What's It All About?

What's It All About?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Here's a Turkey for Thanksgiving -- Raised To Be Rotten

By ClassicBecky

For those who are old enough to remember Carol Burnette's movie spoofs, the above was the title for one her best. The actual movie is 1950's Born To Be Bad, and it did indeed live up to its name. Miscasting, an unbelievable storyline and melodrama to the nth degree made this movie, in my opinion, one of the great turkeys of all time. Even a cast of solid, talented actors could not save this disaster.

Casting Joan Fontaine as the scheming, vicious Christabelle was the first mistake. (Even the name Christabelle was pretty bad.) Fontaine was never meant for such a part, and she tries to act up a storm with side-glances, overdone raised eyebrows, fake smiles and body language intended to show her as a siren out for gold. It doesn't work. Zachary Scott as her rich conquest must have been a moron not to see through her embarrasingly obvious tricks to lure him away from his innocent fiancee, played by Joan Leslie. Robert Ryan as Christabelle's true lust partner is also a sap for falling in lustful love with the fake, manipulative woman as played by Fontaine. Fontaine is a beautiful woman, but she just isn't sexy. Why the studly Ryan finds her so desirable is a mystery. There is nothing subtle in her acting. Only one friend, Gobby, played by Mel Ferrer, sees through her, but says nothing. Joan Leslie also sees through her, but somehow fails to talk it over with her intended husband, for God knows what reason. I guess so the movie would go on longer.

Eventually the jig is up, and Christabelle goes on her merry way toting along all the furs and money she can get her hands on. Only friend Mel Ferrer has the sense to relieve Christabelle of the keys to the mansion. Zachary Scott and Joan Leslie patch things up too easily, and that is finally the end. The movie is only about 90 minutes long, but seems like 3 hours. To sum up, Born To Be Bad has only one redeeming value -- it inspired one of the best spoofs Carol Burnett ever made, better than the movie itself.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Descending The Spiral Staircase

The Spiral Staircase

In my part of the country, November shows its unique face with winds moaning and sighing through the trees in the dark of night, sudden storms of lightning and thunder and cold rain –- could there be a more perfect time for a movie of terror and suspense? If you don’t have such weather, you can experience it if you turn off the lights and watch The Spiral Staircase. Released in 1945, it is a story of a mad killer on the loose in turn of the century New England, raging storms and a house with plenty of shadows and fear at every turn. Imagine yourself on a stormy night with no electricity, moving through such a house with only a candle or dim lamp, and imagine making your way down a spiral staircase to a basement where horrors may lurk. Now you are in the mood.

Mrs. Warren (Ethel Barrymore) and Helen (Dorothy McGuire
The lovely Dorothy McGuire plays Helen, a lonely, vulnerable girl who was rendered mute by a mysterious traumatic experience in her childhood. She is companion to Mrs. Warren, played by Ethel Barrymore, a strong-willed, cranky invalid confined to her bed but sharp and domineering. George Brent and Gordon Oliver play step-brothers Professor Warren (born of the father's first wife) and Steven Warren, (born of the invalid Mrs. Warren). Mrs. Warren believes, to her sorrow, that she has reason not to trust her son Steven, the prodigal son who turns up periodically. Whenever Steven is around, bad things happen. The supporting cast is perfection, with Kent Smith as the sensible Dr. Parry, whose visits to Mrs. Warren fit perfectly with his desire to see Helen, Elsa Lanchester as the amusingly drunken cook, Rhys Williams as her rather sullen caretaker husband, a young Rhonda Fleming as the Professor’s secretary, Blanch, and the redoubtable Sarah Allgood as Mrs. Warren’s long-suffering and often insulted nurse.

Steven Warren (Gordon Oliver)
Professor Warren (George Brent)

This household of complicated relationships, indeed the whole community, is shocked by the murders of young women, all with some kind of handicap. In a wonderful piece of film-making, we are allowed to see only the killer’s eye in extreme close-up as he hides in wait for his victim, and then see the victim through the killer’s eye as he stalks and kills. This perspective is chilling, and the music of composer Roy Webb heightens the chills.


As the mystery unfolds, it becomes apparent that the killer must be someone in the Warren household, with the mute Helen as his next possible victim. A great storm rages without, and fear rules within. The spiral staircase plays its part beautifully, shadowed, with each turn bringing unknown terrors.

Turn off lights, listen to the wind blow, and treat yourself to a suspenseful and frightening piece of film-making that stands the test of time. The Spiral Staircase will not disappoint.