Tuesday, April 16, 2013

ANGEL, ANGEL, DOWN WE GO 1969

In my previous post about the James Cagney / Doris Day film Love Me or Leave Me, my praise for Doris Day’s remarkably accomplished, against-type assaying of the dramatically intense role of Jazz-Age songstress Ruth Etting, was followed up by a lengthy harangue about stars who play it safe and fail to venture very far beyond the narrow parameters of their carefully crafted images. An extremely talented actress and singer, Day’s choice of film roles may have made her a star (she worked that fresh-faced, girl-next-door thing well into middle age), but they were films that largely ignored her considerable versatility and dramatic range. Day is so effective in playing a not-so-nice character that it led me to further lament the perceived cultural loss of her having turned down the role of Mrs. Robinson (that sexually predatory, chain-smoking, alcoholic) in Mike Nichols’ The Graduate.

Of course, all this tsk-tsking about the failure of image-conscious Hollywood stars to take creative risks is a stance nurtured exclusively by memories of those instances where said risks actually paid off.  Eternal ingénue Audrey Hepburn gave the best performance of her career playing a disillusioned wife in Stanley Donen’s Two For the Road (1967), while perennial sex-kitten Ann-Margret’s moving portrayal of an aging party-girl in Carnal Knowledge (1971) garnered her an Oscar nomination.
My guess is that this was Jennifer Jones' mantra throughout the entire filming of Angel, Angel Down  We Go
What tends to fade from memory are the far more plentiful instances wherein actors, in a sincere attempt to break from type, inflict untold damage to years of hard-won legitimacy and respect by taking on roles which have the end result of making them look more ridiculous than courageous.
One such doozy of a miscalculation is the aptly titled Angel, Angel, Down We Go, a film that sees Oscar-winner and member of old-school Hollywood royalty Jennifer Jones extend herself so far out on a wobbly limb that the only trajectory can be downward.

Angel, Angel, Down We Go is a marvelously loopy artifact from the age of culture-clash psychedelia, and a primo example of that weird transitional period in motion picture history (roughly 1966 through 1970) when it appeared at times as though Hollywood had completely lost its mind. How else to explain the green-lighting of a film which casts classy Jennifer Jones as a former porn star unhappily married to a gay industrialist (Charles Aidman); saddle her with an unwanted, overweight teenage daughter (Holly Near); and have her seduced by a Jim Morrison-esque rock star (Jordan Christopher)?
Released by American International Pictures (the Drive-In exhibitor's best friend) and penned by the same writer who delivered the 1968 sleeper hit Wild in the Streets; Angel, Angel, Down We Go is an exercise in youth rebellion exploitation that didn't pay off back in 1969, but reaps considerable dividends today for being an astonishingly weird product of a time when Hollywood was seriously grasping at creative straws.
Jennifer Jones as Astrid Steele
Jordan Christopher as Bogart Peter Stuyvesant
Holly Near as Tara Nicole Steele
Charles Aidman as William Gardiner Steele
Rock star/mogul/cult-leader Bogart Peter Stuyvesant (“My mother went into labor pains during a Bogart flick...she almost dropped me in the lobby!”) first deflowers, then insinuates himself into the life of unloved, overweight debutante, Tara Nicole Steele. Stuyvesant and his motley band of sky-diving cultists (an uncomfortable-looking Lou Rawls; obligatory pregnant flower child, Davey Davidson; and a underutilized but probably just-happy-not-to-be-wearing-monkey-makeup. Roddy McDowall) see in Tara a symbol of overindulged, fat America. In her decadent parents: the personification of older-generation corruption and greed. Beyond, perhaps, talking them to death, what is the seriously unhinged Bogart’s plan for this family? Your guess is as good as mine. "You're insane!" people keep shouting at him, as though we hadn't hadn't noticed.
All I know is that along the way he sings a passel of pop/rock songs written by the Oscar-nominated songwriting team of Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann (Somewhere Out There), spouts a lot of anti-establishment gibberish, then winds up seducing mom, dad, and daughter. Not necessarily in that order.
"We say hip hooray, hip hip hooray for fat!"
The newly liberated Tara dances to Bogart's composition to corpulence: "The Fat Song." Barely considered chubby by today's Big-Gulp, Super-Size standards 19-year-old Holly Near, making her film debut, gained five pounds for the role (the studio asked for 20). 
According to screenwriter/director Robert Thom (a Yale graduate [so much for higher education] and the man with the mixed-bag resume of All the Fine Young Cannibals, The Legend of Lylah Clare, and Death Race 2000 to his (dis)credit),  Angel, Angel, Down We Go is adapted from his 1961 play and was intended to be “A far out version of a (Michael Arlen’s) The Green Hat kind of play about a wild girl heading for destruction…a present day type of F. Scott Fitzgerald heroine.” (Source: Jennifer Jones: The Life and Films by Paul Green).

It being adapted from a play certainly explains the film’s talkiness (you've never encountered a lippier group of flower children in your life), but the rest of that quote is a bit of a stretch. Anyone detecting even a note of F. Scott Fitzgerald in this monumentally disjointed morass, has likely gone the way of Zelda. Angel, Angel, Down We Go was Robert Thom's debut/swansong as a director.
Pills with an alcohol chaser accompany Jennifer Jones' explanation for why she named her daughter Tara. Meanwhile, David O. Selznick, Jones' recently-deceased real-life hubby and Gone With the Wind producer, can be heard spinning in his grave.

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
The economic power of the newly-emboldened youth audience of the late '60s really threw old-guard Hollywood for a loop. Long out-of-touch and more concerned with capitalizing on the counterculture zeitgeist than trying to understand it; Hollywood during this period produced some of the oddest most out-there films in the annals of cinema history. Angel, Angel, Down We Go is an unholy marriage of studio system aesthetics trying to pass itself off as an underground, college campus youth-rebellion flick. The result is a work of pandering insincerity that manages to alienate both its target audience (trying to pass off 40-year-old Roddy McDowall and 35-year-old, receding-hairlined Lou Rawls as agents of an impending youth revolution is very close to science fiction), and the mature demographic most likely to actually know who Jennifer Jones is.
The Mild Bunch
(L.to R.) Popular soul singer Lou Rawls makes his embarrassing film debut as Joe. Jordan Christopher fronted the rock group "The Wild Ones" and was married to Sybil Burton (Richard's ex) at the time. Holly Near is a well-known folk singer and activist. Davey Davidson as pregnant Anna Livia is known to fans of the sitcom, Hazel, as Nancy, Mr. B's virginal niece. Roddy McDowall as Santoro was friends with director Robert Thom and clearly owed him a favor.

For fans of bizarre cinema, however, all of the above are merely ingredients for the creation of obscenely entertaining train-wrecks from major studios that could not have been made at any other time in cinema history. Get a load of this dialogue:

Jennifer Jones yelling at her husband- “Oh, you’re out of your Chinese skull!" (He's not Chinese.)

Jennifer Jones playing the truth game- “I made 30 stag films and never faked an orgasm!”

Jennifer Jones to her masseuse- “Stop it, Hopkins, you’re hurting me. You’re a bloody, sadistic dyke!” 

Jennifer Jones in a moment of self-reflection- “In my heart of hearts, I’m a sexual clam.”

Jennifer Jones rebuffing the advances of the man who just bedded her daughter- "There's a word for you, but I don't think I even know what it is."

Yes, Miss Jones has the lion's share of quotably bad dialogue. She delivers it with so much gusto and bite, one wonders if perhaps she thought she was appearing in another absurdist hoot like John Huston's Beat the Devil (1954). Unfortunately for her, Robert Thom is no Truman Capote.
Only in the Sixties 
My favorite film of five-time Oscar-nominee Jennifer Jones is Madame Bovary (1949).  Who would guess that 20 years later the 49-year-old actress would appear in a film requiring she rest her head near the crotch of a naked, 26-year-old balladeer?

PERFORMANCES
Jennifer Jones in Angel, Angel, Down We Go is less a instance of against-type casting so much as it is “What the hell was she thinking?” casting. If you can get over the shock of seeing the star of The Song of Bernadette wallowing in the sordid gutter of sex and drugs exploitation, you can catch glimpses of a sensitive performance that never had a chance. She’s particularly good in a scene where her character revisits the Santa Monica Pier cotton candy stand she worked at as a girl. Alas, the quiet moments in this film aren't allowed to last too long. 
The ever-refined Astrid Steele responds to her daughter complimenting her on being "The most beautiful woman in the world."

Watching an actress as good as Jennifer Jones in a film as crude and intentionally vulgar as this, you never get a chance to applaud her "bravery" in breaking out of her Selznick-Shell. Why? Because not only is the film so far beneath her, but because you're never quite sure whether she's in on the joke. Her participation feels like it's part of a secret put-down, and you feel a little embarrassed for her.  Angel, Angel, Down We Go joins the ranks of the many Hollywood films from this era that made it their business to present former leading ladies of the silver screen in as unflattering a light as possible: Lana Turner, The Big Cube (1969) / Eleanor Parker, Eye of the Cat (1969) / Rita Hayworth, The Naked Zoo (1970) / Miriam Hopkins, Savage Intruder (1970) Mae West, Myra Breckinridge (1970).
"The Biggest Mother of Them All!"
Astrid builds up a head of indignant steam listening to Bogart's newest insult composition, the sprightly ditty, "Mother Lover." In the meantime, Tara  nervously waits for the shit to hit the fan.

THE STUFF OF FANTASY
One of the niftier byproducts of Hollywood’s embracing of the economic potential of the sexual revolution was the industry’s fascination with homosexuality, bisexuality, and narratives in which opportunistic young men sleep their way through entire families (Entertaining Mr. Sloane - 1970, Something for Everyone -1970, Teorema -1968). As I first saw Angel, Angel, Down We Go when it came out in 1969 and I was just 12-years-old, what made the biggest impression on me, and contributed to my seeing it at least three times that summer, was the surprising amount of male nudity. It's one of those rare exploitation films where the women remain dressed and the guys doff their clothes left and right. The movie made absolutely no sense to me then (nor now, for that matter) but with all that male skin on parade, who was I to complain?

How can you hate a film whose first four minutes feature a girl's voiceover narration praising her perfect parents, only to have the idealized father appear in the shower with a young man! 
The ever-game Roddy McDowall shows that his celebrated boyish charm didn't stop at the neck.
After seducing the daughter and the mother, Bogart Peter Stuyvesant (Jordan Christopher, bottom tier) literally takes the place of Mr. Steele's previous boy-toy (top tier, actor unknown).

THE STUFF OF DREAMS
Filmed in February of 1968, Angel, Angel, Down We Go was released in August of 1969, the same month as the Manson murders. This was the film’s title when I saw it at the Embassy Theater in San Francisco that year. I had no idea until many years later that in 1970 Angel, Angel, Down We Go (which was a considerable flop) was re-released under the title Cult of the Damned in a tasteless effort to capitalize on the film’s eerie similarities to the Manson case (those similarities extend as well to the Patty Hearst kidnapping case in 1974, but by then, this movie had long been forgotten).
Jordan Christopher was just one of several actors (among them Christopher Jones and Michael Parks) that tried hard to work a James Dean vibe in late '60s exploitation films

A bomb under either title, Angel, Angel, Down We Go has more or less disappeared into what some might say is well-deserved obscurity. But for those with a taste for the bizarre, a taste for the jaw-droppingly weird, a taste for the clumsy collision of old-Hollywood and the shape of things to come…well, Angel, Angel, Down We Go is a psychedelic mind trip well worth taking.

Much of Angel, Angel, Down We Go was shot at a Beverly Hills mansion that once belonged to Marion Davies. Fans of old Hollywood will get a kick out of seeing this beautiful palace, which still stands today Check it out HERE.
Literally high on drugs, Tara finds she can't get down from the ceiling (I told you this movie was weird).

NAME DROPPER'S CORNER
In 1995 I worked as a personal exercise trainer for the late Jennifer Jones. I remember her as an extremely gracious lady with a wonderful sense of humor and terrific discipline when it came to exercise. After working with her for about 4 months, I found the courage to tell her that Angel, Angel, Down We Go was the first film of hers I'd ever seen. Laughing, her response to me was, "I'm sorry to hear that. I'm afraid I might owe you an apology." When I said that it inspired me to see her other films, told me, "I'm glad of that. But I hope you've forgotten about it...I certainly have."
As much as I wanted to bring the subject up again over the next few months (I wanted to know what everyone wants to know when they see this movie, "What possessed you?"), I nevertheless erred on the side of caution and kept my mouth shut on the topic. It felt like the polite and professional thing to do, but it certainly did nothing for satisfying my film-geek curiosity.
The reviews are in!

Copyright © Ken Anderson

34 comments:

  1. I am truly dying.... I want to see this film SO BADLY!! I never have and it is one that was made for me. Written, acted, filmed specifically for me!! LOL I thoroughly enjoyed reading about it and especially salivated over the screencaps of those great '60s clothes, hairdos and semi-clad men...

    I cannot believe you rubbed elbows with Jennifer Effing Jones like that! She has always been a mystifying figure to me, mostly due to the way she was guided so heavily by Selznick and then all but disappeared on screen after his death except for a few select movies. Of course, my first exposure to her was "The Towering Inferno" when I was seven, so, like you, I worked backwards.

    There's something very odd about these wretched films, this one and "The Big Cube" for example, that makes me feel protective of the stars, maybe because no one else was looking out for their best interests! Thanks for highlighting this one. I have got to get my hands on it, stat!

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    1. Hi Poseidon
      Were this film not so determined to keep itself hidden, I've little doubt it would be a lasting favorite. The hairstyles are enormous, the dialog as quotable as any Russ Meyer film, and the incessant efforts to be shocking and “with it” make it a hoot.

      I worked for Jones not long after her Norton Simon had passed. Although she was happily engaged in running his famed museum (you wouldn’t believe the art she had in her place) she did say that she regretted having declined so many offers to do television. She felt it was beneath her, but she expressed admiration for her friend Lauren Bacall and her ability to keep working on Broadway long after Hollywood had lost interest in her.

      There is indeed something very cruel about these horror-hag movies. It was very hip back then to look down on how “corny” old Hollywood was, and instead of respecting the old stars, youth-oriented movies felt the need to degrade them.
      I don’t know if “Angel, Angel Down We go” is available on DVD, but under the title “Cult of the Damned” it’s available for streaming both on Netflix and Amazon. Thanks!

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    2. I'm with Poseidon on this, I've always wanted to see it (though to be honest had forgotten about it). In fact, I'm not reading your essay, fabulous as I know it is, until afterwards. Now on with the search!

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    3. Hi Thom
      I hope you can still find it a streaming copy of it online. I'm positive you'll get a kick out of it.

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  2. At least it's not "Flesh Feast."

    One wonders what motivated Jennifer Jones to make "Angels, Angels, Down We Go" -- boredom?

    Whatever risks Doris Day (or similarly, Ginger Rogers) chose not to take, at least she never made one of these hag films. What's most striking to me about these movies is that the old stars aren't all that old -- fifty-ish, if that, and still intact.

    I've always found Jennifer Jones to have a bit of the Marion Davies about her -- pushed into vehicles she wasn't really right for ("Duel in the Sun" comes to mind). It's interesting that she's largely forgotten today, I think. She didn't seem to have the larger-than-life personality (or personal scandals) that makes someone memorable. I too remember her in "The Towering Inferno" and she didn't register at all.

    Perhaps she needed her own "Falcon Crest."

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    1. Hi Peter!
      Oh my gosh…I had forgotten about Veronica Lake’s regrettable last film, “Flesh Feast” ! Yikes! I guess we can never understand the desperation an actor must feel when Hollywood no longer wants you but (as you point out) you’re really not all that old at all and have a lot to contribute.

      I suspect the late-career boost “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” gave Davis and Crawford gave every ageing actress hope that perhaps the right “horror hag” vehicle would do the same for them. I don’t know…certainly working behind a counter at Macy’s would have more dignity to it than some of these films.

      As for Jennifer Jones, I think you make an excellent point about her having been oddly handled by Selznick, who tried to shape her into a sex siren when she was more like a “Grand Lady” Deborah Kerr type. I think she’s a marvelous actress, but her non-Selznick choices are really off-the-chart-terrible (The Idol).

      One of the reasons I worked out with her was because she still suffered from a back injury sustained making “The Towering Inferno” (something having to do with carrying that whining little girl in so many scenes). She always said the best thing about that experience was getting to dance with Fred Astaire.

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    2. I really think "Sunset Boulevard" started it all -- I watched it recently and thought it was incredibly cruel, though undoubtedly well done for what it is. "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane" is best of the lot, imo, because it embraces the camp element and those two dames are so committed to their roles. Nothing ever topped it.

      Think of "What's the Matter With Helen." How old was Debbie Reynolds -- thirty-eight? Fortunately better things were ahead for her and Shelley Winters.

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    3. I agree. The pedigree is higher and there's no Grand Guignol, but "Sunset Blvd." did really get the ball rolling for those films that treated aging actresses as if they were a new breed of monster. In the movie "The Oscar" the script treats gorgeous Eleanor Powell as if she were ready for the scrap heap.
      on the opposite end of the spectrum was old coots like Fred Astaire (I like him but, c'mon) paired with young enough to be his daughter Audrey Hepburn and Leslie Caron.
      Oh, and I absolutely adored Debbie Reynolds in "...Helen." She looked terrific and I think she's better in it than "Molly Brown." Although a good deal less frightening.

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  3. You did get to see some of the most INTERESTING movies at such young ages. I recall when I was 12, my parents were VERY strict about what I went to see; it was the era of the 'M' rating, and I was not allowed to see 'The Reivers' because it had the 'Mature' label. ('The Reivers', I ask you!)

    I haven't seen 'Angel, Angel,' and I'm not sure I want to, because of how Jones is treated (I recall reading quotes from reviews lamenting her appearance here). There's a sadistic quality in our culture that likes to see older stars, particularly women, humiliated (though Meryl Streep has managed to escape that, still getting great roles, a rare case). I dislike 'Funny Face' in part because of the pairing of near-sixty-and-looking-it Astaire with dewy Audrey Hepburn--that's a movie where I want to ask Astaire "What are YOU thinking of?" And yet no one makes fun of Astaire, go figure.

    Jones maybe wasn't a larger-than-life star, but she had a fascinatingly dark onscreen quality, a kind of suppressed hysteria that you sense in 'Madame Bovary,' 'Carrie,' and the 1950s version of 'A Farewell to Arms.' I recommend her performance in 'A Farewell to Arms' if you haven't seen it. She has a neurotically off-kilter, feverish quality in her acting that I found mesmerizing. It seems to add something extra to the character that maybe was only hinted at in the script, but that she was willing to develop and sustain (her childbirth scene in this movie is HARROWING to watch). But when she's miscast in a film like 'Duel in the Sun' (the ultimate Virginia Mayo role, I would say), that quality takes on weird forms, like plants grown in the dark.

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    1. Ha! You’re right. In retrospect, hope I wasn’t pulling a big ol’ con on my mom, but I was a pretty precocious kid at that age. Very serious, straight A’s, a goody-goody who went to Catholic school and never got into trouble. I fancied myself very mature and would always pooh-pooh my mother’s doubts with statements along the lines of “You don’t think I’m a child, do you?”
      Anyhow, I did get to see a lot of weird, wholly inappropriate films. (I got a chuckle out of your “The Reivers” memory.)

      Your description of Jones’ appeal is perhaps one of the best and spot-on I’ve ever seen. I wholly agree that it was always her “edge” of madness that made her interesting. I own copies of “Carrie” and “Madame Bovary” – my two favorite performances of hers – but now I know I simply HAVE to check out “A Farewell to Arms.” You make it sound irresistible. Not to compound compliment on compliment, but Virginia Mayo would have rocked “Duel in the Sun,” and that “plants grown in the dark” comment is seriously priceless in describing how odd Jones can be when miscast.

      It’s odd that the age of the Woman’s Film was so repressive yet kinder to older actresses, while the 60s sexual revolution was so exceptionally dismissive and cruel.
      And as for that older actor/ younger actress thing…I’m hoping were closing in on the heyday of that. Woody Allen, Harrison Ford, and Michael Douglas all done their part to highlight its absurdity.
      Thanks for a marvelously perceptive comment!

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    2. Thanks so much, Ken - 'A Farewell to Arms' (1957) is on DVD; you can find it at Amazon. If you get to see it, I hope you consider it for a post, I'd love your thoughts on it. I read that Jones suffered from depression (and even once attempted suicide); she seemed willing to tap into that emotion for her performances. I admire her guts for that.

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    3. I'll definitely look for it or see if I can get t on Netfix. Jones did indeed suffer from bouts of depression (one such bout that was considered an attempted suicide was not long after this film was made) and was very involved with working with mental health organizations when I knew her. I too admired her ability to access some of her vulnerabilities in her earlier work.

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    4. Sorry to butt in/hijack, but I do have to add as well that "A Farewell to Arms" (a much-maligned movie in its time) also contains what is close to my favorite Rock Hudson performance. I love men with close-cropped hair and he is sporting it due to the WWI setting and looks so handsome in his uniform. His final scene is so raw and heart-crushing, especially coming from an actor who tended to lean towards the surface in his roles, or at least lighter material ("Second" excepted.) Jones was perhaps too old to play Catherine, but they make a fascinating couple. I love the way that film looks, with its grey-blue color scheme. Oh, and we can't forget the bonus of Elaine Stritch and Mercedes McCambridge as Rock's nurses!!!! Recommended.......

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    5. Oh, I didn't know Rock Hudson was in it! That explains how the film slipped past my radar. I try to avoid Rock Hudson films at all consts, only finding his only bearable performance in "Giant" (although a blog friend says he's awfully good in "Seconds." I'll put aside my prejudices and take a chance on "Farewell..." you both make it sound so worthwhile. And Elaine Stritch & Mercedes McCambridge in the same film! Pretty much a must see by now. Thanks, Poseidon!

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    6. I second Poseidon's opinion on Hudson's performance in AFTA; he's really quite good and touching and puts serious effort in it. Vittorio deSica is also in it, and he's magnificent. Hudson probably gives his best performance in Seconds, which I recommend - a brilliant movie, but which is a disturbingly intense and grim film to watch - don't know if it's still available on DVD or anywhere else, but if you find it, catch it.

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  4. Parabéns pelo blog.Tudo que se refere á cinema é do meu interesse,e aqui encontrei muita coisa interessante.Uma boa noite e meu abraço.SU

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    1. Bem-vindo, Suzane Weck! Tão feliz que você tenha encontrado meu blog e espero que gostem. Por favor, compartilhe seus comentários sobre o filme a qualquer momento! Obrigado!

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  5. You've met and worked for Jennifer Jones?!?!? Wow, that is amazing! I'm so jealous. It must have been hard to not ask her more about her films. The character she plays in "Towering Inferno" is much more refined than her part in "Angel..." but she does wear a similar white gown in both films (she probably liked the look).

    I've seen this film once and I was hoping for it to be more worth seeing since it is a counter culture mini rock musical with new and older Hollywood starlets. I was a little disappointed but maybe I should give it another try. I think I didn't like any of the characters enough, not even Holly Near's who is the main one.

    Oh, how I love the period of Hollywood films from 1966 to 1970 you describe! It is my very favourite. I must check out some of those movies you list. Hopefully I can find the soundtrack to "Angel.." too as I love cheesy soundtracks. If you could review "The Big Cube" I'd be thrilled!

    Thanks, Wille

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    1. Hi Wille
      I tell you, working with celebrities is sometimes an icy slope. If they sense a "fan" mentality, you're often quickly sacked, so throughout my career I have done well by keeping my real-life fandom in check when working with the famous. It's professional, but frustrating as hell. In so many cases all i want to do is file off a litany of questions about their lives and careers.

      Funny of you to notice of Jennifer's similar outfit in "Angel" and "Inferno". I've not done any research on the matter, but so many actresses, especially if they are big stars, utilize their own wardrobe when appearing in low-budget films (Crawford did this a great deal in her latter films). I suspect that, as you say, this was a look that Jennifer Jones liked and it carried over into how she was costumed in "Inferno". It's almost identical!

      I am impressed that you have seen this film at all! I can well understand your being underwhelmed by it. That probably would have been my reaction had i been exposed to this film today. I can't tell you how "different" the experience is when you first see it at a time when all that mumbo jumbo the rock star is spouting was the rhetoric of the teens you lived around, and the clothes and decor were actually up to date.
      It looks like a museum piece to me now, but I recall that I loved Bogart's crash pad with all those pillows and lights.
      And indeed, I can't wait to write about "The Big Cube" as well.
      Since I have the soundtracks to this movie (and "Inside Daisy Clover" on my trusty ipod (I'm so glad I held on to my old record collection) write me if you're ever interested in my sharing an mp3 with you. Otherwise, i think both crop up on Ebay from time to time.
      Thanks, Wille. Very nice of you to express excitement at some pending post of mine. I'm truly flattered.

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  6. I vividly remember catching Angel, Angel Down We Go on satellite TV in the late 1980s or early 1990s (when I was in my teens). It was mid-way through, and I watched it with my eyes on stalks! Couldn't believe what I was seeing -- what an oddity! I'd love to see it again and see if it's as wild / weird / terrible as I recall. Jones was a fascinating, fragile and intense actress.

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    1. Hi Graham
      Nice to hear from you! You are the perfect audience for a film like this and it's too bad you never saw it in its entirety. I'm confident if you saw it today it would still be every bit the oddity you found it as a teen.
      "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" always gets off the hook because its awfulness was intended. "Angel, Angel Down We Go" was in deadly earnest and 10 times as odd.
      And yes, Jones is every word you say she is. A unique screen presence.

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  7. Ken, I had always avoided seeing this one because it is so often described as "a mess" or otherwise dismissed by serious film critics...but I took your recommendation and watched it last night.

    I found it absolutely fascinating. It so sharply captures its era...eerily, in fact, when you think that this was made just before the Tate/LoBianco murders, and years before the Patty Hearst kidnapping.

    I found the performances uniformly compelling, and the costumes, music and art/graffiti mosaic motif visually stunning. And I never recall a film in which skydiving was so excitingly portrayed. All of these elements and imagery are spot-on for helping tell a story of American Imperialism and decay and the Generation Gap, with the free love movement threatening to explode into violence.

    It's a movie with a lot to say, and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

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    1. Well, those serious film critics often miss the boat and are maddeningly conventional in their tastes and focus.
      I'm so glad you took a chance on this movie! I know it isn't everybody's taste, but from what I've been able to glean from your comments about other films in this blog, I could well imagine you and this film being a good match.
      In fact, it sounds like you got a good deal more out of it than I did. Especially in picking up on its eerie prescience in regard to the Manson tragedy and the whole Hearst nightmare.

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  8. When I used to hang out with Zsa Zsa Gabor years and years ago, she told me a funny story about Jennifer Jones's vanity...that she had a makeup and hair person come to the house every day of her life to maintain her glamorous image, that she wouldn't even leave her bed until she was camera-perfect, even though she had nowhere to go.

    Your job as her personal trainer (when she was in her 70s or 80s?) confirms this for me. And I think she did get out occasionally. I was having dinner at the Ivy last year and our waiter told us that Jennifer would show up once a week up until her death, and always wanted the table in the back of the patio, a very protected place where she could still see and be seen.

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    1. "Hang out with Zsa Zsa Gabor"? How many people can say that sentence??? Was it during her cop-slapping days? I'm intrigued!
      Anyhow, your comment caused me to recall a fact that I had forgotten. After virtually every one of my exercise sessions with Jones I would meet her hairdresser (possibly makeup as well) who was there to get her ready for the day.
      She was heavily involved in the renovation of the Norton Simon Museum at the time and had full schedule of events and parties. Although she was never made up for our sessions, that makeup guy was ALWAYS waiting in the living room for us to finish! I hadn't thought of that in years.

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  9. For years, Zsa Zsa spent every winter at the Wellington Polo Club, in a home she told me she rented from Prince Charles and Princess Diana, who were still married at the time. That's how long ago it was. I interviewed her for a local magazine, and ended up being a pal for a couple of seasons. She and hubby Frederick were absolutely charming to me and my girlfriend Natalie, who shares Zsa Zsa's sign of Aquarius and reminded her of daughter Francesca, Zsa Zsa was very down to earth--she made her Hungarian goulash for us once, though she ate only Nutri-System popcorn herself as she was dieting...and when you went into her powder room, next to the commode was a tall stack of National Enquirer and Star tabloids! This was in the early 1990s...she looked great if a bit zoftig, and Frederick was always showing off his very nice legs in tennis togs...

    It was also through Zsa Zsa and Frederick that I got to meet the great Estee Lauder. We were having lunch at Cafe L'Europe in Palm Beach and the grande dame of cosmetics stopped by the table to say hello to Zsa Zsa. She asked Zsa Zsa if her mother was still alive, which appalled poor Zsa Zsa (the mother was alive and well at the time).

    Fun memories!

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    1. What a wonderful collection of memories! I especially love the Enquirer/Star magazine stuff. Cracks me up to think that the famous are as susceptible to the lure of celebrity gossip as anyone else.
      Thanks so much for sharing that, Angelman. Always fun to hear about close-encounters with Golden Age celebrities!

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  10. Jennifer Jones is one of if not, my favorite actress. So imagine my shock when I saw her at the Art Institute of Chicago about ten years ago. I was in college down the street and liked to strol through the museum before going home.
    So I turned the corner into the renaissance area and there she was!
    She was with a man and woman and she looked beautiful! She was wearing a red cashmere cardigan with tan plaid slacks and the shinest pair of patent leather pumps I've ever seen. She had a cane and the largest pearl necklace. I debated going up to her knowing that she was shy; but couldn't help myself.
    I quietly told her how much I enjoyed her movies and that I thought she was a very strong inspirational person. She was very kind and said those were happy days, and that she was at the AI to see about loans for the Norton Simon.

    I told her that I had visited the year before and loved it, she asked what my favorite pieces were and if I had been inside the sculpure garden. I said goodbye and she said I had lovely blue eyes! A wonderful memory that I will hold forever.

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    1. That IS a wonderful memory! It's always great to meet a screen favorite and have them meet, if not exceed, one's expectations. Thank you very much for sharing with us your personal encounter with the great actress!

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  11. This craptastic mess highlights more than any other that an Oscar is no guarantee of being able to age in film with your dignity intact, well this and the tragic sight of Ray Milland in The Thing with Two Heads!

    While I'm glad to hear she was a gracious, pleasant woman I must confess I am not a fan of Jennifer Jones. To me she was always a wan presence in her films and I rarely saw a performance of hers that I couldn't envision another actress doing better. As others have commented a good deal of the fault was Selznick's who was determined to turn her into the world's greatest actress and stuck her in things for which she was not suited, for instance she was a disaster in Duel in the Sun in a role that Ava Gardner would have made come alive. But within a limited range she could be an okay actress, I really enjoyed her in The Towering Inferno, her gracious dignity was well used and she wasn't any more ill treated than the rest of the cast. Also after a terrible beginning in Since You Went Away she's quite good in the second portion of that film. She held an option on Terms of Endearment for a number of years so it's not as if she didn't recognize good material but she never could have done what Shirley MacLaine did with it.

    Back to Angel, Angel I only saw it the once on Netflix streaming, which was enough, but what was unmissable was that the filmmakers had no conception of the audience they were trying to connect to, if one existed for it to begin with. It's not just that the actors are too old for their roles, Hollywood has often done that-I recently watched a minor comedy called Too Young to Kiss with a 34 year old June Allyson playing a 22 year old masquerading as a 14 year old child prodigy and being convincing as a 28 year old, its that it's obvious they're playing at the whole flower power, peace-love-and Bobby Sherman thing. None of it feels real for a second and if they don't believe how are we as viewers supposed to? It also doesn't help that most of the acting stinks on ice and the movie is horribly directed.

    Other than being a fascinating time capsule to show people some of the heights of 60's tacky decorating and fashions the film is best placed deep back in the What Were They Thinking files next to Ann-Margret's The Swinger, Skidoo and Psych-Out.

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    1. Hi Joel
      I'm rather impressed at the number of posts you've made your way through! Thanks!
      Hollywood at this time must have been very bewildering to older stars. Free from the protection and career guidance of overlord studio heads, one gets a sense that these great actors and actresses had no idea how to guide their own careers.
      I'm sure that the scripts became less plentiful as they aged, but surely unemployment would have been preferable to appearing in this kind of thing. A whole film festival could be devoted to the misguided attempts by stars of Hollywood's Golden era to remain relevant to younger audiences.
      I never saw that film, "Too Young to Kiss", but Hollywood has long had such an odd history of strange age casting. And to be honest, I think this used to bother me more then does it does now.
      These days, if i see a film bout teenagers that actually cast teeneagers, i'm stunned at how little their life experience seems to bring to the role. They seem much "younger" than their age. Now, should I see a 29 year old Sissy Spacek playing a teen, it seems at leastas if she's able to bring some depth.

      The aging hippies in "Angel Angel Down We Go" are another matter. It's just bizarre how old they are!
      Glad you got to see this, though. It's a have-to-be-seen-to-be-believed experience.

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  12. Hello,

    A very technical question ! I'm french and, after your review, I was curious about this movie. Amazon announces english subtitles for the DVD, the reviewers said they has none. Who is right ?

    Thanks !

    Francesco

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    1. Hello Francesco
      I'm afraid I can't help. I didn't even know this film was given a professional DVD release until reading your comment! The only copy of the film I have is a bootleg I purchased from iOffer (no subtitles).. For the screencaps shown in my article,this piece, I used a copy of the film that was up on YouTube for a long while, and they had a subtitle option.
      However, every DVD review site covering the US Blu-Ray DVD says there are NO subtitles. Only a commentary track and stills gallery.
      I hope this helps. Thanks for asking!
      Here in the states, the film

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    2. Thank you to make a so rapid answer ! Too bad, this time. The amazon description, with the english subtitles mentionned, gave me hopes.

      The same DVDs firm proposes a Wicked Lady edition (the Faye Dunaway version) : the director of collection seems to be a man of very good taste ! ;-)

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