Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Shock (1946)

Director: Alfred Werker
Writers: Eugene Ling (screenplay); Albert deMond (story); Martin Berkeley (additional dialogue)
Producer: Aubrey Schenck
Cinematographers: Joe MacDonald, Glen MacWilliams
Music: David Buttolph
20th Century Fox; 70 min; B&W

Vincent Price (Dr. Richard Cross), Lynn Bari (Nurse Elaine Jordan), Frank Latimore (Lt. Paul Stewart), Anabel Shaw (Mrs. Janet Stewart), Michael Dunne (Dr. Stevens), Reed Hadley (District Attorney O'Neill), Renee Carson (Miss Hatfield - Head Nurse), Charles Trowbridge (Dr. H.J. Harvey)

While under contract for 20th Century Fox, Vincent Price was receiving good notices for his supporting work in historical pictures, as well as for his "cads" in Laura and Leave Her To Heaven. Aubrey Schenck thus decided to give the actor a leading role in this modest picture, which, despite the appearance of Price and the psychoanalysis theme, isn't a horror film, but a noir with psychological overtones. (Screenwriter Eugene Ling would also pen the classic noirs, Scandal Sheet for Phil Karlson, and Behind Locked Doors for Budd Boetticher.)

In his first top-billed role, Price plays Dr. Richard Cross, who kills his wife during an argument over an impending divorce. His deed is witnessed from a neighbouring hotel window by Mrs. Janet Stewart (Anabel Shaw). Already in a weakened mental state, she is discovered by her husband the following morning in a catatonic state. As coincidences in film noir would have it, she is treated by Cross himself, who has her committed to his own sanitarium in an effort to convince her that she is truly insane, having only imagined the murder scene.

According to the highly enjoyable but typographically challenged book Vincent Price Unmasked (by James Robert Parish and Steven Whitney), Shock received some bad notices upon its initial release for its negative portrayal of psychiatrists! Well, such controversy has receded over the years, but time hasn't been kind to this little film due an early, laughably bad dream sequence early where Janet is hearing the voice of her long-lost husband, and dashes to a giant doorknob (how Freudian): she is clearly seen running on one spot!

ABOVE: Vincent Price, Lynn Bari

More interesting is the relationship between Cross and his lover, Nurse Elaine. After five decades of roles in which Vincent Price commits many ghastly, vengeful acts onscreen, it is refreshing to see that this lead role features him not as a monster, but rather a remorseful man who nonetheless attempts to cover up his fatal mistake. However, he still has a moral center dictating to what measures he will carry out his deeds: "There is a limit beyond which even I can't go". It quickly becomes clear that Elaine is pulling his strings, convincing him to perform even more insidious things like shock therapy to drive Janet beyond the brink.

ABOVE: Vincent Price, Anabel Shaw
This modest programmer is also helped along by some moody photography (which I'd perhaps attribute to Joe MacDonald, as the deep blacks are similar to those in My Darling Clementine, released the same year), and some effective mise-en-scene (where it conveniently rains and storms during suspenseful moments). The supporting performances by some familiar players are decent if unspectacular. Anabel Shaw's smallish frame captures the essence of the victimized Janet, although the actress is largely given little to do but hyperventilate and stare slack jawed. Still, it is Vincent Price's movie all the way: his solid performance carries this inoffensive second-feature. While Shock is a minor time killer, it is however an interesting footnote in his developing screen career- it would be among the few lead roles where he plays a human monster that still has a heart.

Rating: 3 mosquito coils out of five.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Yvette Vickers (1928 - 2010?)

B-movie starlets seldom have long filmographies: their enduring fame often rests on a mere handful of performances. And so it was with Yvette Vickers. Her place in Drive-In Movie Hall Of Fame is assured merely on the basis of two titles in her decade-long career as an actress.

She turned on the heat in the camp favourite Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958) as the other woman who draws the wrath of the title femme fatale. When you have a stunning lead actress like Allison Hayes (and at fifty feet tall, no less) who has a philandering husband, one would ensure that the female antagonist would still be able to turn the man's head, and she succeeded in spades as the good-time girl named Honey. And in the creepy Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959), she was the adulterous Liz Walker, who is caught cheating by her husband (Bruno VeSota), who decides to punish her and her hapless lover by forcing at gunpoint into the swamp inhabited by the title creatures! Yikes!

ABOVE: Yvette Vickers with William Hudson in Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman (1958)

Born in Kansas City, Missouri, to jazz musicians Charles and Iola Vedder, and growing up on the road, the young Yvette Vickers initially pursued a career in journalism until getting the acting bug. She began the 1950's with an uncredited minor role in the classic Sunset Boulevard, and after several supporting roles in various films and TV episodes, she ended the decade with her two hallmark roles above, and another big for lasting fame as the Playmate of the Month for July 1959 (her photos taken by none other than Russ Meyer!).

ABOVE: Bruno Ve Sota and Yvette Vickers in Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)

Her movie roles would soon be fewer, smaller and further between, however later in her career she worked with Paul Newman in the classic Hud (1963) and for director Curtis Harrington in What's The Matter With Helen? (1971).  Her final screen credit was a role in Gary Graver's Evil Spirits (1990).  Nonetheless, her fame endured thanks to her sultry portrayals in those two monster movies, and in later years she was known for her vivacity and friendliness towards her fans. She gave a fun interview for Fangoria magazine in 1989, and recorded a lively and informative commentary track with cult film writer Tom Weaver for the 2007 Warners DVD of Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman, which preserves her oft-reported generosity.

ABOVE: Paul Newman (left) and Yvette Vickers (center) in Hud (1963)

Sadly, it has been reported that Ms. Vickers' body had been found in her home by her neighbour, and apparently had been dead for almost a year. (Tom Weaver first broke the story on a message board, but now the news is official.) Such a ghastly and sad fate is unbecoming for anyone, especially for someone as full of life as Yvette Vickers.  Her enduring fame is assured thanks to her appearances in these entertaining genre films.

Trailer for Attack of the 50 Foot Woman: 

Trailer for Attack of the Giant Leeches: 

Drive-In Credits:
Sunset Blvd. (1950)
Try and Get Me (1950)
Reform School Girl (1957)
Short Cut to Hell (1957)
The Sad Sack (1957)
I Mobster (1958)
Juvenile Jungle (1958)
Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)
The Saga of Hemp Brown (1958)
Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)
Pressure Point (1962)
Hud (1963)
Beach Party (1963)
What's the Matter with Helen? (1971)
Evil Spirits (1990)