Thursday, July 13, 2017

AN AMERICAN HIPPIE IN ISRAEL 1972


She asked me why. I'm just a hairy guy.


A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court -1949
An American in Paris 1951
An American Werewolf in London 1981

To this contradistinctive cinema canon of culture clash colonists, quixotic visitors to strange lands, and vagabonds on physical/spiritual journeys of self-discovery—I add a new title: An American Hippie In Israel. The timeless story of one man’s dirty-toenailed quest to find a pot-hazed Shangri-La where one can live “Without clothes, without government, and without borders!” A lost film, rediscovered. A vision of a simpler, sweatier world long past. A top contender for worst film ever made. So, of course, I love it.

Take the naïve idealism of San Francisco's Summer of Love (albeit, four years after the fact), cross it with the inept earnestness of Ed Wood, Jr. (after one too many screenings of Easy Rider - 1969 and Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point -1970), shore it up with the technical polish and solid performances of Manos:The Hands of Fate (1966), and you have a pretty good idea of the myriad pleasures awaiting those who choose to throw a good 95-minutes to the wind to go “thumb tripping” with An American Hippie In Israel.
Asher Tzarfati as Hippie Mike
Lily Avidan as Elizabeth 
Shmuel Wolf as Komo
Tzila Karney as Francoise
An American Hippie In Israel is a has-to-be-seen-to-be-believed, late-to-the-party artifact of the ‘60s counterculture movie revolution sparked by The Trip (1967); actualized in Alice's Restaurant (1969); documented in Woodstock (1970); Hollywoodized in Butterflies Are Free (1972), and musicalized in Jesus Christ Superstar (1973).
Movies devoted to “The Gentle People” (hippies, flower children, peaceniks, the Love Generation) showing us both the light and the error of our ways through symbolism-heavy anti-war allegories. Utilizing avant-garde techniques borrowed from experimental films; these movies celebrated the counterculture philosophy and proffered bohemian alternatives to the dehumanizing effects of capitalism, imperialism, and knuckling down to "The Establishment."
An American Hippie in Israel opens with the image of an unmanned steamroller crushing a field of wildflowers while news footage of the Vietnam War is intercut over the sounds of bombs and machine gun fire. This student film level of subtle metaphor is likely one of the reasons why the film was never able to find a U.S. distributor.

Mike (Tzarfati) is a disillusioned Vietnam vet hailing from New York who travels the world in search of a better way of life. A bearded Dorothy Gale, if you will, on a quest to find his personal somewhere over the groovy rainbow: “I’m looking for a place far away from everything. A place where I can live with a bunch of people who think like me. Without anyone telling us what to do.” Of course, what Hippie Mike's actually describing here is a cult—a fact not at all helped by his resemblance to Charles Manson—but I've always found it curious that so many of the Flower Power Generation believed the road to individual freedom required a tour guide and a map.
And now, a Public Service Announcement from Hippie Mike

After bumming around Europe for a few years, Mike arrives in Israel looking for all the world like a lycanthropian Janis Joplin: barefoot and resplendent in floppy hat, dirty bellbottomed jeans, love beads, and sheepskin vest. But we soon learn that, as movie hippies go, Mike is one of the good ones. No anti-hero or rebel without a cause, he. For although he has a considerable ax to grind when it comes to society as a whole—“World, you’re so full of shit. You’re so badly contaminated, it’s impossible to find a corner free of smell!” —he’s a hippie conspicuously lacking in political convictions (not a peace sign flashed or "Power to the People" fist pump throughout the entire film); he's just a guy who wants to do his own thing, man.
Sure, he's a bit of a windbag when it comes to spouting off about his philosophy of life, but his credo is basically live-and-let-live, and he's quite the affable, easygoing sort. It's nice to know that even though the Vietnam War turned our hippie hero into a self-professed “killing machine, it doesn’t prevent him from thanking the flight crew with a smile as he disembarks his plane, or helping a lady with her luggage at the airport. He’s just that kind of a hairy hippie guy.

As Mike hitchhikes to Tel Aviv (the film allowing just enough drivers to pass our hero by to hammer home its man’s-inhumanity-to-man themes) he ultimately gets a ride from a comely redhead in a ginormous convertible who invites her scruffy pick-up back to her parents’ home—“They’re abroad at present” —for coffee and a quick bout of hippie hanky panky. But not before narrowly missing getting into an accident with a black Ford Fairlane driven by two gray-faced men in black suits and top hats. 
Described in various sources as everything from murderous mimes to "the painted men";
to me these guys look more like zombie gangsters. Or, given their top hats,
the ghosts of aging Las Vegas chorus boys past

Just who these gentlemen are and what they want is a mystery, but Hippie Mike recognizes the pair immediately. Accusing them of harassing him and chasing him all over the world, he calls them “Shithead” and “Scum of the earth before threatening the silently glaring pair with physical harm —“Next time I see you, I’ll bust your ugly faces wide open!”

Were they a hallucination? An acid  flashback? A costume shop metaphor for The Man always hasslin' the hippies?  Hmmm...

Oddly enough, neither Mike’s violent outburst nor the overall bad drug trip weirdness of her run-in with Messrs. Shithead and Scum of the Earth seems to concern Elizabeth very much. Her "play the hand you're dealt" attitude perhaps explaining why, after one brief afternoon of flower-child proselytizing and naked frolic, she's ready to abandon her comfortable life ("I'm an actress!") and join Hippie Mike on his quest for an elusive Utopian paradise.
Mike mansplains freedom to Elizabeth while putting his dirty feet on her sofa

What follows next is a kind of Hippie’s Guide to Tel Aviv as Mike and Elizabeth gambol about the city in a montage of self-consciously free-spirited breeziness that for a time was a staple of every self-respecting counterculture film. In due time the duo’s spiritual carefree footin’ draws the attention of two more like-minded souls: the lanky, non-English-speaking Komo (Wolfe), whose indignantly retreating hairline makes him seem a little “mature” for all this, and his bi-lingual girlfriend Francoise (Karney).
As our duo becomes a linked quartet, one is made instantly aware that certain conventions persist even amongst the most vehemently unconventional. The women are both young, slim, and in no way challenge the traditional Eurocentric beauty standard. The men, on the other hand...to put it charitably, don't exactly pose a threat to Joe Dallesandro's status as underground film's reigning male sex symbol.
As an interminable folk song wails on the soundtrack (courtesy of Fran Liberman-Avni and Suzan Devor, who also appear in the film) Mike continues to pick up followers like bellybutton lint, becoming the Pied Piper of the granny-gown/headband set. Undeterred by being wholly unfamiliar with the city, he leads a caravan of Tel Aviv’s hippiest hippies to a seaside warehouse (a communal crash pad outfitted with posters, pillows and “found object” art) for a far-out afternoon Be-In.
The Age of Aquarius took a little while to reach Israel
For the unversed in hippie communal celebrations, this simply means they lie around, listen to folk music, drink, smoke pot, screw, and "Laugh-In dance" (aka: indiscriminate wiggling, arms in the air, eyes rolled back in their sockets). Freedom! Freedom!
After thanking everyone—“Beautiful, You’re just beautiful people”—Mike gives yet another long-winded speech about freedom before it’s suggested they all join forces and establish an alternative civilization on an isolated island approximately 12 miles out of town. Hippie Mike has at last found what he’s been searching for. At the point where it looks like we might have to endure another folk song and more "dancing," the sudden reappearance of the zombie chorus boys (brandishing machine guns, yet) comes as something of a welcome intrusion.

You’ll have plenty of time to ruminate on the symbolic significance of the subsequent machine gun massacre of these harmless, peace-loving hippies (remember that steamroller...), because once the commune’s only survivors—our original quartet—embark on their road trip to their island paradise, nearly 15-minute minutes transpire during which absolutely nothing else happens. (Well, they do fuck some more, but maybe that's just out of grief.)
After an appropriate period of mourning (3 minutes), our four sun-baked Don Quixotes
decide to forge ahead with their plans and establish a free, topless society of their own 

If the first act of An American Hippie In Israel was to establish Hippie Mike’s freedom-seeking objectives; its second act, a “road movie” that takes the term WAY too literally (Mike & Co. buy supplies and visit an outdoor bazaar where they purchase a 4-legged cousin of Mike's vest); then act three, when our foursome finally achieve their goal and set up their own civilization, is when reality confronts idealism.
And it does so with alarming dispatch.
Declaration of Independence
With their color-coded swimwear making them look like contestants on the oldest Survivor episode ever, our emancipated quartet revel in their newfound (short-lived) freedom. 

I won’t divulge how the film's final act plays out, but given the amount of time devoted to the redundant and undramatic road trip, what ultimately transpires feels incredibly rushed. In a turn of events likely meant to provide an ironic or twist ending, the idealistic message of the film's early scenes (suggesting life holds an alternative to the oppressiveness and violence of civilized society), takes an abrupt, totally out of left field detour into not-exactly-profound nihilism (man is an irrepressibly violent animal).
Perhaps it's a commentary on the death of idealism or a bellwether metaphor for the demise of the whole hippie revolution; but the events play out with such speed and lack of nuance, they have the effect of contradicting all that came before.


WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS MOVIE
What's not to love? I mean, they just don't make 'em like this anymore.
The world is full of brilliant comics, satirists, and parodists; but try as they might, no one as yet has ever been able to intentionally capture the special magic that is the truly awful film that fails to recognize itself as such. I've an enduring affection for ambitious, ill-conceived, overly-sincere movies which attempt to balance a surplus of  pretentiousness with a shortage of money and an absence of talent. In most cases these films are merely bad, but every once in a while, celluloid dross reveals itself to be pure gold.
Hippie Mike's Silver Hammer
What's a '60s movie without hallucinatory imagery? Mike has a dream in which he wields a large silver hammer against two figures with reel-to-reel-tape players for heads. Between them is a globe painted like a chessboard upon which are pawn figures resembling soldiers. Trippy? Yes. Ludicrous? You bet!

An American Hippie in Israel is not a good film by any stretch of the imagination, and indeed, some might find watching it without benefit of an audience or sans the sarcastic input of those Mystery Science Theater 3000 robots (a treatment this film cries out for) an impossible task. But being both a child of the '60s and a fan of so-bad-it's-good cinema, this movie had me laughing from beginning to end. Even when I wasn't quite sure what it was I was watching.
There's no quicker route to absurdity than solemnity; and never is absurdity as entertaining as when a film tries to be profound and deep while reducing a cultural phenomenon to its most superficial components. Everyone involved in An American Hippie in Israel is clearly taking it all very seriously, but just as clearly one is left with the impression that no one really knows what the hell they're doing.  Or saying!
Someone should tell Francoise the world doesn't like to be scolded


THE STUFF OF DREAMS
An American Hippie In Israel is a no-budget, muddled, sun-baked (and altogether half-baked) make-love-not-war hippie allegory that is the triple-threat brainchild and feature film debut/swansong of independent filmmaker Amos Sefer—sometime actor, lifeguard, electrician—who managed to write, direct, and produce without actually being good at any of them.
Shot in (mostly dubbed) English and released briefly and inauspiciously in Israel in 1972 under its original title Ha-Trempist (The Hitchhiker), Sefer's film, despite ample doses of market-friendly nudity and violence, disappeared into obscurity after failing to land a U.S. distributor. (You know a movie is bad when even the cheapo exploitation houses like Screen Gems and American International won't buy it.)
The Stepford Hippies
With the help of YouTube and a host of bad film enthusiastsThe Hitchhiker was resurrected, renamed, and a cult film was born. An American Hippie in Israel had its Los Angeles premiere in 2010, but my first opportunity to see it came when it aired on TCM sometime in  2014. I'd been looking forward to seeing this oddity since journalist Joe Meyers wrote about it in his column, and it didn't disappoint. The film is currently out on DVD/Blu-Ray, and has become a cult sensation on the Midnight Movie circuit in Israel.
An American Hippie in Israel has become a new classic for me. I've seen it at least five or six times now and I keep finding new things to gasp at and enjoy. The film is mercilessly padded-out for length; the actors to a one are all endearingly awful (Hippie Mike's voice is dubbed by Israeli-American actor Mike Burstyn); the production itself has that delightfully cheesy look of those early Andy Warhol films; and from a strictly nostalgic viewpoint, who of my generation can find fault with so much dated, Flower Power grooviness emanating from screen? 


THE STUFF OF FANTASY
To the untrained ear much of An American Hippie in Israel’s dialogue sounds like a drug-fueled hummus of non-sequiturs with a side of adjective/adverb salad. If it sounds tin-eared and a little forced, it's because what you're listening to is not really  normal conversation, but a 30-something screenwriter’s take on the colorful, comical, counterculture dialect of the North American hippie. To better enjoy your brief visit to Amos Sefer’s vision of Israeli hippiedom, here’s a brief glossary of terms used in the film.

Bad Scene: An American Hippie in Israel is nothing if not a motion picture comprised of nothing but bad scenes, but as expressed by our hippie hero Mike, a “bad scene” means to be faced with an unpleasant or unlucky occurrence. A negative twist of fate.
Beautiful: A term of approval and approbation applied to persons, places, or things. Sometimes simply a declaration of an emotional state (See: Wonderful Feeling).
Cool It: Stop making a hassle, slow your roll, mellow the fuck out.
Dig: To understand, comprehend, or empathize. Often posed as a rhetorical question preceding endless reams of hippie mansplaining.
Do Your Own Thing: To live life as one chooses. To be yourself, not follow. No button pushing.
Don’t Sweat It: Don’t worry, overthink, or trouble your mind. Don’t get excited. The more dismissive cousin of “cool it.”
Far Out!: An interjection of surprise or excitement. Also an all-purpose term of confirmation and acknowledgement (suitable for banal questions like “Would you like some coffee?”) and expressing disbelief (for example: having one’s mind blown).
Flake Out: To bow out. To not contribute. Not to be relied upon. As used by Hippie Mike, to take a snooze.
Man: A multi-purpose word. When peppered throughout conversation, it is the hippie equivalent of “like” and “y’know.” Can be used as an expression of joy, surprise, or exasperation. Most often means friend, pal, individual. Most dreaded, when preceded by a capital “The” denoting The Establishment.
Outtasite: Wonderful, terrific, fantastic. Sixties antecedent to mid-‘70s “Dyn-o-mite!”
Pad: Home, domicile, living quarters. Wherever one lays one's sheepskin vest.
Right On!: An emphatic yes. An affirmation, as in certainly; of course; most definitely; and, you said it, brother. Also, an enthusiastic exclamation of excitement meaning wonderful or great.
Turned On: Varied meanings, but most often referring to being high on drugs, or sexually excited. As Hippie Mike uses it in the film, it’s a term meaning being very much in the moment, keyed up and attuned to sensations. Feeling very much alive, alert, and happy. 


BONUS MATERIAL
Director Amos Sefer died in 2007 before he could see his only feature film become a cult success. But, happily, Asher Tzarfati (Hippie Mike) 73-years-old, and Shmuel Wolf (Komo) 83-years-old, are still with us. They appear on the special edition Blu-Ray, and both get a kick out of their late-in-coming notoriety and display a healthy sense of humor about participating in a movie they thought was long forgotten.
Links:
The movie trailer that started it all.
TV Interview with Shmuel Wolf and Yaniv Edelstein (the man who spearheaded the film's resuscitation). English closed-captioned.
What are we waiting for? Let's get on down there where we can live and be free! Free! Free!
Copyright © Ken Anderson

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

MIDNIGHT LACE 1960

The "woman-in-peril" melodrama is a popular subgenre of film which fell neatly under the banner of the "woman’s picture” of the ‘30s and ‘40s. Early films in this mold (Rebecca - 1940, Suspicion - 1941, Gaslight -1944) combined aspects of the horror film, film noir, and the romance gothic in suspense narratives with female protagonists bedeviled by men who, under usual circumstance, would be considered both dashing and desirable.
In the postwar years, when Hollywood took to aggressively reinforcing more traditional gender roles, these sophisticated romantic dramas became decidedly more domestic in focus (Loretta Young in Cause for Alarm -1951, Doris Day in 1956's Julie - the original "The stewardess is flying the plane!" thriller), and more noticeably fashioned to appeal to a female audience.

The relative drab of these black & white suburban suspense thrillers eventually gave way to the tonier, full-color escapism of a the “posh women in peril” subgenre; which substituted aproned-housewives for moneyed ladies of leisure, and offered the diversion of seeing well-turned-out heroines menaced in plush surroundings. To this latter category belongs producer Ross Hunter’s Midnight Lace, an appealingly glossy, routinely effective, thoroughly predictable woman-in-peril melodrama graced by a persuasively committed performance by Doris Day.

The Victim:
Doris Day as Katherine "Kit" Preston
 Overdressed + Overactive imagination = Patronized 24/7
The Suspects:
Rex Harrison as Anthony Preston
Neglectful husband with one too many last-minute "business" emergencies
Myrna Loy as Aunt Bea Coleman
Oversolicitous matron with a penchant for comic headwear
John Gavin as Brian Younger
Phone-happy, shell-shocked veteran with appalling British accent 
Roddy McDowall as Malcolm Stanley
A Gen-X prototype. The entitled, ne'er-do-well son of the Preston's Dickensesque housemaid.
Natasha Parry as Peggy
Smartly-dressed neighbor with an absentee husband and a too-canny talent for

always being at the right place at the right time
Herbert Marshall as Charles Manning
Avid gambler & worrier possessed of the staggering ability to look guilty absolutely all of the time 
Anthony Dawson as Roy
Silent skulker who might as well wear sandwich board reading "Suspicious Character" 

A Dial M for Murder alumnus
John Williams as Inspector Byrnes
Literally phoning in his identical performance from Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder (1954) 

Midnight Lace is the very last of Doris Day's regrettably few forays into drama (a gifted and versatile dramatic actress, Day nevertheless put herself so emotionally through the wringer for this film that she hereafter only appeared in comedies and one musical: Billy Rose' Jumbo - 1962). This high-toned hand-wringer about an American heiress in London who can't get anyone to believe she's being terrorized by threatening phone calls from an unseen assailant who's also making sundry attempts on her life is a suspenser catering shamelessly to the Ladies Home Journal/Women’s Wear Daily crowd. At frequent intervals director David Miller (Sudden Fear -1952) and producer Ross Hunter (Portrait in Black - 1960) find it necessary to pad out events and throw mis-en-scène to the wind in an effort to play up the film's “feminine” distractions:
Thrill at the splendor of the ballet! Featuring excerpts from Giselle, Petrouchka, and Swan Lake! 
Gasp at the divoon frocks and bed jackets designed by wrested-out-of-retirement
"Irene," who earned herself an Oscar nomination for her trouble
Even Don Loper would swoon over the magnitude of millinery on display!
(Although I don't recall if any are in fuchsia and purple)
Midnight Lace is the kind of movie you can imagine Lucy and Ethel taking in at a matinee after luncheon at Schrafft’s (with hats!), then talking animatedly about Doris Day’s gowns and the relative “dreaminess” of Rex Harrison and John Gavin as they take the train back to Westport.
Midnight Lace wastes no time in getting underway, swiftly setting a wobbly foundation of emotional instability for Doris Day’s harried heroine to hurl herself from. As American heiress Katherine Preston, Day plays a newlywed “work widow”: a lonely London expatriate three months married to a British financier (Harrison) whose unforgiving work schedule leaves her with far too much free time. Too much time to roam the unfamiliar city alone; too much time to grapple with the confusing monetary exchange rates; and (as per the plot) too much time to fabricate phantom assailants in an effort to garner the attention of her neglectful husband.

Though the film makes us privy to the fact that she is indeed the target of threatening phone calls and a series of near-fatal mishaps, Kit’s nervous excitability, combined with a septet of vaguely suspicious supporting characters, conspire to create just enough doubt as to whether Mrs. Preston is actually the victim or the agent of her torment.
When one settles down to watch a film like Midnight Lace—the motion picture equivalent of those paperbacks you buy at drugstores and airport gift shops for the sole purpose of reading poolside or on the beach—certain rules must be applied: you either surrender yourself to its contrivance, artificiality, and slavish adherence to form, or else you’re simply better off watching something else.

In movies like this, you buy into the fact that characters never say anything directly when they can confuse and obfuscate with round-robin statements like, “It was the man on the phone! I saw him! I mean…I didn’t actually see him, but I KNOW it was him!” You allow for characters never alleviating another character's fears by announcing their arrival, letting their presence be known, or merely introducing themselves. You accept that all normal fearful responses to unsettling events will be met by the suggestion to “Put it out of your mind,” “Don’t give it another thought,” or the laziest cliché of all, “Get some sleep.”
In order for films like this to work, a ringing phone has to be treated like a summons from the Queen; it simply cannot be ignored. Friends and loved ones know you're being harassed by a phone maniac, so of course they will be placing calls to you at regular intervals.  And it goes without saying that just hanging up on the pervert is never an option. Not when the victim can ask the same question over and over again ("Who are you?!?) certain that the 12th entreaty will yield a result different from the 7th. 

But the necessity to check your brain at the door doesn’t mean one can’t simultaneously marvel at the manner in which the entire plot of Midnight Lace hinges on and is propelled by the Freudian fear (and subsequent dismissal) of the “hysterical woman,” complete with its psychological tie-in to sexual frustration.
Midnight Lace was adapted by two male screenwriters from the play Matilda Shouted Fire by British playwright Janet Green. Green was co-writer of two of the UK’s most influential “social problem” films: Sapphire- 1959 (racism) and Victim -1961 (homosexuality).
I have no idea how closely the motion picture hews to the original play, but I suspect the entire enterprise would clock in at roughly 23-minutes had it dispensed with the presupposition that women are inherently emotional creatures, strangers to logic, and prone to coming unglued under stress. 
Midnight Lace's overweening patriarchal tone—apparent in the galling level of male condescension Day’s character has to contend with—would all seem rather quaint and easy to shrug off with a “That’s how it was back then,” were it not rooted in a “protect women from themselves” cultural mindset that persists today (Google: Roomfuls of men legislating women’s bodies).


WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
In spite of its creaky sexual politics, Midnight Lace is a surprisingly watchable little thriller that shares a lot in common with another of my favorites, Elizabeth Taylor’s sole foray into the suspense thriller genre, 1973s Night Watch. In both films a neglected wife’s claims of being terrorized are met with both suspicion and disbelief by male characters. In each film the women are driven to the brink of hysterical madness, suspected of fabricating an emotional crisis out of a neurotic response to loneliness. The similarities in plot and tone are intriguing, but the more contemporary feminine perspective of Night Watch (another film adapted from a play written by a woman) recognizes and incorporates the sexist tropes of the woman-in-peril genre and subverts them to startling effect.
Like a great many genre films, Midnight Lace hews rather religiously to form, but thanks to its sleek production values and old-fashioned style, manages to entertain even while offering few surprises as it wends its way to its conclusion. A conclusion which took me very much by surprise when I first saw this on late night TV as a kid, but which seems embarrassingly obvious to me now. Midnight Lace was released just a month after Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, and as with that film, trailers for Midnight Lace encouraged patrons to see to the film from the beginning and not to divulge to friends “the shocking surprise ending!”

Myrna Loy, whose career spanned the silent era through to the 1980s, is a welcome presence 

PERFORMANCES
In the loony disaster film Airport 1975 Karen Black played a stewardess left to fly a commercial jet after the flight crew is injured. The fact that Black played her absurd scenes with the utmost of conviction drew both laughs and criticism at the time, but in a 2009 interview the actress explained that her oft-parodied intensity was a result of having seen the film’s rushes. It seems she noticed the cabin sequences were being played for laughs or soap opera (Midnight Lace’s Myrna Loy is present as a comic dipsomaniac) and none of the characters were reacting to the impending danger of the plane crashing into the Utah mountains. Karen Black’s acting choices for the cockpit scenes came down to “I realized that if I didn’t care that the plane got over the mountain, no one in the audience would.” 
McDowall, Loy, and even Day had little good to say about working with Rex Harrison, his well-documented unpleasantness in this case perhaps attributable to the recent death of wife Kay Kendall

Well, Doris Day pulls off something similar in Midnight Lace. Surrounded by a talented (if decaffeinated) cast giving earnest, stiff-upper-lip performances (Harrison, Parry, Williams) or outright rotten ones (John Gavin), Day being in a near-constant state of distress, panic, terror, and sobbing may come off as shrill to some, but her 100% commitment to the material is the single element providing Midnight Lace with whatever thrill factor it has. In a plot bordering on the preposterous, Day makes the menace believable and her character's emotional disintegration compelling. Doris Day is one of my all-time favorites, and though she's well-respected and beloved by many, has never been given what I think is her due as an actress (WHEN is the Academy going to give her an Honorary Oscar?) 

In Midnight Lace, Doris Day’s natural delivery and grounded, level-headed bearing works miracles with the film’s artificial dialogue and contrived plotting. No matter what histrionics the script requires of her, Day's innate practicality prevents her character from appearing neurotic or unhinged. Indeed seeing such a healthy, uncomplicated screen persona crumble under pressure give her scenes of torment an  unsettling authenticity. No pretty "movie star" screaming here. Day cries, wails, and lets out with guttural sobs that are positively heart-wrenching. The movie itself may be a tad overwrought, but I find nothing lacking in Doris Day's impeccable performance. 
In her memoirs, Doris Day recounts that for this scene she channeled memories of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her first husband. So successful was she at working herself into a state of  near-hysteria, Day actually suffered something of a breakdown and the production had to be briefly shut down. 

THE STUFF OF DREAMS
Midnight Lace is an old-school Hollywood “movie” movie at its best. If you have a taste for such things, these last-gasp studio entries before Hollywood shifted to experimentation and naturalism can offer many amusing diversions. For instance, I was surprised to learn that the film was actually shot in England (unless IMDB refers to second-unit work), for everything looks as though it was filmed on a soundstage. 
Similarly, for a film of this period, I was impressed with the color photography. At a time when flat, overlit sets were the order of the day, Midnight Lace’s cinematography (Russell Metty, Oscar winner for Spartacus) has a richness and depth that makes marvelous, atmospheric use of shadows and color. It's one of those movies where everybody is always being offered a drink, women sleep in full makeup, and there is no such thing as dressing casually. And of course it’s difficult not to giggle every time a scene is contrived to be filmed in longshot so as to better showcase one of Day’s many lovely, matronly costumes.  
I really think I have to reassess my longstanding indifference to Roddy McDowall. Cropping up on this site in no less than seven films, I'm starting to not only grasp that he was the Kevin Bacon of his time--appearing with practically everyone in Hollywood at one time or another--but I see that what he lacked in versatility, he more than made up for in dependability. He consistently turns in solid (albeit, one-note) performances in one thankless role after another. 

These days I'm not really sure what condition the woman-in-peril film genre is in (my hunch is that TVs Lifetime Network pretty much wore it into the ground), but 1960s Midnight Lace stands as a high-style entry with plenty of retro appeal and boasts Doris Day giving one of her best dramatic performances. Forget that it was originally targeted to female audiences, this Lace is one size fits all.


BONUS MATERIAL
Midnight Lace's sole Academy Award nomination went to the costume designs by Irene (Lover Come Back). Universal made available to theaters a promotional featurette titled High Style Elegance showcasing Doris Day modeling the many costumes from the film. Along with fashion-centric ads placed in leading national ladies' magazines, the featurette was intended to inspire hoards of female theater patrons to stampede their nearest department store and demand it stock the Irene, Inc. line of Women's Wear.
Here Ms. Day models a leopard-print crowd-pleaser that never made it into the finished film. Watch the featurette (German soundtrack) HERE.


For a time in the 1980s, it seemed as though every third woman starring in a motion picture was portraying a TV reporter. Here, a year before Morgan Fairchild (Flamingo Road) portrayed a TV reporter terrorized by a stalker in the feature film The Seduction (1982), Dallas's Mary Frances Crosby played a TV reporter terrorized by a stalker in a truly wretched 1981 remake of Midnight Lace. Its plot retooled to dispense with a great deal of the original's patriarchal tone (along with a great deal of the original's coherence); in its place is almost unwatchable mediocrity and tedium. Those with a masochistic streak and taste for the obscure can catch this thrill-free thriller on YouTube while you can.

Copyright © Ken Anderson