So I’ve been raving about the Mamie Van Doren stuff TCM marathoned, but Sex Kittens Go to College (1960) was a disappointment: One of those “zany” “human cartoon” pics the Big Studios just refused to stop making until their very last one turned out to be a dud of legendary proportions — Jackie Gleason on acid, anybody?
(Say what you want about those “easy riders and raging bulls” — but for better or worse, they had to happen…)
Sex Kittens Go to College is a Marx Brothers movie without the Marx Brothers, which is like a Fast and Furious movies without cars. (Imagine 90 minutes of empty highways and Vin Diesel screaming “Grab my hand!!!” to nobody.)
It’s like the Gilligan’s Island version of Ball of Fire.
Sex Kittens Go to College has everything going for it. A robot. A chimpanzee. Two Mafia hitmen (played by Irishmen, as was standard practice, pre-Godfather). Conway Twitty. It has young Tuesday Weld at her most stunning, plus Zugsmith ensemble players Vampira, a couple of famous actors’ “juniors”, and “Woo Woo” Grabowsky — and of course, Mamie Van Doren.
But I should’ve known disaster was looming when I saw that one of the stars was bad movie avatar John Carradine.
I just left the TV on TCM all day yesterday and watched…
* Back From Eternity (1956)
Pre-Airport and Irwin Allen, Back From Eternity is a Stagecoach-style “Who will survive the jungle plane crash?” ensemble movie (as well as John Farrow’s — Mia’s dad — remake of his earlier film, Five Came Back.)
As usual, stocky, swaggering Rod Steiger chews the scenery right down to the chickenwire as a convicted murderer with an indeterminate European accent.
Steiger’s still-novel Method Acting tricks (like his off-kilter, proto-Christopher Walken line-readings) swipe the movie out from under the handsomer noses of his non-Actor’s Studio male co-stars.
It’s not an entirely successful performance; until the very end — when Steiger hams it up so much we can’t possibly MISS THE POINT — his character’s religious redemption has all the hallmarks of just another one of his con games.)
With her exaggerated figure, and a mannish nose disfiguring her otherwise flawless face, Anita Ekberg looks like the world’s most convincing drag queen and is better than expected.
Robert Ryan stands out as the jaded pilot. And yes, that IS the Maytag Repairman as yet another non-Italian Mafia hitman.
Also starring That Guy and That Old Lady Who’s In Everything.
Cute Little Boy is, for once, not a brat you pray will get snatched by the headhunters.
Back From Eternity zips right along. Lots of little twists help overcome downmarket RKO “look and feel.” Dig that model airplane!
(One abrupt, tragic bit in particular must’ve been particularly shocking to less-jaded 1950s audiences.)
Worth checking out if it happens to show up some afternoon.
Next, rights issues meant that instead of The Third Man, we Canadians got…
* The Lusty Men (1952)
Robert Mitchum and Susan Hayward rodeo movie.
Better than it sounds because it was directed by Nicholas Ray:
To give the film its gritty, semi-documentary feeling, Ray spent months shooting on the rodeo circuit. He reportedly had only the bare outline of a script when filming began, so that scenes were written one night and shot the following day. Despite the hectic pace, Ray took so much time with individual scenes that Mitchum nicknamed him “The Mystic” because of his habit of staring silently at the actors as he led them to probe the complexities of their characters. (…)
Mitchum, who usually pretended indifference to his own performances, responded well to Ray’s painstaking direction and requested to see the film when it was two-thirds complete. Ray later recalled that Mitchum was so proud of what he saw that the two went to a bar to celebrate. Ray’s final memory of a drunken evening was Mitchum encountering a pair of FBI agents, borrowing a gun from one of them and firing it into a stack of dirty dishes.
The movie starts out with a small town marching band, which isn’t always a great sign (unless you’re looking at Pretty Poison). Just keep watching though.
Arthur Kennedy is as annoying as always as Hayward’s husband, who you just want to punch through the TV screen.
Hayward is basically doing a Susan Hayward imitation but that’s what we all want to see anyhow. Some find it an irritant, but I love the way her signature, “LISten, BUDdy…” delivery sounds so much like somebody revving up a motorcycle in a hell of a hurry. What really distracted me this time was how overplucked her eyebrows were at the “inner” ends. You can even see the brow bone where they are supposed to be. It gives her a look of perpetual surprise. Were they always like this? Never noticed before.
Her character strives for money and security, and has a horror of going back to her impoverished roots; if those are your “buttons,” especially if you’re female, prepare to have them pushed repeatedly. (See, “Kennedy, Arthur,” above. I actually yelled out to Arnie in the other room: “Honey, don’t join the rodeo, ok?“)
The Lusty Men is:
…a lovely ode to the dying west and one of the screen’s most moving explorations of male vulnerability and the destructive myths of machismo.
“A masterpiece by Nicholas Ray . . . perhaps the most melancholy and reflective of his films” (Dave Kehr), The Lusty Men ranks high in the Ray pantheon. Though the original posters for the film proclaimed, “Make a buck, spend it fast. Meet a dame, kiss her quick!” the film’s title and pulpy promotion belie its forlorn tone. (…)
Robert Mitchum gives a magnificent performance as Jeff McCloud, an aging bronco buster who hitches up with an ambitious young rodeo rider (Arthur Kennedy) and his wife (Susan Hayward, never finer) in a last-ditch attempt to find a place for himself in the world. Everyone seems to have a favourite epiphany from this film — Wim Wenders, David Thomson, and others have noted theirs — but the atmosphere of dust, drift, and desperation is both elegiac and abject. “[The Lusty Men is] probably the most simply beautiful of all [Ray’s] movies. The feelings of loss and loneliness, of displacement and yearning, seem as pure and glowing as Lee Garmes’s remarkable black-and-white photography”
…the film’s central characters (two men and a woman) recall the teenage trio in Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause…
Was any movie ever saddled with a more inappropriate title? (…)
In a shot of dreamlike beauty, Robert Mitchum limps across a dusty, empty fairway with papers floating around him. A small bag slung over his shoulder holds all that he owns in the world. His stiff-legged, broken swagger lets you know that every bone in his body hurts, but also hints at the pride and power and grace he once had. (Mitchum’s panther tread is, of course, one of the glories of cinema.) (…)
Then to fill up the time until 8 pm, we got this Edith Head featurette for the 1966 Natalie Wood bomb, Penelope (see “zany,” above…)
After that, it was Auntie Mame (1958), one of the most revoltingly amoral movies of its time, right up their with Gigi (released the same year). What was THAT about, Hollywood??
Time to change the channel! Maybe Cops is on…
Coming up in July on TCM:
If your brain has also been warped by “children are freakin’ EVIL” movies, then don’t miss (or do) 1960s Children of the Damned.
As an old friend of mine used to say, “Gay subtext alert!!”
Some critics noticed an unusual subtext in the film concerning the two male protagonists played by Ian Hendry and Alan Badel. In Science Fiction in the Cinema by John Baxter, the author wrote “the two men live together in what seems a loose homosexual relationship, and when the less dominant of them becomes involved with a woman, the other, played with malicious authority by Alan Badel, throws himself actively into destroying the children….the allegory is plain but on the way to its presentation director Anton Leader has given us one of the finest pieces of SF cinema to come out of England, or for that matter any other country.”
I’ve never been on a blind date with an English major from a Catholic university, but after seeing The Brain That Wouldn’t Die I feel as if I have.