), the hotel barber, and his pal Gene (Eugene Pallette) into coming with them to run a barber shop in Manhattan—Eddie even gets his mother, owner of the hotel, to give him some money to invest in the shop. Sadly, once they get to the city, they discover that the shop is a front for a speakeasy. However, Eddie is happy to catch up with old gal pal Kitty (Helene Costello), a singer at the Night Hawk, a club run by slick gangster Hawk Miller (Wheeler Oakman). Eddie's in love with Kitty, but Hawk has the hots for her as well, much to the disgruntlement of Hawk's long-suffering mistress Molly (Gladys Brockwell). When a cop is shot dead by one of Hawk's bootleggers, the heat is turned on and Hawk sets Eddie up to take the fall for the illegal booze and the murder.

This much-maligned crime drama is historically important as the first all-talking movie—THE JAZZ SINGER was actually mostly silent, with only a few talkie sequences. But most critics make a point of noting that the film is not that good. However, I found it watchable and interesting, even it never quite becomes compelling. Plotwise, it's an oft-told tale of the innocent rube being taken advantage of by the urban crooks, and as such, it's predictable. The romance is bland, and there isn't much action, but the camera is not completely stationary, a problem which causes some early talkies to be difficult to enjoy for modern viewers. Performances are mostly good. Cullen Landis makes for a solid leading man; he had a lengthy career in silent movies but retired from the screen a couple years later. Wheeler Oakman's name was not familiar to me, but he has over 150 screen credits to his name, mostly as henchmen in B-movies; he is fine here. Of course, Pallette of the deep croaking voice (pictured with Landis), will be very familiar to fans of 30s movies (the wealthy patriarch in MY MAN GODFREY, Friar Tuck in THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD).

There is some fun dialogue, and some lines, though probably new at the time, would quickly become clich├ęs. When Hawk wants someone killed, he says, very dramatically, "Take him for a ride"; Eddie expresses satisfaction with "Everything’s Jake!"; when Molly's life takes a bad turn, she moans, "I've lived and I've loved and I've lost!” Earlier, when Molly sees Hawk take in interest in the younger Kitty, she calls him "a hound for chickens." Best of all is a musical number in the night club sung by Harry Downing called "At Dawning"—yes, it's about early morning sex: "When I wake up in the early morning/That's when I love her the best." There's also an overwrought death scene that is hard to watch without a chuckle or two. This movie won't be everyone’s cup of tea, but at just under an hour, I found it fun. [DVD]

Monday, September 17, 2018

THE PIZZA TRIANGLE (1970)

Adelaide (Monica Vitti) has just been stabbed to death in the street, and as two men, Oreste and Nello, act out how it happened for the police, we get the full backstory. Adelaide, a florist, sees Oreste (Marcello Mastroianni) one night at a street carnival. Though she's young and middle-class and he's a married, over-40 construction worker who has passed out from too much drink, sparks fly and soon they're sleeping together. He even leaves his wife (who, in a comical scene, Adelaide mistakes for his mother) and they settle into a relationship until young young and handsome Nello (Giancarlo Giannini), a pizza chef and friend of Oreste's, starts flirting with her. She tries sleeping with Nello on the sly, but Oreste finds out and the result is fisticuffs. She proposes they try a three-way, but that doesn't work either. Things deteriorate to the point of a street fight, in which she is accidentally killed by Oreste. Despite the tragic tone of the above plot summary, most of this plays out like a comedy, intended, I assume, as a satire on European romantic melodramas. Many characters, the principals as well as supporting players (and the occasional random bystander), speak directly to the camera, as in Woody Allen's later ANNIE HALL. During a break-up scene, Adelaide shouts out melodramatically as her lover leaves, but she's actually just sneezing.  Adelaide's visit to a psychiatrist plays out like a parody of an analysis scene, ending with her saying in frustration, "Am I psychotic or evil?" In an overblown proclamation, the narrator, referring to Adelaide, says that "the pen of a Zola or a Nabokov would not be sufficient to describe her perfidiousness!" If there's a villainous force here, though, it's not a woman but what we would call toxic masculinity. There is a political background involving protest marches by Communists, and the ending actually is rather sad, but this is best enjoyed as an energetic and sly comedy. All three leads are excellent—Vitti is always compelling, and it's fun to see a young Giannini, best known as the roughneck lead in SWEPT AWAY. Also known as A DRAMA OF JEALOUSY AND OTHER THINGS and JEALOUSY ITALIAN STYLE. Pictured, from left, are Mastroianni, Vitti and Giannini. [TCM]

Thursday, September 13, 2018

THE LAST TRAIN FROM MADRID (1937)

The Spanish Civil War is heating up and one last train is leaving Madrid with many refugees trying to leave. (The details of the war are, thanks to Hollywood neutrality, completely erased; we are told in an opening crawl that the film is taking no side because "this is a story of people, not ideas." Still, it's not difficult to deduce the good guys from the bad guys.) The film, set in the hours before the train leaves, focuses on several people who have or are trying to get passes for the train. Storyline #1: Gilbert Roland (pictured) is a former Army officer, part of a "Brotherhood" of five soldiers who have crosses carved into their arms. Now a political prisoner, he is being conscripted by the Army into fighting on the Army's side, but an officer who is another Brotherhood member (Anthony Quinn) frees him on the sly. Roland, hoping to be on the last train, goes to visit Dorothy Lamour, his former gal, not aware that she is involved with Quinn. Storyline #2: American reporter Lew Ayres meets Olympe Bradna, a young woman who is desperate to visit her jailed father before he is executed. He gets her there and makes up a story that his sentence has been commuted, even though it has not. After her visit, the father is killed by a firing squad, but (Storyline #3) one solider (Robert Cummings) couldn’t bring himself to shoot and is ordered to the front. In the streets, he meets Helen Mack and tries to help her save a dying old man. When they fail, he asks her if he can have the man's train pass. They discover they grew up in the same town and warm to each other. Storyline #4, or perhaps 1.5: Roland sees Karen Morley, a baroness he used to know, and asks her to get him a pass so he can leave with her. However, her current lover (Lee Bowman) may have something to say about that. All the storylines meet as the train gets underway.

Given the title, I assumed this would be a spy thriller set on a train, but only the last 20 minutes or so are set on the train. This is more like a "Grand Hotel" ensemble movie with individual characters crossing paths with each other on the way to the train getaway. It's a fairly bland affair, so how well you like this movie may depend on how you feel about the actors. I'm a big Gilbert Roland fan so it was worth my time for him alone, but I was surprised by how much I liked Anthony Quinn, looking very young and rather fetching, as a character stuck in a moral gray area. Dorothy Lamour is first billed but she is much less important to the narrative than most of the others. I also liked Morley and Bowman, though they have fairly small roles. Lionel Atwill is the chief Army guy, which should tell you all you need to know about how which political side this movie would be on if it could deal in "ideas" in addition to people. It may be damning it with faint praise to say that this is not as bad as some critics let on—Dennis Schwartz calls it one of the worst movies of the decade, which it surely is not, though I agree with him that it is slow and talky. The performances make it worth seeing. [TCM]

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

BEYOND GLORY (1948)

Rocky Gilman (Alan Ladd), a senior cadet at West Point, is called before an investigative board looking into complaints of bullying and hazing lodged by former cadet Raymond Denmore and his wealthy father. Rocky, who had seen action as a draftee in World War II in Tunisia before enrolling in West Point, had accused Ray of lying which led to his expulsion, and, though the Denmores' complaint is against West Point as a whole, their lawyer is essentially holding Rocky responsible and putting him on trial, though he is reminded time and time again that the panel is not a court of law. The panel becomes the frame story through which we see a series of flashbacks, out of chronological order, about Rocky. Something happened in Tunisia which led to the death on the battlefield of Rocky's close friend, Henry (Tom Neal), and though Rocky got the Distinguished Service Cross, he insists that he was a coward and disobeyed an order, which led directly to Henry's death. He spends time in a hospital suffering mostly from what we would call post-traumatic stress syndrome, and when he gets out, he finds Henry's widow Ann (Donna Reed) on V-E Day and confesses his guilt to her, but they wind up bonding and he decides to enroll in West Point as a way of making up for whatever happened in Tunisia. Eventually, they even plan on marrying when Rocky graduates. But now, with Rocky confessing to cowardice, all bets are off. Rocky sees Ann the night after his first appearance at the panel and writes a resignation letter. But the next day, an eyewitness to the Tunisian incident arrives who might be able to clear everything up.

I hunted this down because the author of Reinventing Hollywood, David Bordwell, devotes a fair chunk of space to this movie in his discussion of the use of flashbacks in films. This movie does use flashbacks in a fairly extreme way, mostly to create suspense by dragging out the answer to the question of what actually happened in Tunisia, but the story is not hard to follow—though jumbled in chronology, the flashbacks are marked clearly as to when they take place, and the present-time investigation remains a touchstone throughout. The biggest disappointment is the rationale for leaving us, and Rocky, in the dark about Tunisia—Rocky's friend Eddie (Dick Hogan) has known the truth all along but never said anything because Rocky never wanted to talk about it. That aside, this is a solid melodrama with a mystery frame. Some may think Ladd, in his mid-30s, too old for the part but I think he easily passes for mid-20s. His somewhat wooden acting style fits here—it makes Rocky stoic, with intimations of deep, possibly dangerous waters in his psyche. Donna Reed isn't given much to do, but she does make Ann's acceptance of Rocky believable. Good support comes from Tom Neal and Dick Hogan who make the most of their limited screen time. George Coulouris is especially good as a snarky lawyer you love to hate. Audie Murphy plays one of the cadets, and the sweet, grandfatherly Henry Travers (pictured with Ladd) is Rocky's adoptive father. The wrap-up, which ends with an actual excerpt from a speech by future president Dwight Eisenhower is a little too speedy, not letting us feel warm and fuzzy for too long. [YouTube]

Thursday, September 06, 2018

SYLVIA (1965)

The wealthy Fredric Summers hires private eye Alan Macklin (George Maharis) to investigate his young and lovely bride-to-be, Sylvia West (Carroll Baker), a newly-published poet and flower enthusiast. She's close-mouthed about her background and what little she has owned up to doesn't check out. Summers wants Mack to dig up her past but without having any contact with her, so he begins by taking her poetry to an English professor of his acquaintance who provides a psychological reading and pinpoints her origins to Pittsburgh. Mack's travels lead him to piece together the facts of her life: she had a love of reading from early on, but was raised in rough circumstances, raped by her stepfather, and becomes a prostitute. She lives briefly with a middle-aged dress salesman (Edmund O’Brien), gets a job as an arcade worker, then winds up back in prostitution where she becomes good friends with a woman named Jane. When Jane is hit by a car and is hospitalized for a month, Sylvia works overtime to help her pay for a private room. Sylvia is assaulted and beat up by a well-heeled client who pays her $10,000 not to go to the cops. By that time, Jane is married to a banker and he invests her money well, eventually making her financially independent. Intrigued, and not certain that Summers really deserves Sylvia, Mack arranges to meet her, not revealing his occupation, and the two of them hit it off, but we all know the moment of truth will have to arrive—will Mack give the unsavory report to Summers, will he decide he's in love with her himself, or will Sylvia have a plan of her own?

The mid-60's was when Hollywood’s restrictive Production Code began to collapse, and movies like this one were partly responsible. Ten years earlier, the filmmakers would never have been able to be so open about Sylvia's occupation, nor could they have included a line like this movie’s "Once a whore, always a whore." But the heroine still had to suffer, not just rape and humiliation, but constant unhappiness. There are also some incredibly vague hints made at same-sex attraction between Sylvia and some of her friends. Overall, this is a drab and unpleasant film, but it's saved by the acting of its leads and by a few of the supporting players. Carroll Baker was criticized at the time for giving a wooden performance, but to modern eyes, we see a woman still suffering from the effects of various traumas. The fact that she hasn't actually had a breakdown is somewhat amazing. Maharis, damned with faint praise in contemporary reviews as being bland but better than Baker, is very good as the familiar central figure of the passive detective who is more acted upon than acting (like Dana Andrews in LAURA). He is both charming and a little off-putting; we can see why his acquaintances like him, but also why he may not have had many successful intimate relationships. (And, he's damned good-looking.) Peter Lawford (as Summers) and Edmund O'Brien are unmemorable, and Aldo Ray and Lloyd Bochner are grimly effective as Sylvia's rapists; Ann Sothern, Joanne Dru and Viveca Lindfors are fine in supporting roles of varying importance. Paul Gilbert has a fun turn as a male madam who dresses in drag and goes by the name Lola Diamond. The ending is unrealistically upbeat—had this been made in the early 70s, it wouldn't have been. Overall, the movie is too sluggishly paced to be effective, but I was sad that the appealing George Maharis wasn't able to sustain a stronger career—he was just right as a detective, and I'd love to have seen him in some of the neo-noirs in the 70s, like The Long Goodbye or the remake of The Big Sleep. [TCM]

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

DARK MOUNTAIN (1944)

While fighting a forest fire, Ranger Don (Robert Lowery) wants to go back in and save Susie and Joe, who turn out to be two horses he's particularly fond of, but when his boss says no, Don punches him out and goes in anyway. The horses are saved, and so is his job—the chief actually gives him a promotion to head of the Dark Mountain area, and he gets his buddy Willie (Eddie Quillan) as his assistant. On a one-week furlough, he goes to visit his girlfriend Kay (Ellen Drew) to propose, but she drops the bomb that she's already married, to Steve (Regis Toomey), a well-off businessman. Steve seems like a nice guy, but we can sense something's wrong, especially when we hear him mention to an associate that he has to meet his wife’s "yokel relatives" at dinner that night. We soon discover that Steve is a war profiteer being investigated by the Feds, and when an agent comes to visit at the warehouse, Steve has his underlings push a huge crate down on him, killing him instantly. Eventually, the cops wind up on his trail and he goes on the lam, telling Kay, who the cops think is in on Steve's operations, that he'll be back. She goes to Don who lets her stay in an empty mountain cabin, but soon Steve has tracked her down, figures out that she's sweet on Don, and takes Kay hostage as Don, Willie, and most importantly, Don's faithful dog Luther, give chase.

This one-hour B-film is nothing special, I guess, but its plot is a little different, with an almost noirish tinge here and there. Lowery is one of my favorite B-movie leads (best known as one of the first actors to play Batman, in a late 40s serial) so I'd watch almost anything he's in. He manages to come off as stolid but not wooden, confident but not invulnerable. The dependable Toomey played a wide range of parts through the 30s and 40s, though I always remember him best as the kindly priest leading the boys choir in THE BISHOP’S WIFE; here he has a rare role as an villain and he does a nice job. Quillan, another personal favorite, is fine as the comic relief sidekick. Drew is the blandest of the bunch, but she's acceptable. Elisha Cook Jr. has a small role as the squirrely underling that Steve winds up killing to ensure he can't squeal to the cops. I like that Don and Willie are presented as having a quietly domestic routine at their office—Willie even knits (articles of clothing for his WAC gal overseas--see photo above). An unsung little B-film that’s quite enjoyable. [YouTube]

Friday, August 31, 2018

BLONDIE (1938) / BLONDIE ON A BUDGET (1940)

I imagine that any culturally literate American has some idea of who Blondie and Dagwood Bumstead are. Though they started out on the comics page in 1930 as examples of the era’s "flaming youth" stereotypes—she was a flapper, he was a playboy from a rich family—they eventually got married and became the archetypal middle-class suburban family with two kids and a dog. Blondie was a stay-at-home mom and Dagwood worked for the grumpy Mr. Dithers. In the strips, Dagwood is a bumbling but sweet guy and Blondie the voice of reason who has to set things right. The B-movie series (28 films between 1938 and 1950) keeps some of comic strip trappings—Dagwood's beloved sandwiches, his constant morning collisions with the mailman—but the personality of Blondie is a little different. In the movies, or at least the two I sampled recently when TCM showed an evening of them, she's presented as jealous and scheming and a bit of a nag.

BLONDIE begins with an impressive stunt scene showing how the dog Daisy responds to the early morning whistle of the paperboy: Daisy tears out of the house through the doggie door, takes the paper in his mouth, runs back in the house, races up the stairs, and gives it to 4-year-old Baby Dumpling who passes it on to Dagwood, shaving in the bathroom. We eventually meet Blondie, the hapless mailman, the little neighbor boy Alvin, and Dagwood's boss. The situation is slowly set up: First, Blonde, behind Dagwood's back, buys some new furniture to be delivered the next day. Then we find out that Dagwood signed a loan note (using his furniture as collateral) for a former employee named Elsie who reneged on it and now Dagwood owes $500 or his furniture. Next, Dithers sends Dagwood to make a sale to visiting businessman Mr. Hazlip, who is notorious for not seeing salesmen, but at Hazlip's hotel, Dagwood and Hazlip bond over tinkering with a broken vacuum cleaner. Hazlip has a daughter, also named Elsie. You can probably predict that these plot threads are leading to misunderstandings and chaos. BLONDIE ON A BUDGET begins with Blondie wanting a new fur coat and Dagwood wanting to spend $200 to join a fancy fishing club. But budget concerns are left behind in a plot which features Dagwood's former girl friend (guest star Rita Hayworth before becoming a star, pictured at left with an unidentified actor and Lake), Daisy getting drunk, and Blondie eventually heading to Reno for a divorce (before a kindly divorce lawyer counsels her to make one last try at the marriage).

For this viewer, this series hasn't aged well, not so much because the plot points aren't still relevant (money problems, jealousy, and job security will always be with us) but because these feel like modern-day situation comedy plots stretched out to over an hour. I'm used to seeing these kinds of stories wrapped up in 30 minutes on shows ranging over the years from Leave It to Beaver to Modern Family, so these films feel padded out. But their watchability is helped by the actors. Penny Singleton is a good Blondie, though a little more manic than the one I know from the comic strip; Arthur Lake is goofy-cute and charming as the hapless Dagwood. But the real treasures are the kids: Larry Simms, only four years old when he filmed the first movie, has Baby Dumpling down pat, and Danny Mummert as Alvin is just as good—in 1946, Mummert played George Bailey's younger brother as a kid (the one George saves from drowning in the ice) in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. They both seem like natural actors (though I do wonder how many takes were required to get their on-the-nose performances) and both stayed with the series for the next twelve years, right to the end. As a novelty, I enjoyed these, though I don't know that I could sit through a marathon of Blondie movies; I might like to see a later one where the kids are more grown up. [TCM]

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

THE JUDGE STEPS OUT (1948)

In a custody hearing being touted in the press as "Railroad Tycoon vs. Showgirl," a rich man is seeking custody of his daughter-in-law's baby, as the father died in the war and the mother is struggling to make a living. Boston judge Thomas Bailey (Alexander Knox) awards the child to the tycoon because he can provide a better upbringing, ignoring the tearful pleas of the mother. Back at home, Tom is dealing with his neglectful wife Evelyn (she's forgotten it’s his birthday) who is spending too much money on their daughter's upcoming wedding into the wealthy Struthers family; he's tired of having to keep up with others, but she accuses him of being a financial failure, particularly when Tom is inclined to turn down a good job offer from Mr. Struthers. On a train trip to Washington to look into the job offer, Tom gets off the train at night in a small town because of unexplained pains. The small-town doctor he sees tells him he is suffering from "inflammation of the family," diagnosing the judge as needing a change from the demands of his current lifestyle. Tom stays in town for a couple of days, goes fishing with the doctor, and composes a telegram home to say he's been delayed. But Tom forgets to send it, and soon he discovers via a newspaper's front page that he's been reported missing. Back in Boston, Tom enters his house, but, unseen by his family, he sees that Evelyn seems to be unconcerned with his absence, so he steps back out, takes a train to California, and starts a new life as a door-to-door book salesman. At a small town diner, he meets cute with Peggy (Ann Sothern), the diner owner and guardian to Nan, a young orphan. Not knowing his background, she hires him as a short-order cook and soon the two have settled into something that looks like domestic happiness. But months later, when Peggy's application to adopt Nan is turned down—for reasons very much like Tom's reasons for turning down the showgirl in court—the judge-in-hiding decides to head back to Boston to try and get legal help for Peggy, and also to revisit his judgment in the showgirl's case.

This is a hard one to pin down. It's light in tone but not quite a comedy. Though it might read as a May-December romance, the two leads, Knox and Sothern (pictured), are almost the same age, with Knox looking just a bit older. Though Knox gives a restrained performance (reminiscent of Ronald Colman) and Sothern is closer to her usual carefree persona, they have great chemistry together. For a Production Code-era movie, it's made surprisingly clear that Knox and Sothern are in fact living together as extramarital partners, which is rather refreshing. I spent most of my summary talking about the narrative's set-up but the bulk of the action actually covers Knox and Sothern's relationship. Given this, and without spoiling things too much, the ending is not satisfying, or wasn't for me. There are some good supporting players, including Florence Bates, George Tobias, H.B. Warner, and especially Ian Wolfe as the judge's loyal assistant. [TCM]

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

ZERO HOUR! (1957)

I've been wanting to see this movie for years: it's the film that the classic 1980 comedy AIRPLANE! is based on. I love AIRPLANE (and I will assume that my readers have seen it as well) and watch it at least once a year, so there was not a chance that I could have watched this film with an objective eye. And the fact that AIRPLANE is, essentially, a scene-for-scene remake of this movie, albeit with a satiric and often scatological tone, makes it difficult to take this original film seriously. We begin in World War II when pilot Ted Stryker (Dana Andrews) takes his men on a bombing mission through thick fog. Several of the men die and the badly injured Stryker blames himself. His guilt incapacitates him and wrecks havoc with his career (he is afraid of flying) and his personal life. Years later, Stryker is offered a job by an old pal, but when he comes home to celebrate the news, he finds that his wife Ellen (Linda Darnell) has taken their young son Joey and left him. Stryker goes after his wife and manages to get on the same plane she's on, heading to Vancouver, trying to talk her into having faith in him this time. After the in-flight meal is served, everyone who ate the fish gets virulent food poisoning, including the pilot and co-pilot. The plane is put on autopilot and there is a frantic search for someone on board who can finish the flight and land the plane. Reluctantly, Stryker agrees to try, helped out by his wife as co-pilot and a captain (Sterling Hayden) radioing in from the ground at Vancouver, who happens to have known Stryker during the war.

Yes, most of that summary also works as a summary of AIRPLANE. Many viewers probably thought that AIRPLANE was parodying the Airport series of disaster movies from the 70s, which to some degree it was, but the fact is that AIRPLANE's makers bought the remake rights to ZERO HOUR and they followed the original quite closely. So as early as the World War II scene, when Stryker's name is intoned seriously by a narrator, I started giggling. Other things that happen in this film which are now hard to take seriously: the pilot asks the young boy, "Ever been in a cockpit before?" (see photo above); Stryker sweats; the Vancouver captain says he "picked the wrong time to quit smoking"; a hysterical woman gets slapped; a doctor's announcement that they need to find someone who can fly the plan AND didn't eat fish. Even the movie's sets look alike. I can say that Dana Andrews gives a strong performance as Stryker, and the landing scene works up tension quite effectively. Fun to watch but impossible to evaluate fairly. [TCM]

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

SCREAMING MIMI (1958)

Virginia (Anita Ekberg), a buxom blonde exotic dancer, is staying in a beach cottage when, as she starts to take an outdoor shower, she is attacked by a knife-wielding escapee from a nearby asylum. Charlie, a sculptor and her older stepbrother, shoots him dead from the cottage door, but Virginia is in hysterics and is sent to a sanitarium (the same one the maniac escaped from) in "deep traumatic shock," thinking somehow that she was the one who attacked someone with a knife. She is assigned to Dr. Greenwood (Harry Townes) who becomes obsessed with her, to the point where, when she is released, he quits his job to be her full-time caretaker—and agent, getting her a dancing gig at El Madhouse, a sleazy club run by Gypsy Masters (Gypsy Rose Lee, essentially playing herself). He also becomes a Svengali-figure to her; she seems to both need him and resent him. Masters gets an entertainment reporter named Bill (Philip Carey) to give her new star some newspaper coverage, and Bill gets involved with her, first because of her looks, then later due to her obvious vulnerability. Later, Virginia is attacked on the streets by a figure with a knife; she survives and the police assume she was a victim of "The Ripper," who killed Lola, another buxom dancer, a few weeks earlier. As Bill digs into Virginia's background, he discovers something odd linking her and Lola: the presence at the scene of the attack of a small sculpted figure of a screaming woman—which we know to have been produced by Virginia's stepbrother.

That’s about where the narrative stopped making sense to me, though there’s still quite a bit of movie left. One problem is that there are a number of plot elements that are either sketchy or completely undeveloped: the character of the stepbrother who turns out to be a red herring, the amount of time that passes between chunks of narrative, the motivations of any number of characters. The doctor is the most ambiguous character of all, and I never did figure out if he was supposed to be "good" or "bad." In a better movie, this could all have been harnessed in the service of a compelling psychological thriller, but here the director, Gerd Oswald, seems more interested in highlighting kinky plotlines just for exploitation. For example, Ekberg looks great but she's not the best actress, so I couldn't tell if Virginia's various moods and actions were plot-driven or just the result of Ekberg giving a weak (or weakly directed) performance. Frankly, all the actors feel low-energy and at sea, even Gypsy Rose Lee who you can tell is trying but is getting nothing from the director. Her brief rendition of "Put the Blame on Mame" is surprisingly bland. We discover, out of the blue, that Gypsy is a lesbian—when Bill goes to Gypsy's apartment, he finds her young companion there and feeling distinctly out of place, says, "Sorry, I didn’t realize it was just tea for two"—but nothing is done with this detail. Even worse is the Screaming Mimi figure which seems to have been tossed into the mix just to give the movie a title. (To be fair, this film is based on a novel by Fredric Brown, so some of these problems might arise directly from the original source.) Parts of this are low-rent fun—for example, Ekberg's vaguely S&M dance with chains—but overall, a disappointment even for fans of drive-in B-movies. [DVD]