Wednesday, August 17, 2016

ONCE IS NOT ENOUGH 1975

The short-lived Jaqueline Susann #1 bestseller book-to-film trilogy train ground to a wheezy and sluggish halt with 1975’s Once is Not Enough. The film adaptions of Valley of the Dolls (1967), The Love Machine (1971), and Once is Not Enough may not have been perfect (or even good), but to me they’re a fairly accurate visual representation (perhaps too much so) of the author’s chief obsessions and preoccupations—sex, drugs, and the seamy lifestyles of the rich & famous—while simultaneously serving as a clear-cut example of the law of diminishing returns.

The first author to have three consecutive novels reach the #1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list, Susann wrote only six books in her brief but prolific career (two published after her death in 1974) but left a controversially indelible mark, if not on literature, then certainly on pop culture and the book publishing industry. And while her novels sparked endless debate about the cultural folly of mistaking “popular” for “good,” the quality of the films adapted from her books was never in question: Susann herself thought they were all pretty lousy.
So disgusted by what they did to her “Dolls” baby, Susann excused herself from the film’s seaborne press junket (Valley of the Dolls was promoted with an ocean liner scuttling cast members to premiers at various ports) vowing to have more control over the screen adaptation of her next book. She did, but in spite of her efforts and those of executive-producer husband Irving Mansfield, the film version of The Love Machine actually turned out to be worse.
Susann’s fourth novel Once is Not Enough was published in 1973 and is the third and last of her books to be made into a film. Although too ill at the time to be involved to the degree she’d like (or even make her usual onscreen cameo), Susann unofficially collaborated on the screenplay with 65-year-old Casablanca (!) screenwriter Julius J. Epstein. Susann died of cancer before Once is Not Enough was released (in September of 1974. The film opened in June of 1975) but Epstein informed Variety and the New York Times that she was displeased with how little screen time he devoted to the character of Karla (the most sympathetic and fleshed-out personality in the book) and accused him of mishandling the big lesbian scene.
Gloria Steinem once wrote, "Compared to Jacqueline Susann, Harold Robbins writes like Proust." So perhaps it's homage that inspired Once is Not Enough's use of a "kneeling lovers" graphic similar to that which appears on the 1970 poster for Harold Robbins' The Adventurers 

Valley of the Dolls was a boxoffice hit; The Love Machine flopped, and Once is Not Enough was a dud. None of the films are what anyone would call exemplary examples of the cinematic art, but only Valley of the Dolls made money and stood the test of trash film time. It’s common for authors uninvolved in the screen adaptations of their books to decry that had they been allowed to write a more faithful adaptation, the films would have turned out better. Beyond a lot of ego-based, after the fact, shoulda/woulda/coulda speculation, there’s very little evidence of this ever truly being the case. 

I’m fairly certain Jacqueline Susann would not have been happy with the completed film of Once is Not Enough, a book that was popular enough to become the 2nd largest selling novel of 1973 (behind Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull, of all things). But I’ve always found it ironic that Susann, an author whose typical defense to criticism of her writing ability was to point to her book sales and declare she’s crying all the way to the bank; could not grant a similar avenue of escape to the critically-maligned but very successful film made from her first bestseller. Susann may not have liked Valley of the Dolls, but by her own questionable standards, wasn’t popular success a valid measure of merit? 
Kirk Douglas as Mike Wayne
Bought for $3 Million, he earned every penny of it
Deborah Raffin as January Wayne
Still a virgin at 19, but eager to make up for lost time
David Janssen as Tom Colt 
Mr. Virility couldn't live the fantasies he wrote about
Alexis Smith as Deidre Milford Granger
She married many men, but her real love was a woman
George Hamilton as David Milford
The Swinging Set's most wanted "escort"
Brenda Vaccaro as Linda Riggs
Silicone in her chest, ice water in her veins. High-fashion editor with low desires
Melina Mercouri as Karla
The ugly rumors about her love life were true
Gary Conway as Hugh Robertson
To the world he was a hero, to his wife he was something else
While I can’t attest to Susann’s novel having any literary value, I can certainly confirm that the film adaptation is steeped in Ancient Myth and Fantasy. Which is to say Once is Not Enough is a film made by a bunch of very old men about a young girl with an Electra complex who lives in a fantasy world populated by beautiful young women who can’t get enough of the saggy, crepey flesh of men twice their age, and where male impotence is regarded as the stuff of Greek Tragedy.

Mike Wayne (Douglas), onetime hotshot Hollywood producer, has fallen on hard times. Wayne (much like this film) is a bit of a dinosaur; a victim of a youth-centric shift in public tastes. Unable to get a film off the ground, the fortunes of the two-time Oscar winner dwindle as his 19-year-old daughter January (Raffin) rakes up hefty medical bills relearning how to walk and talk in a Swiss rehab facility. You see, when she was 16, January was involved in a nasty motorcycle accident triggered by a jealous response to learning that dear old dad was boinking one of his leading ladies.
Now, three years later, January is ready for release and Mike is determined to keep her in a fool’s paradise, luxury-wise. What’s a fella to do? Make the moves on one of the 5th wealthiest women in the world, that’s what. A task which proves to be surprisingly easy, by the way.
The Things We Do For Love
Mike puts in a little overtime in his effort to secure his daughter's financial future

Those Swiss doctors must be worth their weight in gold, for January emerges from her ordeal (five operations in three years) looking none the worse for wear. Indeed, she looks as though she’s just returned from an extended stay at La Costa.
But alas, January’s whirlwind New York welcome of champagne, caviar, Plaza Hotel, Goodyear blimp, and lots of pseudoincestual canoodling, comes to an abrupt halt once she meets Daddy’s new wife and keeper (and her rival): the classy but mannish Deirdre Milford Granger (Smith).
I suppose one doesn’t get to be the 5th richest woman in the world without mastering the art of multitasking, so while keeping her husband’s wrinkled gonads in an vice and trying to foist her virginal stepdaughter on her rather oily, Reggie Mantle-ish cousin David (Hamilton); Deirdre still manages to find time to go hallway to hallway with fading movie goddess (“She’s a bigger recluse than Garbo or Howard Hughes!”) Karla (Mercouri). Karla, who remains as much an enigma to us viewers as she does to her fans in the film, rounds out Once Is Not Enough's bedroom roundelays by carrying on a side affair with the much-younger David.
Girl Talk
Generations from now, film scholars will still be discussing
the significance of that big hunk of bologna 

Meanwhile, January visits old school chum Linda Riggs (Vaccaro), who’s now the potty-mouthed, man-crazy editor of a women’s magazine. Although their friendship begs credibility (January is barely 20, Linda is 28. What the hell kind of school did they go to?) it’s nothing compared to the speed with which Linda offers January both a job and an apartment.
Enter Tom Colt (that name!), a hard-drinkin’ he-man writer (Janssen) who also happens to be the sworn enemy of Mike Wayne. So of course January, unable to get daddy for herself, falls for daddy-surrogate. On the periphery of all this, serving no real purpose save that he was a character in the book, is astronaut Hugh Robertson (Conway). His scandalous problem is that his wife divorced him. In a story already cluttered with characters the film barely has time for, Conway’s presence is baffling. Did someone owe him a favor?

With all the characters assembled and in place, the plot, such as it is, pretty much boils down to whether or not our star-crossed lovers (make that DNA-crossed lovers) can find happiness in the arms of substitutes, when propriety, decency, and a squeamish Oscar-winning screenwriter in his 60s (“I’ve got lesbianism, but I draw the line at incest!”) demand their love remain forbidden. 
Jacqueline Susann described Once is Not Enough as being about “mental incest”: not the real deal, just the love a doting father has for his only daughter, and a young girl’s lifelong infatuation with the first important man in her life.
Whatever you call it, I call it inert. Once is Not Enough is two hours of sizzle and no steak. Characters talk a lot, but outside of Brenda Vaccaro’s one-note raunch act (which seemed a lot funnier back in 1975 before Kim Cattrall gave us six seasons and two movies worth of it in Sex and the City) the film is sorely lacking in Valley of the Dolls-level hooty dialog. And for a film based on a Susann novel, the sleaze factor is surprisingly low. I mean, what is Jacqueline Susanne but the Pucci'd paperback purveyor of glossy sex and drugs?

Vacarro smokes a joint, but alcohol is the sole drug of choice in Once is Not Enough. Like an episode of Bewitched, every room in this film comes with a well-stocked bar, and characters are forever hoisting a glass. Even January’s drug addiction problem from the novel (a dependency on speed-like vitamin shots) is reduced to a single line of dialog. And as for the sex, there's precious little. Precious little you'd want to see, anyway. There's Deborah Raffin clutching a sheet to her bosom, Gary Conway in short-shorts, and middle-aged lesbian action; but (My eyes! My eyes!) David Janssen is granted the film’s only nude scene.
Melina Mercouri grasps while George Hamilton narrowly escapes having
his hair (or face) move in this production still from a scene cut from the film. 

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
It seems to be the natural course of events in the entertainment business that once someone makes a killing appealing to lowbrow popular tastes; the one thing they desire most is to be taken seriously. The film version of Valley of the Dolls brilliantly rose (or sunk) to the precise level of Susann’s trashy-but-readable novel, and, of course, she hated it. Thus, with each successive film we got Susann desperately trying to turn her sow’s ear material into silk purses. The result: drained of all their fun and sleaze, The Love Machine and Once is Not Enough both emerged as nothing but trite melodrama. Worse, they were dull, dull, dull.
When Old Coots Meet
Limp as a noodle yet always ready to prove he still has the ol' poop, the ever-inebriated Tom Colt confronts Mike Wayne over turning one of his novels into a lousy movie. Reading this scene Jacqueline Susann must have thought "Pot, meet kettle!"

Once is Not Enough needed the punch of a vulgar director, hack writer, and actors ill-equipped to modulate the pitch of their performances. The last thing it needed was restraint. What it got was a director of “serious dramas” (Guy Green of A Patch of Blue & Light in the Piazza), an Oscar-winning screenwriter, the cinematographer of Chinatown (John A. Alonzo), and a cast underplaying to the point of somnambulism (Vaccaro & Mercouri, notwithstanding). Once is Not Enough commits the fatal mistake of taking itself and its preposterous plot seriously. Sound the death knell.
If I have any fondness for this movie at all (Lord knows why, but I do) it's because: 1. It's part of the Jackie Susann screen trilogy and you just can't break up a set. 2. There's just enough "good bad" to keep your interest between naps. 3. It opened at the Alhambra Theater in San Francisco when I was still working there as an usher, so in addition to having seen it more times than I can count, I have nice memories of the steady stream of middle aged ladies who poured into the theater on Sunday matinees to see this piece of...cinema history.
Veteran character actress Lillian Randolph as Mabel
"I've worked for your father for 12 years and it was one long parade of poontang."

PERFORMANCES
A quick look and you’d swear January is played by a time-traveling Gwyneth Paltrow, but of course the bland role is blandly assayed by the late Deborah Raffin. And although only her third film, it’s Raffin’s second time portraying a girl with a fetish for old dudes (the first was 1973’s 40 Carats). Were Once is Not Enough the TV-movie it feels like, Raffin’s performance would be perfectly serviceable (see: George Hamilton), but on the big screen her mono-expression only emphasizes the degree to which she’s hamstrung by a script that can’t discern the subtle difference between naïve and dim-witted.
Jacqueline Susann was a huge Dionne Warwick fan
Warwick is the only person to "appear" in all three of Jacqueline Susann's films. She sang the themes for VOD & The Love Machine, and here she peers over Raffin's shoulder from a window display

Making a welcome return to the screen after a 14-year-absence, Alexis Smith, then enjoying a career resurgence thanks to her Tony Award winning turn in the Broadway musical Follies, is saddled with a Dina Merrill role with a gimmick. Photographed and dressed unflatteringly (designer Moss Mabry channeling Vera Charles in Mame…the Lucy one!) Smith’s rather good performance never has the chance to emerge from under the weight of the stunt-like publicity surrounding her character’s bisexuality. 
With no "wig down the toilet" scene (VOD) or "Hollywood party brawl" to publicize (Love Machine), Once Is Not Enough's sole marketing gimmick was to promote the film's lesbian relationship as though it were a circus act

With Kirk Douglas acting with his chin dimple and David Janssen doing his usual sleepwalking growl and grumble bit (I was stunned to discover the actor was only 43 when he made this. He easily looks ten years older), small wonder that Brenda Vaccaro (on the last legs of a six-year relationship with Kirk's son, Michael) garnered so much attention. In a role that in later decades became the "sassy black girlfriend" trope, Vaccaro is easily the best thing in the film, but I don't really see how she got an Oscar nomination and Golden Globe win out of it. Not in a year that saw the release of ShampooThe Day of the Locust, Nashville (Geraldine Chaplin!), The Stepford Wives (Paula Prentiss!), Tommy (Tina Turner!), Night Moves (Jennifer Warren!), and Funny Lady (Roddy McDowall!).
"Listen, if you don't appreciate rock I've got plenty of  others. Mood stuff. How's this... 'Music To Get It Up By'?" The album in question was a hit for Vikki Carr in 1967

THE STUFF OF FANTASY
Movies like this make me understand why so writers and directors freak out when their ages are revealed on IMDB. Everything about Once Is Not Enough is a testament to the median age of its creative team (which hovers somewhere around the 55-65 mark). Sure, one of the film’s themes is how quickly the world is changing, but honestly, this film looks and like it was made in 1967.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the jaw-dropping scene where David takes January to his bachelor pad and tries to seduce her. The apartment is one of those garish, patently soundstage-bound creations that wouldn't be out of place in one of those tedious Tony Curtis sex romps of the '60s. In fact, it looks like it's a sublease from Dean Martin during his Matt Helm phase.
Although it's smack in the middle of the cocaine-and-amyl fueled '70's, David doesn't bring out the drugs and crank up the rock music. No, he plies 20-year-old January with champagne and tries to get her in the mood with ersatz Frank Sinatra music. The entire scene is so "off" and out-of-time it feels like a reenactment of a deleted scene from Hamilton's 1960 flick Where the Boys Are, with Raffin standing in for Dolores Hart.

Once Is Not Enough preserves the "blue robe" motif established in The Love Machine

THE STUFF OF DREAMS
So the cliché goes: after money and fame, they all want respect. Given that the film Jacqueline Susann’s disliked the most has ultimately turned out to be the best and most enduring of the lot, maybe there’s something to be said for ambition keeping in step with perspective. The fact that Valley of the Dolls has gained a cult status hasn’t changed it from being a bad film into a good one; it merely illustrates that under certain circumstances, subjective qualifiers like “good” and “bad” do well to take a back seat to words like "entertaining" and "campy fun."  As my blog list of favorite films proves, when it comes to the movies that bring us back again and again, goodness often has nothing to do with it.
For all the hype, this kiss never even appears in the completed film. Karla & Deidre kiss later on in the scene, but the camera can't scurry away fast enough. Production notes and stills reveal two differently-scripted love scenes between Smith & Mercouri were filmed, the Susann-penned scene being the one jettisoned. Along those same lines, two different ending were filmed and tested on audiences. Given how flat the selected one is (those Henry Mancini Singers!) I don't even want to imagine what failed the test screenings

BONUS MATERIAL
Brenda Vaccaro's inhale-heavy tampon commercials were comedy fodder for 70s late-nite TV hosts
Watch It HERE

TV star David Janssen was the Excedrin spokesman for as long as I could remember
Watch It Here

My earliest memory of the underutilized Gary Conway is of him straining his T-shirt in I Was A Teenage Frankenstein (1957). Before embarking on an acting career  and gaining notoriety on the sci-fi TV program Land of the Giants, Conway was a teen "physique" model. No longer a teen, in 1973 he nevertheless reverted back to type and appeared au naturale in the August issue of Playgirl magazine (a copy of which I stole from a local supermarket at the time). Too bad Once Is Not Enough saw fit to keep Conway clothed while Flabby McHairycheeks is the one to shoot us a moon.

To read more about Once Is Not Enough (like finding out the significance of the title) check out the great write-up at Poseidon's Underworld.


Daddy Dearest
Copyright © Ken Anderson

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN 1971

Would I pay good money to see a film titled Lizard in a Woman’s Skin? Yes!
Were I were a producer, would I invest in a movie called Lizard in a Woman’s Skin? Yes!!
If they gave Oscars for films with the most kick-ass titles ever, would Lizard in a Woman’s Skin win? Yes!!!

As you may have guessed by now, Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is one of my all-time favorite titles for a movie ever. I’m absolutely crazy about it, and have been since first seeing a poster ad for the film in the “pink section” of the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle back in ’71. The US release dropped the superfluous “A” from the beginning of the title, making this hallucinatory Italian-French-Spanish co-production sound even more enticingly like a retro, Creature Features programmer, or one of those nifty ‘50s monster flicks spoofed on MST3K.
It’s such an intriguing title to me. Even now, as I type out the words Lizard in a Woman’s Skin - I’m made aware of having roughly the same reaction to it I had forty-five years ago: “That is one GREAT title!”
Although she doesn't appear in the film, fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 may recognize
the model on this poster as Leslie McRea, star of Girl In Gold Boots

Perhaps too much so, I’m afraid. For (irony of ironies) the very provocativeness of the title proved to be precisely the hurdle my parents were unprepared to surmount when, at the ripe old age of thirteen, I (a little too-casually) told them that a friend and I were headed downtown to see Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (I also seem to recall a request for bus fare squeezed in there, somewhere). Turning a deaf ear to what I believed was a very reasonable argument on my part: that 13-year-olds were doubtless the age group most likely to be attracted to a title like that - my folks nevertheless laid down the law. The film was R-rated, its ad copy included the word “erotic,” and it was playing on a double bill at one of the seamier grindhouses on Market Street. Case closed.
And since it was an American-International Pictures release (whose films were known in our house as El Cheapo), I couldn’t even fall back on my usual “It might be up for an Oscar!” argument. No, I’m afraid my folks (rightfully) detected the low-brow in my eyes.

So I never got to see Lizard in a Woman’s Skin when it came out, after which it seemed to disappear fairly quickly. So completely, in fact, that I really forgot all about it until it resurfaced earlier this year—in all its pristine, never-before-seen-in-the-US, unedited glory—on Blu-ray. I wasted no time in securing a copy.
Was it worth the wait? Yes!!!!
I would even go so far as to say the film exceeded my expectations, but nobody (except perhaps, Ken Russell) in their right mind expects a movie as deliriously loony as Lizard in a Woman’s Skin.

A hypnotically surreal, psychedelic, totally over-the-top experience, Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is a tense suspense thriller with so much going on in the way of sex, graphic violence, and overwrought visual excess...it practically hyperventilates.
Best of all, it’s a film that ultimately lives up to its bluntly ambiguous/subtly sensationalist title! A title which—like those of the best exploitation movies, pulp novels, and tabloid magazine headlines—evokes more than it explains. A quality that can also be said to be one of the chief attributes of this seductively baroque and entertaining thriller.
Florinda Bolkan as Carol Hammond
Jean Sorel as Frank Hammond
Edy Gall as Joan Hammond
Leo Genn as Edmond Brighton
Silvia Monti as Deborah
Stanley Baker as Inspector Corvin
Anita Strindberg as Julia Durer
Alberto de Mendoza as Sgt. Brandon
It boggles my mind that ANYTHING but Lizard in a Woman’s Skin was ever considered for this film, but during production the title alternated between the drab The Cage and the mundane The Trap. For the wide US release, the cryptic Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (which I suspect was retained in metropolitan areas) was jettisoned in favor of the derivative and artless Schizoid, and in some international markets it was known simply as Carole.
Similarly, depending on where and when one saw the film, its length (edited for sex and violence) and language (dubbing and subtitles differ) varied significantly.

The fully restored version is quite the experience, with Italian director Lucio Fulci creating a giallo thriller that feels like full-on “Alfred Hitchcock meets Ken Russell with a nod to Russ Meyer.” 
In the tony Belgravia district of London, Carol (Florinda Bolkan), the perpetually guilty-looking daughter of a prominent British barrister and politician (Leo Genn), lives a somewhat emotionally sterile life of aristocratic luxury with her attorney husband (Jean Sorel) and his peevish teenage daughter from a previous marriage (Edy Gaul). Weighing heavily on Carol’s mind and contributing to her severe guilt complex are the sexually feverish recurring dreams she’s been having about her next-door-neighbor (Anita Strindberg); a beautiful, free-love bohemian who hosts loud, drug-fueled orgies which Carol and her family are given an earful of during their formal, deadly-silent dinners.
In Dreams
It's hard to look at Carol's visually stylish dreams (all furs, lingerie, slow-motion,
and wind-blown lesbianism) without wondering if it served as the inspiration for that
memorable Columbus Circle photo shoot sequence in that American giallo, Eyes of Laura Mars

As Carol’s dreams grow increasingly nightmarish, her psychoanalyst (George Rigaud) reassures her that the contradiction of content (though disapproving and repulsed by the carnal shenanigans of her neighbor in real life; Carol nevertheless dreams of being seduced by her) is merely a manifestation of the conflicted feelings of resentment and repression within her own life (after marrying, Carol suppressed her desire to follow in her father’s legal footsteps), combined with the estrangement she feels from her husband (enhanced by the self-insinuated omnipresence of his gorgeous secretary, Silvia Monti) and aloof stepdaughter.
Unfortunately, just as Carol comes to be convinced that her dreams are merely her subconscious providing her with a healthy outlet for her inner conflicts, her neighbor is found murdered. And in a manner uncannily similar to one of Carol’s bloodier nightmares.

Did Carol suffer a blackout and commit a brutal murder? Is someone familiar with her dreams trying to frame her? Was there an unknown witness to the crime? Is there really someone trying to kill her, or is she imagining it all? And who placed that mysterious phone call?
I can’t remember when I’ve had a better time trying to solve a murder mystery amidst so many false leads, numerous red herrings, and gleeful misdirections. Nor can I remember a detective crime thriller so spectacularly shot or filled with so many gripping moments of suspense and cover-your-eyes horror setpieces. There's never a dull moment in Lizard in a Woman's Skin, and now having seen it, I'm seized by how well-suited a film it is to be promoted with the tagline used for Ken Russell's Tommy in 1975: Your Senses Will Never Be The Same.
Venus in Furs
In one of her dreams, Carol envisions herself trapped in a corridor full of naked couples

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
A 1978 film review citing Faye Dunaway’s Eyes of Laura Mars as an American take on the Italian “giallo” was the first time I’d ever heard of the film classification. Typically a detective/crime thriller combining elements of exploitation, suspense, horror, sex, and gore—all with a hyper-Technicolor overlay of stylized visuals and dramatic music; giallo films are relatively new to me (I’ve only seen about four), but of the few I’ve seen, Lizard in a Woman's Skin stands out as something pretty special.

What with that cheesy title I love so much and my history with American-International releases, I came to this film with understandably low expectations. I’d have been more than happy had the film proved to be just an amusingly dated, campy exploitationer full of big hair, ‘70s fashions, and that glaring red poster paint they used for blood in those days. 
And while Lizard in a Woman's Skin indeed features all of the above (to spare!); it also blew me out of the water by being such a surprisingly effective whodunit and a tension-filled suspense thriller. I know “Never a dull moment” is an oft-used cliché, but Lizard in a Woman's Skin seizes upon it like a mantra.
The Age of Aquarius
Mike Kennedy as Hubert and Penny Brown as Jenny
Old London's clash with the hippie counterculture plays a significant role in the film's puzzle

This well-plotted puzzle loaded with suspicious-looking characters locked in questionable relationships and harboring dubious motives, leaves you scant time to catch your breath. Between the gorgeous, color-drenched cinematography (with swooping, subjective camera angles, split screens, dizzying wipes, and jarring jump cuts); over-the- top gore effects; Ennio Morricone’s unsettling music score; and the pitch-perfect performances of the entire cast (everyone looks like they’re up to something), Lizard in a Woman's Skin gives giallo a good name.
You can't really go wrong when a thriller indulges in elaborate costuming and
enormous hairdos while framing the actors in melodramatic soap opera tableau

PERFORMANCES
I learned from the DVD commentary that colorful supporting characters are something of a staple of giallos, and on that score Lizard in a Woman's Skin doesn’t disappoint. Stanley Baker as the whistling detective, Jean Sorel as the something-to-hide husband, and especially Leo Genn as Carol’s concerned father, are all top-notch. But for me, the entire film worked exclusively because of the outstanding performance by the beautiful Brazilian actress Florinda Bolkan.
Carol's father visits her after she's jailed for a murder she swears she didn't commit

I’ve never seen her in anything before, but I think I’m going to have to search her out. Not only is she stunning in that intelligent, no-nonsense way of so many of my favorite ‘70s actresses (Glenda Jackson & Julie Christie come to mind); but she commands the screen in a tense, tortured performance that reminds me of the best of the Hitchcock heroines (Hitchcock references abound in this film). Like Janet Leigh in Psycho or Kim Novak in Vertigo, Bolkan magically allows a wealth of tortured inner conflicts to play out over a face that is, in the context of the story, trying hard to reveal very little. I don’t know how any actor does that, but Bolkan is actually mesmerizingly good. I suspect her voice is dubbed, making the overall effectiveness of her portrayal even more impressive.
Ersi Pond as busybody neighbor Mrs. Gordon. And Piero Nistri as her...chauffeur

THE STUFF OF FANTASY
I tend to have two reactions to grotesque images or bloody violence in real life: 1) If I’m lucky, I can avert my eyes quickly enough before my brain has a chance to formulate a clear (read: lasting) image of what I thereafter tell myself I never saw. 2) My least favorite. I see it briefly, but before I turn away, my eyes perform a rapid zoom and my mind does this kind of “Terminator-vision” thing where far too much detail and information is clocked in a nanosecond. Thus, long after I’ve stopped looking, my mind’s eye is still seeing. 
The cinematography and editing in Lizard in a Woman's Skin recreates both types of reactions, often to disturbing effect.  Lizard in a Woman's Skin has several scenes of gory violence that must have been very shocking for its time (most notably an unpleasant animal vivisection scene that looks quite fake today, but was realistic enough in 1971 to get the producers hauled into court on animal cruelty charges and made to show the prop animals). For me, this is where the limitations of 1971 special effects are a blessing.  
In a Hitchcockian sequence prominently featured in the film's advertising,
Carol is attacked by a room full of bats

THE STUFF OF DREAMS
After now having seen Lizard in a Woman’s Skin twice, I have to say I owe my parents a serious debt of gratitude for sparing me the untold years of nightmares and trauma this thoroughly out-there movie most assuredly would have wreaked upon my young psyche. I’m also thankful to have been able to experience this unique film for the first time in its uncut entirety; probably looking and sounding even better than it did when originally released. 
Even under extreme duress, Carol exhibits a killer sense of '70s style. Her wardrobe is a highlight.

But most of all I’m glad I (re)discovered Lizard in a Woman’s Skin at an age when I’m better able appreciate what an intelligently-conceived, artfully realized film it is. I've noted countless times in previous posts how much I adore hallucinatory, dreamlike films. So much so that I frequently resort to the term "fever dream" to describe those films of particular visual and emotional intensity. Well, Lizard in a Woman's Skin is all that and a bag of chips.
Exploitation films tend to get a bad rap, but movies like Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, Harry Kümel’s Daughters of Darkness, and now, Lucio Fulci’s Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, remind me that sometimes it's only in the low-rent subgenres of film where truly unconventional directors are allowed to be their freest.


BONUS MATERIAL
Mike Kennedy (aka Mike Kogel) plays a hippie drifter in Lizard in a Woman's Skin and was the lead singer of the '60s pop group Los Bravos.  Watch the music video for their 1966 hit "Black is Black" 
















So what does "Lizard in a Woman's Skin" mean? You have to see the movie.

Copyright © Ken Anderson