‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ Prequel Shorts


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(Above is an exclusive poster found on Collider.com)

I am having a hard time remembering the last time I made a post like this that wasn’t a review, so I think you can use this article as a measure of just how excited I am for ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’. I, like a lot of people, was completely surprised by how good ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ was. It rejuvenated a franchise (one I really enjoy) that was most recently tarnished by a really, really bad remake. It was so good that a sequel was not only inevitable, but desired.

Luckily Fox is fulfilling that desire next week with the release of the sequel, which has received universal praise from the few reviews that have already been released. The out-pour of this praise definitely has me more excited than I was beforehand…but it is not the true source of the hype that has me ready to buy a ticket for a Thursday night showing for the first time since ‘The Dark Knight Rises’. No, the source of that hype is a series of short films that act as a bridge between ‘Rise’ and ‘Dawn’, examining (quite artistically, surprisingly) the events that occurred after the outbreak of the Simian Flu at the end of ‘Rise’. These shorts are a collaboration of 20th Century Fox and Motherboard and can be viewed below:

‘Spread of Simian Flu: Before The Dawn of the Apes (Year 1)’ (dir. Isaiah Seret)

‘Struggling to Survive: Before The Dawn of the Apes (Year 5)’ (dir. Daniel Thron)

‘Story of the Gun: Before The Dawn of the Apes (Year 10)’ (dir. “thirtytwo”)

What I love most about these is how they are so unlike most “viral” shorts. These aren’t straight forward stories like you see with the Marvel One-Shots. These are actually artistic, emotional and thought provoking films, to the point in which I saw people commenting on them being pretentious…music to my ears to be honest with you. Each explore themes of their own while also wonderfully adding to the atmosphere and mythos of the new ‘Apes’ series. Furthermore, the very fact that the studio clearly gave the writers and directors of each liberty to not “play it safe” with a piece of marketing revolving around a multi-million dollar franchise just gives me a ton of confidence in the franchise on the whole. It is this, more than the reviews, that has me excited to see ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ next week, and maybe they will do the same for you.

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Along with the prequel shorts, which are directly related to the events of the film, they also released a documentary which can be seen below. It too is incredibly well made, and is a surprisingly poignant true story of apes and human interactions during and after the events of medical testing and human warfare.

‘The Real Planet of the Apes’ 

Embracing the Melodrama #24: Last Summer (dir by Frank Perry)


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Let’s close out today’s series of melodrama reviews by taking a look at an unfairly obscure film from 1969, Last Summer.  Directed by Frank Perry (who also directed at least part of The Swimmer before getting into an argument with Burt Lancaster), Last Summer is a film about four teenagers who make the mistake of hanging out with each other during one fateful summer.

Peter (Richard Thomas) and his best friend Dan (Bruce Davison) meet Sandy (Barbara Hershey) on the beach.  Sandy recruits them into helping her take care of a seagull with a broken wing and soon, the three of them are inseparable.  The sexually inexperienced Peter and Dan are both attracted to Sandy while Sandy shown proves herself to have a casually destructive streak.  The two boys are so infatuated with Sandy that they even forgive her after she gets bored with the seagull and kills it.

Eventually, Rhoda (Catherine Burns, who was Oscar-nominated for her performance) starts to hang out with the three of them.  Overweight and shy, Rhoda is, at first, an awkward addition to the group but soon, she and Peter start to grow close.  Sandy, who was previously more interested in Dan until she realized that Peter was losing interest in her, reacts by looking for more and more ways to humiliate the insecure Rhoda.  Eventually, they set Rhoda up on a blind date with a shy Puerto Rican man, a cruel prank which quickly goes wrong.

When Rhoda eventually stands up to her three new “friends,” it leads to a disturbing finale that it is all the more effective specifically because it is so inevitable.

I have to admit that I have a weakness for out-of-control youth films, largely because — while I never went as crazy as Sandy or made as many mistakes as Rhoda — I still had my moments back when I was in high school.  In ways both good and bad, I could relate to the two female leads of Last Summer.  There have been times in my life when I’ve felt like the intellectual and naive Rhoda and then there’s been other times when I’ve felt like the beautiful and self-assured Sandy.  For the most part, I’m usually prouder of myself when I feel like Rhoda but I have a lot more fun when I feel like Sandy.  While the two boys largely remain ciphers, Last Summer is worth seeing for the outstanding performances of Barbara Hershey and Catherine Burns.  Combined with Frank Perry’s atmospheric direction (you can literally see the layers of ennui and humidity clinging to some of the scenes), the end result is an effectively creepy coming-of-age film.

For some unknown reason, Last Summer appears to one of those rare Oscar-nominated films that has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray.  However, it does occasionally show up on TCM and I would suggest keeping an eye out for it.

Last Summer 1969 Thomas Hershey Davidson

(Incidentally, California Scheming — was was released earlier this year — is pretty much an unacknowledged remake of Last Summer, right down to the bit with the seagull.  California Scheming is actually not a bad film.  It’s certainly deserves better than some of the online reviews that it’s received.)

 

Embracing the Melodrama #23: The Swimmer (dir by Frank Perry)


The Swimmer

The 1968 film The Swimmer opens with Ned Merrill (Burt Lancaster) emerging from the woods that surround an affluent Connecticut suburb.  He’s a tanned, middle-aged man and, because he spends the entire film wearing only a bathing suit, we can tell that he’s still in good shape for a man in his 50s.  When Ned speaks, it’s with the nonstop optimism of a man who has found and claimed his part of the American Dream.  In short, Ned appears to be ideal American male, living in the ideal American community.

However, it gradually starts to become apparent that all is not well with Ned.  When he mysteriously shows up at a pool party being held by a group of his friends, they all seem to be shocked to see him, commenting that it’s been a while since Ned has been around.  Ned, however, acts as if there’s nothing wrong and instead talks about how beautiful the day is and says that he’s heading back to his home.  He’s figured out that all of his neighbor’s swimming pools form a “river” to his house and Ned’s plan is to swim home.

And that’s exactly what Ned proceeds to do, going from neighbor to neighbor and swimming through their pools.  As he does so, he meets and talk to his neighbors and it becomes more and more obvious that there are secrets hidden behind his constant smile and friendly manner.  As Ned gets closer and closer to his actual home, the neighbors are far less happy to see him.

At one house, he runs into Julie (Janet Landgard) who used to babysit for his daughter.  Julie agrees to swim with Ned and eventually confesses that she once had a crush on him.  When Ned reacts by promising to always protect  and love her, Julie gets scared and runs away.

At another house, Ned comes across another pool party.  A woman named Joan (played by a youngish Joan Rivers) talks to him before a friend of her warns her to stay away from Ned.

When Ned reaches the house of actress Shirley (Janice Rule), it becomes obvious that Shirley was once Ned’s mistress.  They discuss their relationship and it quickly becomes apparent that Ned’s memories are totally different from Shirley’s.

And, through it all, Ned keeps swimming.  Even when he’s offered a ride to his house, Ned replies that he has to swim home.

The Swimmer is a film that I had wanted to see ever since I first saw the trailer on the DVD for I Drink Your Blood.  (That’s an interesting combination, no?  I Drink Your Blood and The Swimmer.)  I finally saw the film when it showed up on TCM one night and, when I first watched it, I have to admit that I was a little disappointed.  Stylistically, the film itself is such a product of the 1960s that, even though suburban ennui and financial instability are still very relevant topics, The Swimmer felt rather dated.  I mean, I love a good zoom shot as much as anyone but, often times during the 60s, they seemed to be used more for the sake of technique than the sake of story telling.

However, the second time I sat through The Swimmer, I appreciated the film a bit more.  I was able to look past the stylistic flourishes of the direction and I could focus more on Burt Lancaster’s excellent lead performance.  Lancaster plays Ned as the epitome of the American ideal and, as a result, his eventual collapse also mirror the collapse of that same ideal.  The Swimmer is based on a short story by John Cheever and, quite honestly, the film’s story is a bit too much of a literary conceit to really work on film.  That said, The Swimmer — much like the character of Ned Merrill — is an interesting failure, which is certainly more than can be said of most failures.

 

Embracing The Melodrama #22: The Incident (dir by Larry Peerce)


The Incident

The 1967 film The Incident could just as easily have been called Train of Fools.  Much like Ship of Fools, it’s an ensemble piece in which a group of people — all of whom represent different aspect of modern society — find themselves trapped in their chosen mode of transportation and forced to deal with intrusions from the outside world.

That intrusion comes in the form of two sociopaths who have decided to spend the entire ride tormenting their fellow passengers.  The more dominant of the two is Joe (played by Tony Musante, who would later star in Dario Argento’s Bird With The Crystal Plumage), who the film hints might also be a pedophile.  His partner is Artie (Martin Sheen), who is less intelligent than Joe but just as viscous.  (And yes,even though he does a good job in the role,  it is odd to see an intelligent and reportedly very nice actor like Martin Sheen playing a character who is both so evil and so stupid.)

Among the passengers:

Bill (Ed McMahon) and Helen (Diana Van Der Vills) are only on the train because Bill refused to pay the extra money to take a taxi back home. Now, they’re stuck on the train with their young daughter who, in one of the film’s more disturbing scenes, Joe starts to show an interest in.

Teenage Alice (Donna Mills) is on a date with the far more sexually experienced Tony (Victor Arnold).  When Joe and Artie start to harass her, her date proves himself to be pretty much useless.

Douglas McCann (Gary Merrill) is a recovering alcoholic who, before Artie and Joe got on the train, was spending most of his time scornfully watching Kenneth (Robert Otis), a gay man who previously attempted to pick Doug up at the train station and who will eventually fall victim to one of Artie’s crueler jokes.

Muriel Purvis (Jan Sterling) resents her meek husband, Harry (Mike Kellin) and see the entire incident as another excuse to cast doubts upon his manhood.

Sam and Bertha Beckerman (played by Jack Gilford and Thelma Ritter) are an elderly Jewish couple who, over the course of a lifetime, have already had to deal with far too many bullies.  Sam’s attempt to stand up to Joe and Artie results in both he and his wife being trapped on the train.

Arnold (Brock Peters) and Joan (Ruby Dee) are the only black people on the train.  Arnold, at first, enjoys watching the white people fight among each other and even turns down a chance to get off the train because he finds it to be so entertaining.  But finally, Joe turns on him as well.

And then there’s the two soldiers, streetwise Phil (Robert Bannard) and his best friend, Felix (Beau Bridges).  Felix speaks with a soft Southern accent and has a broken arm.

And finally, there’s the bum.  When we first see the bum (Henry Proach) he is asleep.  He doesn’t even wake up when Joe and Artie attempt to set him on fire.

One-by-one, Joe and Artie attack and humiliate every single person on the train.  The other passengers, for the most part, remain passive.  Even when some try to stand up to Joe and Artie, their fellow passengers don’t offer to help.  It’s only when one last passenger finally stands up to the two that the rest of them show any reaction at all and even then, it’s not necessarily the reaction that anyone was hoping for.

The Incident, which shows up on TCM occasionally, is a heavy-handed but effective look at what happens when good people choose to do nothing in the face of evil.  Joe and Artie can be viewed as stand-ins for any number of distasteful groups or ideologies and both Tony Musante and Martin Sheen are believable as dangerous (if occasionally moronic) petty criminals.  For that matter, the entire film is well-acted with the entire cast managing to bring life to characters that, in lesser hands, could have come across as being one-dimensional.  The entire film basically takes place in that one subway car but fortunately, the harsh black-and-white cinematography and the continually roaming camera all come together to keep things visually interesting.

The Incident may not be a great film (it’s occasionally bit too stagey and, after watching the first 30 minutes, you’ll be able to guess how the movie is going to end) but it’s still one to keep an eye out for.

Martin Sheen in The Incident

Embracing the Melodrama #21: Darling (dir by John Schlesinger)


 

Julie Christie

In my previous post, I talked about Ship of Fools, a film that was nominated for best picture of 1965.  As I pointed out in that post, when watched today, it’s difficult to imagine Ship of Fools as being worthy of that honor.  However, there was another melodrama nominated for best picture in 1965.  It not only clearly deserved that nomination but it probably should have won as well.  That movie is a personal favorite of mine, the brilliant British film, Darling.

In Darling, the beautiful and glamorous Diana Scott (played, in an Oscar-winning performance, by Julie Christie) tells us her life story, with the events on screen occasionally standing in contrast to the tone of her narration.  We learn how Diana went from being a somewhat successful model to being one of the most famous women in the world, a woman whose life is lived and obsessed over in three separate countries.

In England, Diana leaves her first husband for  Robert Gold (Dirk Bogarde), a writer who also abandons his family so that he can be with Diana.  They live in a dreary apartment and, over the course of one brilliant montage, we watch as Diana becomes increasingly disillusioned by Robert’s secluded lifestyle and Robert grows progressively annoyed with Diana’s hyperactivity.  Even being chosen to be the face of a world hunger charity organization fails to relieve Diana’s boredom.  (It does, however, give the film a chance to include a sharply satiric scene in which a bunch of rich white people socialize underneath pictures of starving African children.)   Diana soon starts to find excuses to leave the apartment and pursue an affair with the hedonistic advertising executive Miles Brand (Laurence Harvey).  In one of the film’s best scenes, Schlesinger shows us how long Diana and Miles have spent in a hotel room by focusing his camera not on the two of them but instead on the expiring parking meter outside.

Julie Christie in Darling

In France, Diana and Miles take part in wild parties that involve lots of cross-dressing, stripping, mind games, and predatory members of the social and media elite.  Diana is initially uneasy with this group of friends and it’s obvious that they have little respect for her.  However, that starts to change when Diana takes advantage of one of the party games to mock Miles for being unable to truly love anyone but himself.  Despite this, Miles still arranges for the disillusioned Diana to be selected as “The Happiness Girl” for the advertising campaign for a chocolate company.

In Italy, Diana’s best friend is Malcolm (Roland Curram) who is both her photographer and, as a gay man, is one of the few people in her life that Diana feels that she can trust.  It’s also in Italy that Diana meets a charming nobleman named Prince Cesare (Jose Luis de Vilallonga), who offers Diana a chance to become none other than Princess Diana, on the condition that Diana convert to Catholicism and that she help raise his nine children, the oldest of whom is the same age as Diana.

To be honest, it’s difficult for me to provide a rational or balanced review of Darling because I simply love this film so much!  I love it for the glamour, I love it for the melodrama, and I especially love it for its sharply satiric (and still very relevant) look at what it means to be famous for merely living.  I suppose that it would only be natural to compare Darling to the world’s current obsession with the Khardashians but that’s not really fair to Darling.  The Khardashians may be the natural end result of a world that obsesses over Diana Scott but, as played by Julie Christie, Diana Scott is everything — intelligent, witty, interesting, and, if not quite sympathetic, at least compelling — that a Khardashian could never hope to be.

In 1965, the Sound of Music won the award for best picture of the year but Darling is truly the movie that still has something to say about the way that we’re living today.

Darling

Embracing the Melodrama #20: Ship of Fools (dir by Stanley Kramer)


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The 1965 best picture nominee Ship of Fools follows a group of passengers as they take a cruise.  The year is 1933 and the luxury liner, which has just left Mexico, is heading for Nazi Germany.  Both the passengers and the crew represent a microcosm of a world that doesn’t realize it’s on the verge of war.

There’s Carl Glocken (played by Michael Dunn), a dwarf who has the ability to break the fourth wall and talk directly to the audience about all of the fools that have found themselves on this ship.  He alone seems to understand what the future holds.

There’s Mary Treadwell (Vivien Leigh), an aging Southern belle who spends almost the entire cruise flirting with the crew and other passengers, desperate to recapture her fading youth.  That also seems to be the main goal of Bill Tenney (Lee Marvin), an unsophisticated former baseball player who spends most of the cruise brooding about his failed career.

There’s the Countess (Simone Signoret), a political prisoner who is being transported to an island prison.  She falls in love with the ship’s doctor (Oskar Werner).  The doctor’s dueling scar suggests that he is a member of the old aristocracy and he is literally the film’s only good German.  Perhaps not surprisingly, he is also in the process of dying from a heart condition.

And then there’s David (George Segal) and his girlfriend Jenny (Elizabeth Ashley).  David is a frustrated and depressed painter while Jenny is far more determined to enjoy life, which should be pretty easy because the boat is also full of performers and dancers.

Finally, there’s the buffoonish Rieber (Jose Ferrer), a German industrialist whose dinner table talk hints at the horrors that are soon to come.

Ship of Fools is a big, long film in which a large cast of stars deal with big issues in the safest way possible.  In short, it’s a Stanley Kramer film.  As one can tell from watching some of the other films that he directed (Judgment at Nuremberg, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, and R.P.M.), Stanley Kramer made films that were often easier to admire than to actually enjoy.  As the critic Mark Harris points out in his book Pictures At A Revolution, Kramer started out as a producer and he retained the sensibility of a producer even after he stared directing.  As such, his films would address issues that were certain to generate a lot of free publicity but, at the same time, he would never run the risk of alienating his audience by digging too deeply into those issues.  His films would have the type of all-star casts that would, again, bring in an audience but Kramer rarely seemed to give thought as to whether or not an all-star cast would distract from the film’s message.  Finally, unlike the truly great directors, Kramer never really figured out how to tell a story with images.  As a result, his movies were often full of characters whose sole purpose was to explain the film’s themes.

Does that mean that Stanley Kramer never made a good film?  No, not at all.  Judgment at Nuremberg remains powerful and R.P.M. is a guilty pleasure of mine.  Kramer was usually smart enough to work with talented professionals and, as a result, his films were rarely truly bad.  Some of them even have isolated moments of greatness.  It’s just that his films were rarely memorable and truly innovative and, therefore, they are easy for us to dismiss, especially when compared to some of the other films that were being made at the same time.

With all that in mind and for reasons both good and bad, Ship of Fools is perhaps the most Stanley-Kramerish of all the Stanley Kramer films that I’ve seen.  The film was apparently quite acclaimed and popular when it was originally released in 1965 but watched today, it’s an occasionally watchable relic of a bygone age.  How you react to Ship of Fools today will probably depend on whether or not you’re an admirer of any of the actors in large cast.  For the most part, all of them do a good job though you can tell that, as a director, Kramer struggled with how to make their multiple storylines flow naturally into an overall theme.  Not surprisingly, Vivien Leigh and Lee Marvin give the two most entertaining performances and Jose Ferrer makes for a wonderfully hissable villain.  Oddly enough, I find myself most responding to the characters played by George Segal and Elizabeth Ashley.  I’m not sure why — their storyline is rather predictable.  Maybe it was just because Elizabeth Ashley’s character goes wild and starts dancing at one point.  That’s what I would do if I found myself stuck on a boat with a tortured painted.

(What is especially interesting is that neither Oskar Werner or Simone Signoret are particularly memorable and yet they both received Oscar nominations.  Perhaps 1965 was a weak year for acting.)

In the end, Ship of Fools is a movie that will be best appreciated by those of us who enjoy watching old movies on TCM and take a special delight in spotting all of the wonderful actors that, though they may no longer be with us, have at least had their talent preserved on film.  Ship of Fools may not be a great film but it does feature Vivien Leigh doing an impromptu and joyful solo dance in a hallway and how can you not appreciate that?

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Embracing The Melodrama #19: Sin In The Suburbs (dir by Joe Sarno)


Sin In The Suburbs

Released in 1964, Sin In The Suburbs is probably one of the best films that you’ve never heard of.  The fact that it is also an unapologetic product of and for the grindhouse does nothing to change that fact.  Well-acted and telling a disturbingly(and occasionally amusingly) plausible story, Sin In The Suburbs is a masterpiece of exploitation cinema.

As you can probably guess from the title, the setting here is the suburbs.  To the naked eye, it’s a perfectly normal and placid neighborhood.  However, to the housewives who are expected to spend all of their time in their identical suburban homes while their husbands head into the city for the day, the suburbs have become an existential prison, a world of sexual frustration and repressed desires.

Everyone finds their own way to handle living in the suffocating atmosphere of suburban perfection.  Lisa Francis (Marla Ellis), for example, deals with it by sitting around her living room in black lingerie and waiting for various salesmen to come and knock on her door.

Geraldine Lewis (Audrey Campbell) isn’t quite as blatant as her neighbor, though Geraldine does find the time to dance with a teenage boy who comes by looking for her daughter, Judy (Alice Linville).  Geraldine does not know how to deal with her developing daughter and, as a result, Judy starts spending more and more time with another neighbor, Yvette Tallman (Dyanne Thorne).

Yvette and her creepy brother Louis (W.B. Parker) run an interesting business on the side.  They set up suburban sex clubs, where everyone wears a robe and a mask and gets to engage in anonymous sex with their neighbors.  While Louis is certainly creepy looking whenever he puts on a mask that he himself describes as being “demonic,” director Joe Sarno goes out of his way to make this sex club look about as unsexy as possible.  The film’s characters may think that they’re being terribly sophisticated but Sarno undercuts their fantasy by playing up the seedy desperation of the sex club’s masked meetings.

In fact, it’s easy to laugh at the Tallmans’ ludicrous little club until the film’s final ten minutes, at which point a case of mistaken identity leads to one of the most downbeat endings ever.

Joe Sarno may have specialized in making what the rest of the world considered to be exploitation films but the fact that he was an artist at heart is obvious from watching Sin In The Suburbs.  Even before I decided to embark on this series of melodramatic film reviews, I had already seen a countless number of films about the what goes on behind closed suburban doors and none of them are quite as dark (or authentic) as the suburban Hell that Sarno portrays in Sin In The Suburbs.  There’s a seediness to the film that, while not exactly pleasant, is also so all-pervasive and convincing that it becomes oddly compelling.

As opposed to a film like Peyton Place, which gave us small town sin in glamorous technicolor, Sin in the Suburbs is filmed in drab black-and-white and takes place on sets that are notable for their minimal decoration.  The only time the film truly comes to life visually is when everyone is wearing a mask and hoping to conceal who they really are.  But even then, Sarno refuses to glamorize his characters.  Instead, he intentionally plays up the absurdity of a bunch of middle class suburbanites trying to convince themselves that they’re actually decadent free spirits.

If Jean-Paul Sartre had abandoned No Exit to instead write a grindhouse sex film, the end result would probably look a lot like Sin In The Suburbs.

sinsuburb

Embracing the Melodrama #18: The Naked Kiss (dir by Sam Fuller)


The Naked Kiss

When I first decided to do this series on embracing the melodrama, I knew that I would have to include at least one film from Sam Fuller.  A former war hero and tabloid journalist, Sam Fuller made films that felt like a punch in the face to everything that he considered to be hypocritical about American society.  Fuller’s films may have been B-movies and they certainly were unapologetic about being melodramas but, at the same time, they were — at the time of their release — some of the only films willing to deal with controversial subject matter.  While the rest of American filmmakers embraced safety, Fuller could always be counted on to be dangerous.

For instance, at a time when most films were celebrating “good girls” and punishing the bad ones with unplanned pregnancies and bad reputations, Fuller directed a film in which the heroine was a former prostitute and the main villains came from every corner of respectable society.  That film was 1964’s The Naked Kiss.

The Naked Kiss opens with a scene as striking and as memorable as one of the tabloid headlines that Fuller would have cranked out back in his days as a journalist.  Kelly (Constance Towers), a prostitute, attacks her pimp with her purse (with the camera often standing in for the pimp’s point-of-view so, for a good deal of the scene, Kelly appears to be striking those of us in the audience).  During the struggle, Kelly’s wig is knocked from her head, revealing her to be bald.

Fleeing from her pimp, Kelly ends up in the town of Grantville, where her first customer turns out to be Griff (Anthony Eisley), the chief of police.  Once they’ve completed their business, Griff informs Kelly that it might be a better idea for her to find a more permissive town in which to set up operations.  However, Kelly has decided that Grantville would be the perfect place for her to escape from her past and start a new life.

Despite Griff’s continued attempts to get her to leave town, Kelly finds a job working, with handicapped children, in a pediatric ward.  Full of empathy for children who have been just as abused as she has, Kelly proves herself to be an excellent nurse.  She is also soon dating the most powerful and popular man in town, J.L. Grant (Michael Dante).  Grant, at first, seems to be the perfect man and Kelly soon falls in love with him.  Even after she reveals the truth about her past, Grant says that he wants to marry her.

However, things change when Kelly drops by Grant’s mansion one day and discovers Grant on the verge of molesting a little girl.  (Making the scene all the more disturbing is the children’s song that plays in the background through almost the entire scene.)  Grant explains that he’s a deviant, just like her.  Kelly’s reaction forces both her and the citizens of Grantville to confront the truth about who they really are.

Though The Naked Kiss is often overshadowed by Fuller’s Shock Corridor (which was released the year before), The Naked Kiss is actually the better film of the two.   Along with Fuller’s lively direction and Constance Towers’ strong performance as Kelly, The Naked Kiss is also distinguished by Stanley Cortez’s atmospheric black-and-white cinematography.  The scenes in which Kelly sings with the children and then discovers Grant with his potential victim could both be textbook examples of how to properly stage a scene.  This unapologetically tawdry film is also an undeniably great one and you can watch it below!

Embracing The Melodrama #17: The Shame of Patty Smith (dir by Leo A. Handel)


The Shame of Patty Smith

“The story you’re about to see is true.  It’s happening right now.  The subject is illegal abortions.” — The narrator (Barney Brio) at the beginning of The Shame of Patty Smith (1962)

I began this series on embracing the melodrama by taking a look at one of the most anti-abortion films ever made, 1916’s Where Are My Children?  It, therefore, seems only appropriate that the first melodrama that I review from the 1960s should be a film that argued for the right to legal and safe abortion eleven years before the Supreme Court’s historic Roe v Wade decision, 1962’s The Shame of Patty Smith.

As with many a great melodrama, this film features a narrator.  He informs us that Patty Smith (played by an instantly sympathetic actress named Dani Lynn) is an “average girl with an average life and average dreams.”  One night, while she’s out on a date with Alan (Carlton Crane), she is attacked and raped by three thugs in leather jackets who speak like they’ve wandered over from the set of High School Confidential.  Afterwards, Alan tells her, “Three against one … there wasn’t much I could do…still, it was horrible to watch.”  He follows this up by advising her to “Try to forget about the whole thing.”

When Patty discovers that she’s pregnant, Alan refuses to speak to her and the stress causes her to make so many mistakes at her job that she ends up getting fired.  Not wishing to tell her religious parents what has happened, Patty goes to sympathetic Dr. Miller (J. Edward McKinney) and tells him that she simply cannot have a child.  Dr. Miller tells her that he sympathizes with her situation but, legally, he cannot help her.  All he can do is offer to help her put the baby up for adoption after she gives birth.

With the help of her roommate Mary (Merry Anders), Patty starts to search for a doctor who will perform the illegal procedure.  She manages to find one reputable doctor but he explains that he will need 600 dollars in cash because he could quite literally end up in jail for helping her.  Patty does not have that type of money.

Growing increasingly desperate, Patty eventually does find someone to help her.  This “doctor” (who, the narrator informs us, is actually a former pharmacist) works out of a massage parlor.  From the minute that Patty is picked up by one of the doctor’s associates to the moment that she finally steps into the pharmacist’s filthy operating room, The Shame of Patty Smith takes on the feel of a true nightmare.  For the final 30 minutes or so of the film, the screen is filled with such seediness that you literally feel the need to take a shower after watching it.  Director Leo A. Handel directs these scenes as if he were making a horror film (and, in many ways, he was) and Dani Lynn’s sensitive and frightened performance make these scenes all the more disturbing and tragic.

The Shame of Patty Smith is a real surprise.  Largely based on the title and the fact that Something Weird Video included The Shame of Patty Smith as part of a double feature with You’ve Ruined Me, Eddie!, I assumed that this would be your typical low budget melodrama.  I figured that it might be good for a few laughs and that it might have a few moments of unintentional clarity.

Instead, it turns out that The Shame of Patty Smith is a serious-minded, well acted, and thought-provoking look at one of the most important issues facing America today.  One reason that I found Patty Smith to be such a fascinating film was the fact that it was made before Roe v. Wade.  I think sometimes we hear a term like “back alley abortion” so many times that the words run the risk of losing their ominous power but Patty Smith, in detail that is chilling precisely because it is presented in such a matter-of-fact way, actually takes us into the back alley.  Those of us who were born long after the Roe V. Wade decision are often too quick to take for granted the idea that abortion has always been legaland safe and that it always will be.

A film like The Shame of Patty Smith serves to remind us of how things once were and how they very well could be again.

Patty Smith