Monday, March 31, 2014

WALK ON THE WILD SIDE 1962


If prostitution didn’t exist, Hollywood most certainly would have had to invent it. How else to surmount the troubling obstacle presented to screenwriters hired to develop female characters not defined by the title of wife, mother, or girlfriend? How else to include as much sex, salaciousness, and female objectification as possible while still being able to tent-pole the dual obligations of providing just enough have-your-cake-and-eat-too moralizing necessary to keep one step ahead of the censors, and the proper amount of after the fact, self-righteous finger-wagging to placate guilty audiences?
America loves its sex, violence, and debauchery, but never really lets itself enjoy the fun it has rolling around in the gutter unless also afforded the opportunity to give itself a good slap on the wrist after it’s all over. This need to have one’s "sensitive adult material" served up with a healthy dose of religious dogma goes a long way toward explaining why a moralizing piece of Hollywood sleaze like Walk on the Wild Side is such an enduringly entertaining hoot. 
Laurence Harvey as Doug Linkhorn
Jane Fonda as Kitty Twist (nee Tristram)
Capucine as Hallie Gerard
Barbara Stanwyck as Jo Courtney
Anne Baxter as Teresina Vidaverri
Published in 1956, Algren’s anecdotal, relentlessly downbeat, essentially unfilmable (at least in 1962) Depression-era novel A Walk on the Wild Side, bears little resemblance to the sanitized movie made from it beyond a few character names and a title minus the “A.”  The film version, rumored (rather remarkably) to be the result of no less than six writers, among them playwright Clifford Odets (The Country Girl) and screenwriter Ben Hecht (Spellbound), strives to be a tale of lost souls searching for redemption through love on the sordid side of the streets of New Orleans, but for the filmmakers, balancing sexual candor and social uplift proves a burden far too unwieldy. In the end, the movie promoted with the self-serving warning “This is an ADULT PICTURE - Parents should exercise discretion in permitting the immature to see it,” was no more than another Hollywood soap opera.
The composition of this shot pretty much sums up Walk on the Wild Side's major conflict 
The time is the 1930s (you’ll just have to take the filmmaker’s word for that). After the death of his ailing father: an alcoholic, unordained preacher - Arroyo, Texas farm boy, Dove Linkhorn  (Lithuanian-born Laurence Harvey) travels to Louisiana on a quest to find his long lost love, Hallie (French-born Capucine), an amateur painter and sculptress. En route, he crosses paths with savvy runaway orphan Kitty Twist (Fonda) who teaches him the tricks of riding the rails and thumbing rides. Although Kitty has a few other tricks she’d like to teach him, Dove says no to hobo hanky-panky because his heart remains true to Hallie (he calls her his religion). 
After a brief stopover at the rundown café of Mexican head-turner Teresina (Baxter) brings out Kitty’s claws (jealous of the attentions accorded Dove, she steals from the proprietress) the morally offended dirt farmer sends her on her way and stays on at Teresina’s place as a hired-hand.
The composition of this shot pretty much sums up Walk on the Wild Side's secondary conflict
Cut to New Orleans’ French Quarter and the popular bordello known as The Doll House run by no-nonsense lesbian, Jo Courtney (Stanwyck) and her devoted but ineffectual husband, former carny strongman, Achilles Schmidt (Karl Swenson) who lost his legs in a train accident. The big shocker (to the screenwriters perhaps, but certainly to no one with even a passing familiarity with soap opera plotting) is that Dove’s virginal and virtuous Hallie is The Doll House’s most desirable and sought-after prostitute … Jo categorically taking top honors as Hallie’s most persistent and ardent pursuer.
As Hallie, statuesque ex-model Capucine embodies the kind of regal, exotic glamour suitable to a high-priced escort ("Upscale and sophisticated enough to take anywhere!") but  beauty aside, the woman comes off as the least fun hooker you're likely to meet.

Of course, when Dove finally reunites with his wild Texas love with whom he shared his first kiss and more: “Afterwards, in the moonlight...we danced like we was celebrating a miracle. A crazy kind of dance. And then we sang and shouted...like it wasn't real.” (a ridiculous reminiscence rendered laughably inconceivable once we set eyes on the high-cheekboned grandness of Capucine) the romantically idealistic hayseed is a tad slow in catching on as to how Hallie manages to afford all those expensive Pierre Cardin-designed frocks from 30 years in the future; but when he does, heartbroken disillusionment gives way to the usual macho proprietary protectiveness.
The intense dislike Capucine and Harvey had for one another is the stuff of legend
You see, since the film regards Hallie’s lost virtue as something that has been taken from Dove and sees him as the principally wronged party, it’s then up to him to take the necessary steps to secure and safeguard Hallie's soul and body. (As any pro-lifer will tell you, women aren't capable of handling decisions about what they choose to do with their own bodies for themselves.)

Resorting to his father's bible-thumping ways, Dove proselytizes ... I mean, explains ... to an understandably exasperated Teresina (who's busy meanwhile dousing her torch):
 “In the Bible, Hosea fell in love with Gomer. She was a harlot. They got married but she couldn't stay away from men. Hosea got mad and threw her out. Sold her into slavery. But he couldn't get her out of his mind, so he went looking for her. When he found her, he brought her back home. But it was no good. Before long, she was up to her old tricks again. But he loved her anyway and he couldn't give her up. So he took her into the wilderness...away from temptation. Away from other men. And that's what I have to do with Hallie.”
I'm sorry, but we're supposed to buy that these two stunning, continental-looking creatures spent even one minute in dustbowl Texas?
The bulk of Walk on the Wild Side occupies itself with being a romantic triangle-cum-spiritual tug-of-war between Dove (representing honest values and true love) and Jo (representing well-dressed depravity and perversion) with the magnificent but I’m-not-all-that-convinced-she’s-worth-all-this-trouble Hallie at the center.
Happily, by way of distraction we have the welcome reappearance of Kitty, the former boxcar good-time-girl transformed into a garter-snapping sexpot as the newest employee of The Doll House; chipper Southern belle, Miss Precious (the always terrific Joanna Moore – Tatum O’Neal’s mom), a Doll House resident who sleeps on a confederate flag pillow and punctuates even the shortest sentences with “The Colonel always said…” ; and sexy, short-tempered strong-arm-man, Oliver (Richard Rust of Homicidal) who has an eye for the ladies and suede gloves to keep his hands nice and unbruised when he roughs them up. 
Inquiring Minds Want to Know
Menacing roughneck, Oliver (Richard Rust), needs some answers from Kitty 
Posters for Walk on the Wild Side exclaimed, “A side of life you never expected to see on the screen!”, which is not altogether false given you've got a 4-time Oscar-nominee playing one of the screen’s first lesbians (who lives, yet!) and the daring-for-its-time setting of a New Orleans brothel. The rest, alas, is what Hollywood has always done: a) Offer up endless reworkings of the Madonna-whore dichotomy as soap opera and love story, b) attempt to shock and scandalize but only revealing a staunch conservatism and prudery.
Joanna Moore as Miss Precious
A personal favorite and incapable of giving a bad performance, this incandescent actress with the very sad life story is one of the bright spots in Walk on the Wild Side

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
I'm not sure if the genre has been afforded a name beyond "southern gothic", but I am a major fan of the overheated sex and psychosis dramas of Tennessee Williams, William Inge, and Carson McCullers. When these southern-fried potboilers are crossed with a touch of the soap-opera overstatement associated with Harold Robbins, Jacqueline Susann, and Sidney Sheldon ...well, I'm in 7th Heaven. Walk on the Wild Side has all the luridness of Williams, the pretentiousness of Inge, plus all the unintentional humor of anything bearing the stamp of Susann.
There's dialog that sounds as if it were written by a robot; overearnest performances that are nevertheless as limp as clothesline; the ever-present topic of sex that is hinted at and alluded to but never spoken of in even remotely direct terms; and clashing accents left and right -  Texas drawl, Southern twang, Georgia singsong, French, British,  Mexican (sort of).
Riding the Rails
Jane Fonda recalls her father Henry in The Grapes of Wrath in this shot of Dove and Kitty catching a ride in a freight car
Fans of the by-now-anticipated unwillingness and inability of 60s films to remain faithful to the era they're depicting will have a field day with Walk on the Wild Side's interpretation of the Depression era South. Outside of a few automobiles and some distant dress extras, the look is 1961, through and through. A long time ago a friend of mine who once designed costumes for film told me that this is not an unintentional or careless phenomenon. It's an industry's appeal to the contemporary aesthetic tastes of their audience.
We're asked to believe that Hallie, a woman who quotes Eliot and asks johns for Brancusi sculptures as gifts, ever had anything to do with a man as "basic" (read: boring) as Dove 
When a studio is forking over big bucks for a glamour actress, they want the audience to see her as glamorous. The concern is that the baggy fashions and severe makeup styles of the 30s (thin eyebrows, bow lips, thick stockings, figure-concealing frocks, etc) will look odd or comical to 60s audiences.
A point well taken, I concede. but it doesn't address the jarring incongruity of seeing 60s bouffants and bullet bras stepping out of DeSotos.
The late-great Juanita Moore as Mama

PERFORMANCES
Where to start? To say that I enjoy all the performances in Walk on the Wild Side is not at all saying that many of them are any good. If anyone emerges from the chaos with their dignity intact, it's Barbara Stanwyck. Not really called upon to deliver more than a professional, standard-issue Stanwyck tough-broad performance, she's nevertheless the most believably passionate person in the film for me. She wants Hallie and I don't doubt it for a minute. I'm actually rather crazy about Barbara Stanwyck as an actress, anyway. She's one of my favorite classic-era actresses.
The strikingly beautiful Capucine may not be much of an actress, but she's not helped much by a script that asks her to be a non-stop pill from the minute we see her. Male screenwriters are sometimes guilty of writing "beauty" as a character trait in women, and in the case of Hallie Gerard, so little of her passion, restlessness, or joy is captured that we're left to think that she's so desired simply because she's so outrageously pretty. If the Hallie we now see is supposed to represent a broken woman whose life-force has been drained out of her by her having "fallen down the well," all the backstory we're left to imagine requires an actress substantially more skilled than what we're given. You get about as much emotionally out of Capucine here as you would from one of her model photo shoots from the 50s.
Jane Fonda gives the film's liveliest performance. Liberated from the lacquered, overly-mature look adopted for The Chapman Report and Period of Adjustment (both 1962), Fonda is sexier and looser. Perhaps a little too loose in her early scenes. There's something about "earthy" that brings forth the inner ham in actors. Fonda in her early scenes can't seem to keep her finishing school refinement from creeping into her overly-mannered interpretation of Kitty Twist, railway ragamuffin. Parts of her performance have the feel of an over-coached acting school scene. But she's never a dull presence (unlike some of her co-stars) and really comes into her own in the sequences in The Doll house. She looks amazing as well. The cameraman obviously thought so too, for Fonda's shapely backside has arguably as many closeups as her face.
Anne Baxter's terrible Mexican accent ("Wha hoppen?") never fails to reduce me to fits of laughter
Laurence Harvey has always been a favorite of mine (owing at least in part to my tendency to develop matinee crushes on birdlike, Tony Perkins types), but he really seems out of his element here. The thoroughly engaging (and sexy) energy he brought to 1959s Expresso Bongo is nowhere to be seen in the tediously virtuous Dove Linkhorn.

THE STUFF OF FANTASY
Is there some axiom that says the cooler the opening credits sequence, the more likely one is apt to be let down with the film? Outside of the brilliant and stylish art-deco title sequence for Mame which got me all hyped-up only to then lead me down a path of soft-focus croaking, Saul Bass' snazzy, jazz-tinged title sequence for Walk on the Wild Side (assisted immeasurably by the Oscar-nominated Elmer Bernstein, Mack David theme music) sets one up for a film that never materializes.
Edward Dmytryk would go on to direct Richard Burton and Joey Heatherton in Bluebeard.

The beginning and end title sequences are the very best things about Walk on the Wild Side. 
If you've seen the movie, the question that immediately comes to mind is, who took that photo on the left? 
You can take a look at the Saul Bass title sequence on YouTube

THE STUFF OF DREAMS
Walk on the Wild Side is, like the 1976 US/USSR collaboration that resulted in the dreadful musical mistake that was The Bluebird, a film whose backstory is infinitely more interesting than the motion picture released. Conflict-of-interest deals were behind much of Walk on the Wild Side's grab-bag casting (Laurence Harvey was being pushed by the wife of the head of Columbia Studios, while Capucine was being promoted by producer Charles K. Feldman). The film was plagued by constant rewrites, deleted scenes (the internet is full of rumors regarding a curiously missing-in-action hairbrush spanking scene between Stanwyck and Capucine ... be still my heart), costly delays, and a cast that was often openly antagonistic to one another as well as to the director.
Nine years later, Jane Fonda would win a Best Actress Oscar for playing a prostitute in Klute (1971)
The end result is a film that is a disappointment as both drama and love story, but a bonanza of unintentional humor and delicious badness. And you'd be hard pressed to find a more enjoyably watchable film. Easy on the eyes and no strain on the brain, your biggest concern will be stomach cramps from laughing aloud at the dialog.Woefully tame and coy by today's standards, Walk on the Wild Side maintains its historical notoriety as one of the earliest major motion pictures to feature a lesbian character. As the years have passed, the film has revealed itself as a movie with a pretty high behind-the-scenes LGBT pedigree as well. The names of Laurence Harvey, Capucine, and Barbara Stanwyck have all been mentioned in various celebrity memoirs as being gay or bisexual, while Jane Fonda has written in her own autobiography about participating in bisexual three-ways with her husband Roger Vadim.

You'd think a little bit of all that sexual democracy might have wound up on the screen, but no. At best, Walk on the Wild Side remains an entertaining but tame timepiece and cultural curio for those interested in seeing what kind of film Hollywood thought it was ready to tackle during the early days of the abandonment of the Motion Picture Production Code.
Walk on the Mild Side
Copyright © Ken Anderson

14 comments:

  1. Ken, you are on fire!
    What is there left to say?

    I always had the impression Laurence Harvey was livelier in his British films, or why else would Hollywood have given him the big buildup? I watch him in his early '60s flicks and he is so supercilious and stiff...it's like Harvey is always rehearsing for The Manchurian Candidate! Ever see him in Butterfield 8--rhetorical question ; ) Larry is so humorless as heel Liggett you wonder why good time girl Liz Taylor would even let him light her cigarette...much less break her heart!

    I have been surprised to read that Harvey was the life of the party off-camera and was very seductive toward both sexes... and I understand the Harvey physical appeal, he is one of the leanest machines on film...ever catch that moment in The Manchurian Candidate where he and his true love go for a swim...and he is wearing the smallest black swim trunks ever? Another rhetorical question!

    I will have to catch Walk on the Wild Side the next time TCM runs it! Another stellar write-up, Ken ; )

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    1. Hi Rick
      You’re so right about the contrasts in Harvey’s British work and his subsequent US output. They are like the work of two different actors. You see him n something like “Room at the Top” and you totally understand why Hollywood came calling. And yes, as you aptly describe him in “Butterfield 8” , he makes for an odd leading man against so fiery an actress as Taylor. (I really like that movie, but find Eddie Fisher to be like nails on a blackboard in that one. So wholly unappealing. Each time I look at it I am flabbergasted that HE was once considered a heartthrob? Proof positive of Taylor’s grief-born temporary insanity.)
      By the way, I love that all your questions to me here have been “rhetorical” as I am so patently transparent in my likes and interests in movies (Mr. Harvey in his swim trunks).
      Glad you liked the post, and as always, I thank you for your kind words and well-considered comments!

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  2. Hi Ken,

    I haven't looked in for a while so how great was it to find two new essays on trippy cinema!

    You right that the movie isn't very good in the sense of quality film making, although it obviously had a decent budget, but in terms of overheated trash it's the equivalent of two boxes of the very best chocolates. Also I love your reference to Hobo hanky panky.

    It has some lurid fascination but what really delights me is the miscasting in several key roles. It's hard to imagine who they could have cast as Dove, since the role required the brooding melancholy of a Monty Clift, who by this time was a burned out husk, that none of the age appropriate actors of the time possessed. Harvey's petulant dilettante was wrong in every particular. It certainly didn't help that you could sense the complete emnity that he and Capucine had for each other in their scenes.

    Then there's Capucine, a regal and glacial beauty whose cheekbones could have been used as switchblades but whose continental detachement was disastrous as Hallie. Her casting is real head scratcher when the ideal actress was still a box office draw at the time. At least to me Ava Gardner whose beauty by the early sixties had taken on a bruised, lived in quality due to her hard living ways would have been a perfect Hallie, plus she was an actual southerner.

    But their inappropriateness is nothing compared to the ridiculous decision to cast Anne Baxter as a Mexican senorita! A marvel of the pregnant pause and precise phrasing she should have been giving diction lessons not making a spectacle of herself in a part that should have gone to Katy Jurado. However I still delight in the horrible sight of all three.

    Mixed in with those three though are three entirely enjoyable performances for the right reasons. I'm with you that Joanna Moore is touching in her role but the two I like best are Jane Fonda's perky strumpet Kitty Twist and the ultra cool Miss Stanwyck. I know that Jane Wyman turned down Jo Courtney and I can hardly envision her in the role although Susan Hayward could have torn the part up. However Stanwyck owns it, and she looks amazing in her smart 60's fashions, if only that had been the period setting of the story!!

    You mentioned The Chapman Report in relation to Jane Fonda and I have to say I love that movie. It's half moving drama, both Shelley Winters and especially Claire Bloom give lovely touching performances, a quarter daffy comedy with that bewitching pixie Glynis Johns and a quarter unintentional comedy with Jane as a female frigidaire trying to spark life into block of wood Efrem Zimbalist Jr. Wish it was on DVD since they show it so infrequently.

    Lastly I read about all the backstage turmoil involved in the making of this mint julep masterpiece which even caused tension between Jane Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck. Henry Fonda had always said that Missy Stanwyck was his favorite leading lady and they were deep friends with Jane considering her almost an aunt but her intensity at work throw the neophyte young girl and she thought it inhibited her performance in their scenes together. But that was small potatoes compared to the unprofessional behavior of Harvey, apparently a love him or hate type person. Never prepared and indifferent to others needs his contempt for Capucine is well known. Stanwyck won't put up with it, a pro from top to toe she strode up to the lounging Larry knocked his feet down and lit into him in blistering fashion. He laughed and snapped to it whenever they worked together but she was the exception. It wasn't just this film either Lee Remick when asked about working with him on The Running Man refused to discuss the problems but was quoted as saying "The tales I can tell of working with him are too horrendous to repeat."

    Look forward to whatever film you turn your eyes on next.

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    1. Hi Joel
      You’re absolutely right… a film like this may not be a quality film in terms of even a passably realistic depiction of life as we know it, but it is an enjoyable as hell. Something a great many “good” films can’t pull off.
      I love your descriptive takes on the various merits and drawbacks of the actors, and your casting alternatives are really interesting, especially Katy Jurado in the Anne Baxter part (I've always been at a loss for how to describe Baxter’s rather unique speaking style, but you pretty much nailed it. Such a style is murder to bad dialog like this. It gives you too much time to ponder its preposterousness (“I love enough for two!”).

      And yes, Jane Wyman as a consideration for Jo (What was it she said on being asked to play a lesbian?…”Not this girl!” ). As far as I’m concerned, Stanwyck can do no wrong, and she does more with a sneer than most people can with two-hours’ worth of screen time.

      “The Chapman Report” is one of those movies I like as well, although your reminding me of the largely dreadful (to me) Efrem Zimbalist Jr. stirs memories of what I’m less fond of.
      Your comments certainly call attention to how the old Hollywood star system casting helped to ruin the industry. As Europe was turning to a new naturalism, Hollywood insisted on miscasting glamorous faces and well-known names in roles requiring a realism largely alien to some of the old-guard directors.
      But what wasn't good for Hollywood was terrific for lovers of enjoyably bad cinema.
      Terrific comments, Joel. Thanks, and good to hear from you!

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  3. Hi Ken - great write-up on a film that's a true guilty pleasure...just melodramatic and histrionic enough to be absorbing and entertaining, but not descending into the depths of camp.

    This is probably my favorite early Jane Fonda film...drama-wise, at least, because I also love her in Barefoot in the Park. Such a beautiful ingenue she was...hard to believe that the same girl would play Bree Daniels in Klute just a few years later. She totally changed personas after the Vadim years, becoming one of the greatest actors of the 1970s.

    I too LOVE Barbara Stanwyck. She is really one of those plant-your-feet-in-front-of-the-camera-and-tell-the-truth actors in the Spencer Tracy tradition. She is always completely believable in every role, whether it's a suffering single mother in Stella Dallas, an evil femme fatale in Double Indemnity (my personal favorite) or acting on TV as matriarch of a ranch on Big Valley. Another favorite is one of her last roles, the sexy pas de deux with Richard Chamberlain on The Thorn Birds miniseries. Here, I think her tough lesbian characterization is right on the money.

    I also happen to love Laurence Harvey, at least on the screen. He is marvelously menacing and very attractive, as he is in two of my favorite Liz Taylor movies, Butterfield 8 and Night Watch. Any leading man who is good enough for Elizabeth is good enough for me. He died too young.

    Thanks again for reminding me of this very entertaining movie. Forgot that it was directed by Dmytryk, who a couple years later WOULD cross the line into camp with glossy films like The Carpetbaggers.

    I love your taste in film!!

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    1. Hi Chris
      Ha! Glad you like my taste in movies, during my teens, few who knew me would ascribe the word “taste” to my preference in films. More like “odd.”

      This is my favorite early Fonda dramatic role, too. When I was young I could scarcely believe this woman is the one who evolved into the actress in Klute and They Shoot Horses. Such an enviable career turnaround and such versatility, as she is a great light comedienne.

      I like your description of Stanwyck having a “tell the truth” quality about her acting. Perhaps the best description of her particular brand of ageless talent I’ve read. I didn’t appreciate her when I was young, but thanks to TCM I’ve seen so many of her early roles and she is nothing short of amazing. I caught up with The Thorn Birds only about last year and I was blown away by her one big scene. She brought tears to my eyes. And how old was she then?

      And yes, if Harvey passes the Liz Taylor test, then who am I to say otherwise. He is very attractive to me, but he’s no cowboy.
      Thanks again for confirming our continued kinship in the kinds of films we enjoy. I’ll be curious to find out where we deviate.
      I suspect it might be my forthcoming post…
      Always appreciated, Chris!

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  4. That´s a very nice cat in the credits. As you say it is the best part of the movie. Thank you for your very entertaining and informative review of "Walk on the Wild Side" (is that where Lou Reed got the title for his song?).

    I saw it once and thought it was dreadful for all the reasons that you mention: it being so tame when it was trying to be oh-so-daring!, the moralizing, the women portayed as beautiful but intrustful whores, etc. All this made me not like it very much despite its very attractive star cast.

    I find all of the leads in the film (except Anne Baxter) appealing otherwise. So I was sooo disapointed that the film was so dreary and I didn't think of it as campy fun either. I am so tired of the old theme in classic movies that women who can not be virgins or mothers have to automatically be prostitutes and thus sinful and doomed. Was there ever a prostitute that came to a happy end or that became a respected member of society and got the hero in the end? I find so tiresome that the women in this film have to be PUNISHED!

    This film also screamed to be filmed in Technicolor. The black and white photography did not help in my opinion. The only thing I enjoyed was the young Jane Fonda and the glamorous Barbra Stanwyck. How did they convey that she was a lesbian in the film? Did they openly say it or was it suggested? Quite daring of Barbra to take the part.

    Poor lovely Capucine, I adore her but she seemed so miscast in her Hollywood films. She truly radiated a vibe of a 1950s ladylike model, as you say. I totally forgot that beautiful Laurence Harvey was in the film. That tells me how little I enjoyed his character in the film. I haven't heard of the Capucine/Laurence conflict. I would love to hear about it!
    -Wille

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    1. Hello Wille
      In researching this article, I kept coming across references stating that Lou Reed got the title from Nelson’s Algren’s book.
      As you say, it has such an intriguing cast; it’s rather surprising the results don’t quite measure up (your finding it “dreadful” made me smile. I think a lot of folks felt that way).

      The point you make about prostitution in the movies is a good one. There’s this Shirley MacLaine interview floating around the internet in which she makes this great point about how censorship in the 30s and 40s made it necessary for writers to think of ways to put women into films in non-sexual contexts, so there were all these women judges, reporters, career women, etc. When censorship slackened, it was like writers then couldn’t think of any way to include a single sexually interesting woman without making her a prostitute. Since the old fashioned morality stuck, then all these women had to be punished for merely being sexual. It’s like there is no such thing as a sexually active single woman in a classic film who isn’t branded some kind of slut.

      As for Stanwyck being conveyed as a lesbian, it is mostly suggested, but in a code that would remain with film for decades: tailored, manly-cut suits; a no-nonsense demeanor without a trace of traditional femininity; she leers at Capucine a lot; she has a big outburst about men knowing nothing about love.
      In GLBT circles, these movie codes are sometimes seen as very camp, as they were used SO often. And I liken Stanwyck taking this part to the closeted Dirk Bogarde playing a homosexual in The Victim, or Tom Cruise playing a bisexual vampire in interview with a Vampire, or Travolta in drag in Hairspray. There’s a cynical axiom in Hollywood that says the best way to stop the public from gossiping about your being gay is to take on a gay role. I guess there’s something about the public mentality that says “He wouldn’t play gay if he WAS gay!”…little do they know.

      Have you seen Capucine in either What’s New Pussycat? Or The Pink Panther? At least some of her glacial quality is leavened with humor.

      And as for stories about the behind the scenes acrimony between Capucine and Harvey, I think you can find stuff on the net. I mostly revolved around his thinking she couldn’t act and her thinking he wasn’t very manly. And then of course, temperament. They needed more of that passion on the screen.
      Thanks Wille. A wonderful comment with great stuff to think about. You always inspire such LENGTHY responses from me!

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  5. Account of the Harvey-Capucine feud from the essential 1978 book Flesh and Fantasy by Penny Stallings:

    When Barbara Stanwyck first encountered Laurence Harvey lounging in his gold brocade robe and drinking champagne on the set of Walk on the Wild Side, she went right up to him and said, “All right, Larry, let’s go. Get your ass in gear. We’ve got a picture to make and I don’t have time for prima donnas.” Larry was silent for a moment, then he burst out laughing. The two became the best of friends. But he wasn't quite so generous with his leading lady, Capucine. He constantly complained that she didn't know her lines, and at one point even refused to continue filming until she learned how to act. Whereupon *she* stalked off to her dressing room and refused to come out until someone found her a *man* for a co-star, causing Harvey to retort, “Perhaps if you were more of a woman, I would be more of a man. Honey, kissing you is like kissing the side of a beer bottle.”

    Never seen this film, but would like to. Looks irresistible.

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    1. A thousand thanks for providing some contextual backup and quotes re: the face-off of two of Hollywood's most gorgeous faces! The quotes are hilarious. Aside from how good it is to hear from you again (loved the piece you wrote about Ronnie Spector!) you've added immeasurably to this post. Lots of tough-looking "dolls" with big hair at Stanwyck's Doll House here ("Sometimes it don't pay to get out of bed!") so I hope you get a chance to check this move out sometime. Much appreciated!

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  6. Jane Fonda involved in three ways? I can't imagine! It's not that I don't want to imagine it, I just can't. Then again, if I hadn't seen the photos for myself, and you told me Lady Jane would straddle anti-aircraft guns and sit around singing folks songs with the Viet Cong...

    I didn't know of this film before reading the above review--does Jane Fonda hold some type of record for portraying prostitutes on celluloid? Apart from the ones already mentioned, she played a call girl in "Steelyard Blues" (opposite "Klute" co-star Donald Sutherland!). There may be one or two others on top of those!

    Also, not wanting to drift onto a political tangent, but as one who is both pro-life and atheist, I'd like to distance myself from the following type of pro-lifer, the type who believes that "women aren't capable of handling decisions about what they choose to do with their own bodies for themselves."--my pro-life stance is in no way biblically influenced, nor a product of misogyny, I assure you!

    Oh, I also couldn't help notice "Kitty" (Fonda) being placed in care for "juveniles" (as per the newspaper article). How young is she meant to be in this film--can we honestly buy her as a minor? Add to this the prospect of hearing Anne Baxter butcher a Mexican accent, I must look this one up--thanks for posting, Ken!

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    1. Hi Mark

      While imagining Jane Fonda in a 3-way is no stretch for me (after all, in the film "Spirits of the Dead" she almost has an affair with her brother, Peter), i have to say I was surprised in researching this post that she has only portrayed a prostitute in three films (which is plenty, I guess).
      If i were to venture a guess, I'd say Karen Black probably tops any list of actresses most cast as hookers.
      Oh, and Kitty (as per the novel) is supposed to be 17. And if you can buy Laurence Harvey as a Texan, I guess you can buy Fonda as a minor.

      I hope you get around to seeing this movie sometime. Its a very enjoyable film I'm positive you'll like. Thanks for commenting, Mark!

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  7. I confess I am DYING to see this film, in spite of it bad rep (which, of course, heightens my desire!). I've also noticed, as you point out, how Hollywood films of the 50s-60s-70s do nothing to recreate period styles if they're set in the 20s-30s-40s, which I've always found so frustrating. Interesting to note that this is a deliberate choice by filmmakers (which only depresses me, in realizing how dumb filmmakers think audiences are, yet how true those perceptions may be). I will mention one thing about 30s styles and that is, especially during the early 30s, it was the era of fashion design that "cut on the bias" - which means that fabric was cut in a way so that it clung to the body in revealing ways. You'll see this kind of fashion particularly in pre-Code films, in which actresses (think particularly Jean Harlow and Norma Shearer) wear beautiful costumes that cling to their figures and, with spaghetti straps and low-cut backs (or often no backs at all), reveal a great deal of flesh (there's actually very little dress!). I often think that early-30s fashions are some of the most beautiful clothes designed for women. Later in the decade, and heading into the 40s, you got the shoulder pads, the peplums, the pencil skirts, the high-necked blouses, and tailored jackets, all covered in masses of fur (sometimes I look at Crawford in one of her 40s melodramas and wonder how long it took to get dressed).

    But I've been wanting to see Walk on the Wild Side because it does sound like great camp and also because it seems so bizarrely miscast. I can't see Harvey as a farmboy Texan, though he had a particular talent for playing working-class characters, in spite of his aristocratic looks (he's EXCELLENT in both Room at the Top and its sequel, Life at the Top, which I think is even a better film than the former). Capucine always just seemed only good for posing and looking glamorous; and I've always found Anne Baxter to be way over the top in her performances (the more sincere she tries to be, the more artificial she becomes; plus I can't see her as a Mexican - what, Katy Jurado wasn't around?). I hope this is somewhere on DVD, as I will have to check it out!

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    1. You make a good point about those body-clinging gowns of the 30s. Sometimes when I watch a Harlow film or some of those pre-code films, or early Busby Berkeley musicals, the clothes are indeed VERY sexy and flattering to the body.
      I have absolutely no sense of period when it comes to fashion, but I suppose my mind goes to the 1920's when I think of the kind of costumes Shirley Russell came to be known for (thick stockings, baggy dresses, etc.)
      On the topic of Crawford, I recently rewatched "Harriet Craig" and I see what you mean about the clothes...it must have taken hours to leave the house.
      I think you will like "Walk on the Wild Side" because most of its oddness (casting, period detail, performances) make it a fascinating curio. They don't sink the film.
      By the way, the Katy Jurado remark really made me laugh. Chiefly because that role has Jurado's fingerprints all over it. Not sure now I can ever look at the film without imagining her in it. Thank you very much for your always-engaging comments!

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