Tag Archives: 1948

CAPSULE: PORTRAIT OF JENNIE (1948)

Where I come from
Nobody knows
And where I am going
Everyone goes.
– Young Jennie (Jennifer Jones)

DIRECTED BY: William Dieterle

FEATURING: , , Ethel Barrymore,

PLOT: A struggling painter has an artistic breakthrough when he meets a precocious girl whose very presence seems supernatural.

Still from Portrait of Jennie (1948)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Jennie has unusually fantastic subject matter for its time, and uses novel visual techniques to set a mood. However, the supernatural twist is an end to itself, the tone is reverential to the point of pretentiousness, and ultimately its gimmicks are not enough to shake off the slow pace and lack of real heat.

COMMENTS: Many a romance has been driven by the efforts of a pair of lovers to overcome some major obstacle to their destined love. There’s a subset of said films where the obstacle is time itself, a group large enough to be recognized as its own subgenre. Portrait of Jennie is an early iteration of these tales, a story of an artist whose muse (and love interest) comes to him from across the boundaries of time.

Audiences today are well-versed in this kind of fantasy premise. Clearly, this was not the case in 1948, as the film carefully walks its protagonist through a full investigation into the mystery of Jennie, a young girl who magically appears one evening in Central Park to inspire the artist and returns several times, significantly older on each occasion. The script— five separate screenwriters were tasked with wrestling the story into cinematic form—takes great pains to explain how the charming young lady we meet could actually have come from decades in the past. (The movie is less concerned with why Jennie is making these occasional skips forward; it’s just simply where she’s supposed to be).

Portrait of Jennie’s flirtation with weirdness takes two forms. The first is in style, with director William Dieterle and cinematographer Joseph August employing a number of tricks to create an unsettled, fantastic atmosphere. Establishing shots are often treated with a filter to create the impression of a painted canvas, alluding to both the hero’s profession and to the way in which art traps a moment in time. Jennie herself is frequently filmed emerging from or disappearing into bright light, accentuating her role as an angel from beyond. Most noteworthy are the filmmakers’ experiments with color. While mostly monochromatic, Jennie plays with tinting deep into the third act, bathing the screen in the angry green of a cataclysmic storm and a warm amber sepia for its aftermath. And of course, the final shot revealing the painter’s masterwork is presented in vibrant three-strip Technicolor.

But to what end? Seeing the portrait in full color puts an exclamation Continue reading CAPSULE: PORTRAIT OF JENNIE (1948)

TEST TUBE BABIES (1948) & THE FLESH MERCHANT (1956)

We have been remiss in failing to cover the weird movie saint, W. Merle Connell (1905-1963).  Do not judge us too harshly. Since Connell didn’t have an angora fetish (like Ed Wood) and failed to live out one of his seedy plot lines by actually getting himself murdered (a la ), there is no colorful biography to help promote him. Rather, what he did leave behind is a jaw-dropping body of work, comparable to cinema’s most memorable hacks. Many of Connell’s films are deadly dull, failing to live up to their colorful titles (The Devil’s Sleep, and Untamed Women). However, Connell managed to bring us two dreadful gems that belong in the cult movie annals, which is enough to qualify him for 366 beatification.

Test Tube Babies (1948) was distributed by Screen Classics and produced by George Weiss (yes, that’s the same guy and same hole-in-the-wall outfit that brought us Glen or Glenda). Cathy (Dorothy Duke in picnic dress) and George (William Thomason in white shirt and tie) wish they could stay out in the country forever. But George doesn’t make “the big money” as a junior architect.

“You make more than enough to support a family,” Cathy replies, assuring him of his manhood, in idyllic harmony with chirping birds.

George and Cathy really want to have sex, so they get married, buy a suburban cookie-cutter house, and run through the beach with sand caressing their young lover toes. Are those dark clouds on the horizon?

Still from Test Tube Babies (1948)Wearing her short, frilly, white nightie, Cathy serves George strawberries and cream. George is so happy that he gives Cathy a husbandly smack on the rump. The wallpaper blushes. George is worried. His buddy Frank Grover is making eyes at Cathy.

Frank is taking George to work, but Frank had too much lemonade last night. Later, when Frank and Cathy are alone, he calls her “sugar” and slips her some tongue, but Cathy won’t tell! She’ll just do a little strip tease for hubby and invite him to bed.

Gee, all of George and Cathy’s friends are having babies and baby showers. So what do George and Cathy do? They ain’t go no babies, so they can’t have a baby party. Cathy opts for a swinger party. Yup, we now become privy to one of those parties, where everyone drinks too much “lemonade” and starts necking and wife swappin’ (sort of). A bleached blonde shows up (?) and does a burlesque dance (?!?).  Shore ’nuff—someone gets jealous. It all ends with a catfight and some half-nekkid tramp losin’ her top while wrasslin’ on the floor (take that, Will Hays!) Cathy waxes perplexed and, just so you know, Continue reading TEST TUBE BABIES (1948) & THE FLESH MERCHANT (1956)

SOMETHING WEIRD TRAVELING ROADSHOW FILMS I: STREET CORNER (1948)/BECAUSE OF EVE (1948)

Possibly nothing sums up Western hypocrisy more than its attitudes toward sex.  Over twenty years ago, I worked for an unnamed video store chain during the Pee Wee Herman scandal.  Being a family values corporation, we received a memo to remove all Pee Wee videos from the stores immediately.

A  few years later, when O.J.Simpson made the news, our office ordered every video they could get their hands on starring the former football hero.  Recalling the company’s family values policy towards Pee Wee in our next managers’ meeting, I was uncouth enough to say: “Where, in our mindset, is it worse for someone to have allegedly pleasured himself in an adult theater than it is for someone to have allegedly slaughtered two human beings?” After said meeting, my superior issued me a written verbal warning for “inciting negativity” in my comment regarding comparison between  Pee Wee and O.J. I think, for him the most provocative thing was the unsaid agreement, registered through laughter from fellow managers, that my comment generated.

It is, alas, easier for us to laugh at previous generations’ attitudes towards sex than our own. Roadside Show films from yesteryear are now considered archaic camp, while certain unnamed masses rally to show support for contemporary sexual constipation propagated by the likes of Duck Dynasty and Chick-fil-a.

That aside, a compilation of “roadshow” films from the Something Weird video label should certainly provide much needed healing power of laughter for any bad movie night. Bring your own booze and/or bring your own tent (for those in a revival mood).

Street Corner (1948): “The Most vital picture of all time!” “It’s Frank! It’s Fearless! It’s True To Life!” “Lifts The Iron Curtain Of Secrecy, Fear, and Ignorance!”

Instead of going to college, Lois fornicates with Bob. A bun in the oven equals Biblical retribution, in the form of a dead baby daddy.

Lois gets a coat hanger, quickly. Lois’ parents get blamed for not teaching their daughter morals.

Coming attraction: A VD film “Including The Actual Birth Of  A Baby!”

Lobby card from Because of Eve (1948)Because Of Eve (1948) is a hoot, taking no time dragging our couple, Sally and Bob, through the mud of iniquity. When our pair visit Doc West, he is uncouth enough to open the skeleton closets: Sally had popped out a previous, illegitimate rugrat, and Bob had VD!!! Bob’s alarming understatement: “Well, there goes my wedding, right out the door!”

How did Bob get VD?

Cue in explanation and excessively long VD film, complete with footage of infected vaginas and penises, deformed baby corpses, and white VD crosses.

How did Sally have an out of wedlock baby?

Sally narrates melodramatic tragedy in a slinky, silky nightgown. “I began to realize we were in trouble,” she says, which calls for brassy musical accompaniment.

Cue in excessively long film about illegitimate pregnancies, with plenty of animated body fluids.

Because of Eve is the equivalent of a cinematic chastity belt.

BUD ABBOTT AND LOU COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948)

For some inexplicable reason, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello are often confused with Stan Laurel and . Apart from the skinny guy/fat guy theme, the two comedy teams have nothing in common (except perhaps to muggles). In their prime, Stan and Ollie etched a creative brand of celluloid comedy full of nuance and infused with their winning personalities that raised laughter to an art form. With Stan as the uncredited creative force, they produced a body of short films, from the silent era to the late 1930s, which remain the proverbial comedy yardstick. With two notable exceptions, they were less lucky in their studio-controlled features, which sadly led to their eventual fall from grace.

In contrast, Bud and Lou were assembly line hacks who never made a great film. None of the Abbott and Costello films hold up, but the closest they approach to classic status is in Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), which is, overall, a happy accident with uneven results.

The real stars of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein are and Lenore Aubert. An erroneous consensus holds that Lugosi plays the part of Dracula straight here. In fact, there is little in common here with his iconic 1931 performance which was shaped by . Revisiting Bram Stoker’s anti-protagonist, Lugosi spoofs his original role. The parody here is almost equally iconic, and these two performances are so cemented in people’s minds that viewers often mingle two contrasting interpretations, separated by seventeen years. A typical example of this confusion is Stephen King’s description of Lugosi’s original performance as a second rate Valentino, with cape over his nose, frightening no one. The cape-over-the nose cliche came from Lugosi’s mugging opposite the comedy team.

Publicity still from Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)In Aubert, Lugosi has his most charismatic leading lady, and she really is the most underrated monster here. Aubert is no hapless victim and makes Lugosi’s vampire actually work to control her. Lugosi, enjoying the chase, and in best European, satirical grand guignol style, maintains his dignity throughout. In contrast to this,  gives what is unquestionably his worst performance as Larry Talbot, AKA The WolfMan. By 1945’s House of Dracula, Talbot had been reduced to a whiny, one note character. Apparently, sharing the spotlight with Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster, playing second banana to Lugosi’s superior count, being subjected to Bud Westmore’s hackneyed rubber makeup, and reduced to the butt of Bud and Lou’s pranks, made the poor man utterly miserable. It shows. Glenn Strange, as the Monster, is merely a warm body in makeup, as he was in previous Frankenstein entries. ‘s cameo is a welcome injection of joy.

Abbott and Costello are as canned and stale as usual, but they do have moments of authentic, contagious fun when breaking away from their routines. Despite the film’s flaws, the curiously titled Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (they never actually meet the long dead doctor) was the yardstick of horror spoofs for many years. That is, until Rankin and Bass’ Mad Monster Party (1967) proved the usurper.