Wednesday, March 9, 2016

I SAW WHAT YOU DID 1965

My not exactly unfounded opinion of gimmick-driven showman/producer/director William Castle is that he was the man with the Copper Touch. The genial, bargain basement horror schlockmeister had the uncanny talent for making everything he came into contact with feel somehow cheap and derivative.

Take I Saw What You Did, Castle’s teen-targeted follow-up to the poorly-received Barbara Stanwyck feature The Night Walker (a film which, in nabbing the big-name star, he’d hoped would duplicate the success of Joan Crawford’s Strait-Jacket). Its clever, harmless-prank-gone-wrong premise—which seemed to also anticipate the 80s trend in teen horror films— is actually a pretty nifty and original idea for a suspense thriller. But in its execution it comes off as The World of Henry Orient meets “The Telephone Hour” number from Bye Bye Birdieenvisioned as an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
Joan Crawford as Amy Nelson 
Andi Garrett as Libby Mannering
Sara Lane as Kit Austin
John Ireland as Steve Marak
Seventeen -year-old Libby Mannering (Garrett) lives way out in the fog-bound boonies with her parents (Leif Erickson and Patricia Breslin), kid sister Tess (Sheryl Locke), and a menagerie of dogs, ducks, ponies, and goats. While her parents are away on an overnight trip, Libby invites best friend Kit (Lane) over and the girls amuse themselves – as teenagers are wont to do – by making prank phone calls to strangers.
Picking random numbers from the phone book, they pretend to be mysterious “other women,” children abandoned at movie theaters, or merely poke fun at people with names “asking for it” names like John Hamburger and Donald I. Leak. What sets the suspense plot in motion is when they start calling people and whispering cryptically into the mouthpiece: “I saw what you did, and I know who you are.” A harmless enough, all-purpose head game which blows up in their faces when it just so happens one of their phone-victims (Ireland) has just killed his wife and takes the call seriously. Dead seriously.
I Saw What You Did marks the acting debut of high-schoolers Andi Garrett (17) & Sara Lane (15).
Making 9-year old Sharyl Locke (as Tess Mannering) the show business veteran in this shot

Where does top-billed Joan Crawford fit into all this? Joan plays John Ireland’s 50-something neighbor with the pre-teen babysitter name of Amy Nelson. Amy, with whom Ireland has been carrying on behind his wife’s now knife-perforated back, is part Gladys Kravitz, part Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, so small wonder he’s beginning to show signs of having second-thoughts before the film even clues us in on the nature of their relationship.
Crawford’s role is really a high-profile cameo, but, Crawford being Crawford, she makes every onscreen second count by giving each of her scenes at least ten times the emotion required.
I Saw What You Did reunited real-life (clandestine) lovers and co-stars Joan Crawford and John Ireland, who appeared together in 1955's Queen Bee.

I Saw What You Did was adapted from the 1964 novel Out of the Dark by Ursula Curtiss. I’ve never read the book, but I have a hard time imagining it having as much trouble establishing a sustained and consistent tone as Castle does with his film. Sabotaged at every turn by a distracting (and annoying) musical score better suited to a family sitcom or Hanna-Barbera cartoon, I Saw What You Did is a pleasant enough diversion, working in fits and starts as a light comedy and taut suspenser. That being said, the film rarely ever seems to be of a single mind and comes off mostly like three TV programs spliced together to make a feature film.

Show #1 is a pleasant teen comedy of the Gidget/The Patty Duke stripe, comically exploring the social habits of ‘60s teens. Show #2 is one of those twisty noir thrillers in which lovers with secrets to hide keep playing one-upmanship games on one another. Show #3—the core premise of the film and most effective element (when it’s allowed to be)—the harmless prank that’s taken too far and goes dangerously awry.
Although 60-something Joan Crawford had no problem portraying a woman 30 years her junior when she subbed for her daughter in the soap opera Secret Storm in 1968, she is said to have balked at the idea of 25-year-old Christina Crawford campaigning for one of the teenage roles in I Saw What You Did. Three years later, Christina's desire to play the daughter in Berserk was met with similar disinterest.

For all his faults as a director, William Castle, thanks largely to his eye for bizarre material and his na├»ve genius for mining unintentional camp in every performance and line reading, makes entertaining movies that remain watchable almost in parallel proportion to one’s awareness that they’re not really very good.

I Saw What You Did benefits from an engaging cast of youngsters and a genuinely suspenseful premise all of us of a certain age can relate to (with today’s caller ID technology, I don’t suppose kids make crank calls anymore…not with the joys of cyberbullying to distract them). Though conspicuously padded out and sorely lacking in as much Joan Crawford “realness” as I’d like, I Saw What You Did is situated somewhere between being one of Castle’s best (Homicidal, Strait-Jacket) and his worst (Zotz, The Old Dark House, The Busy Body).
Leif Erickson and Patricia Breslin as Dave and Ellie Mannering
Both are William Castle alumni. Erickson appeared in Strait-Jacket, and Breslin starred in Homicidal 

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM 
As much as I’m entertained by I Saw What You Did, there’s no denying that for me, frustration is as defining a characteristic of the William Castle viewing experience as a cheesy promotional gimmick. Frustration born of seeing one promising story idea after another given the blandest, flattest treatment possible.
I don’t know whether it was ego or ambition that led Castle to invest his meager talents toward trying to emulate the careers of his idols Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock, but whatever it was had the curious effect of moving him to where he was most accomplished (producing and promotion) and blinding him to where he was least (directing).

As I’ve stated before, William Castle isn’t a bad director in the Ed Wood vein, he’s mostly just artless and mediocre. In fact, had Castle not been so consumed with wanting to be one of the big players in motion pictures, I’m sure he would have found much more success (and considerably more respect) in television; a realm where mediocrity is not only encouraged but in most cases required.
William Castle - Master of Composition and Framing
This kind of pedestrian, line 'em up, nail the camera to the floor shot would look right at home on 1965 television. Indeed, shorn of about 20 minutes of its running time, I Saw What You Did would probably have played better as a 1-hour episode of one of those suspense anthology TV programs so popular at the time

That being said, I’d be lying if I inferred that I don’t find some of Castle’s movies to be a great deal of fun. And by fun I mean disposably watchable fun in the way that B-movies and Drive-In exploitation films are fun. One enjoys them because, by virtue of their wholesale inconsequence, they give us permission to indulge the junk-food side of the cineaste appetite.

PERFORMANCES 
The stars of I Saw What You Did are the two teenage “discoveries” making their film debuts: Andi Garrett and Sara Lane. Speaking perhaps volumes about Castle’s directorial skills, the observable amateurism of these neophytes blends seamlessly with the caliber of performance typical of a William Castle production. In fact, both girls are engagingly natural in their roles, and awkward in ways both appropriate and believable to their characters. Little 9-year old Sharyl Locke, however, poses no immediate threat to the memory of Margaret O’Brien.
An interesting angle centering around adolescent sexual precocity is introduced when the girls, 
intrigued by Steve Marak's voice on the phone, stake out his house in hopes of 
getting a glimpse of the "sexy" older man.

After hitting pay dirt with Joan Crawford in Strait-Jacket, William Castle hoped to corral her for The Night Walker, but she declined, having already signed to reteam with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? co-star Bette Davis in Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte. When Crawford got sick during the making of that film (sick of Bette Davis) and had to drop out, Castle offered the uninsurable health-risk star top-billing and a $50,000 paycheck for a 4-day cameo in this little opus. 
Ever the style-icon, Joan Crawford's elaborate bouffant looks to have inspired
 the coiffure adopted by Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)
In her forays into low-budget cinema, Crawford took to wearing clothes from her own closet.  
This extreme example of suburban glamour (outsized  hair, scoop-necked frock, and ginormous necklace) calls to mind the Afrocentric glamour getup of another diva favorite: Diana Ross in Mahogany

Crawford’s character and story arc is not the major focus of I Saw What You Did; but judging by the intensity of her performance, you’d probably have had trouble convincing Crawford of that fact. Because I’m such a Crawford fan, I think she’s wonderful in that camp, overarching way that typified so many her late-career performances. I can never tell if she outacts the others or merely overacts, but every one of her scenes is charged with a tension and electricity noticeably absent elsewhere in the film.
"I'm going to give you a nice, stiff drink."
(followed by the most superfluous sentence in movie history)
"I'm going to have one myself!"

THE STUFF OF FANTASY
Did I mention how much I disliked this film’s musical score? Oh, I did?…well, when the music isn’t doing its best to undercut the action onscreen, I Saw What You Did mines a pretty fair amount of suspense out of the mounting trouble the girls unwittingly get themselves into with their silly phone prank and follow-up activities to get a look at the guy on the other end of the line.
There’s a brutal Psycho-inspired murder early on that could have been very disturbing had it not been shot so incompetently (thanks, Mr. Castle, I guess). And since Castle has such a reputation for derivative homages, a “surprise” murder in the third act feels instead like it was merely just a long time in coming.
Luckily, Joan Crawford is on hand to provide the one truly chilling moment of the film.
Catching Libby peering into Steve's window and jumping to the conclusion that the gray-curious teen has designs on her man, Joan (ahem, Amy) launches into a memorably violent assault and slurred-speech tirade that brings those "night raids" passages in Christina Crawford's Mommie Dearest to vivid life.


THE STUFF OF DREAMS
I grew up as the only boy among four sisters, so the rare occurrence of a movie with a teenage girl as the protagonist was well-nigh a must-see TV occasion in our house. I Saw What You Did, The World of Henry Orient (1964), and The Trouble With Angels (1966) are all a kind of happy blur in my mind because each was such a favorite of my sisters when we were young. I cannot even count how often I've seen these films, yet every time brings back memories of the times my sisters and I would sit around the family B&W television set and laugh.
Of course, I Saw What You Did holds a special place in our hearts because when our parents were away, my sisters and I played similar silly phone pranks. Nothing as provocative as what's said in the film - and mind you, I'm not the least bit proud of this - but we'd call up pizza and take-out joints and and place party-sized orders for addresses we got out of the phone book. The only variance I recall was to call strangers and pretend to be a radio DJ offering a chance to win a prize if they could answer a simple question (Q: Who's the sexiest male recording artist today? A: Tom Jones). I have no idea what prize we offered or how the hell we even got away with it, what with our kiddie-sounding voices. Ah, youth!
If I Saw What You Did ultimately fails to live up to the level of thrills promised on this high-strung poster, it is, thanks largely to the deeply-in-earnest contributions of Joan Crawford and William Castle's determination to keep things moving (even at the cost of a sustained tone), a movie I enjoy a great deal. Like one of those not-very-scary house of horrors at small town amusement parks.


BONUS MATERIAL


Sara Lane & Sharyl Lock pose with one of the oversized phones William Castle arranged to have placed outside select theaters to promote the film. According to his memoirs, when the movie resulted in a rash of crank calls in the cities showing the film, the phone company had the prop phones removed


                                                                                           ZombosCloset.com
 I don't know if I mentioned this before, but I really hate the musical score for I Saw What You Did. Oh, I did? Well, wouldn't you know it; in addition to to the usual William Castle gimmicks: intended but never used - seat belts for the prevention of you being shocked out of your seat; there was an actual 45 single of the vocal version of the I Saw What You Did theme song sung by a girl-group calling themselves The Telltales. Music by longtime William Castle composer Van Alexander, lyrics by Jerry Keller, a singer/songwriter who had a pop hit in 1959 "Here Comes Summer"  (which is actually pretty good).

I Saw What You Did was updated and remade as a TV movie in 1988 (cue the fried perms and shoulder pads) with Shawnee Smith and Tammy Lauren as the phone-loving teens. Brothers Robert and David Carradine co-star. You can watch it in its entirety (for now) on YouTube HERE


I Saw What You Did, And I Know Who You Are
Copyright © Ken Anderson

27 comments:

  1. Ken,
    Not sure what I loved most about this...Your Tom Jones prank or the Diana Ross/Gary Oldman comparisons. This is one of those movies I've seen quite a few times, and each time going into it I remember thinking it's better than it is. That's probably because of Crawford, only in a few scenes, but she's so monstrously commanding. When she slurs "Get outta here!" you can almost smell the booze.

    And you're right--it is so Henry Orient, and Trouble with Angels. When my very accommodating mother took me to the drive-in to see it, I was surprised that it wasn't billed with another horror film. Instead, the co-feature was the completely forgotten teen-rebellion movie Wild Seed with Michael Parks (who would fill me with awe, but in a different way than Crawford.) So, many thanks for taking me back to my nine-year-old self!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Max
      Wow…talk about taking me back, I haven’t thought of or heard mention of “The Wild Seed” in AGES! I saw it on TV many, many moons ago when I was a kid and had a crush on Michael Parks from first seeing him in “The Happening”.
      Anyhow, on to ISWYD – When I look back on those phone pranks, I am honestly a little ashamed of myself. These days I tend to forget how easy it is to be silly and short-sided when you’re young, and how your idea of “fun” can be a waste of time and money for strangers. But that Tom Jones prank surely dates me and shows where my heart was at at such an early age, even though it would be years before my head got the message..
      I’d read that Joan “surprised” the young actress by improvising the grabbing of her hair. Seems that the young actress was anticipating too much in rehearsals and Joan (what with her years of experience with Christina) knew that the unexpected was the best way to get a natural reaction.
      This is the first film where Joan actually looked as tiny as she was (5’ 3”) – her hair just overpowered her! Thanks so much, Max!

      Delete
  2. This movie is SO MUCH FUN... in parts. Namely, any time La Crawford is on screen. I always felt that the young girls (and their voices) wear thin pretty swiftly and John Ireland does bring the menace, but - for me anyway - Crawford IS the film. She just has a presence that makes everything else seem like a near waste of time.

    I cracked up at the "superfluous" comment with the drinking and also applaud you for pointing out the lunacy of her character's name. Crawford is about the least "Amy"-like person fathomable! Her necklace in this movie - appropriate or not - is my life. And no matter how many times I see it, I get an inner thrill during her trip to the car to confront those girls! Ha ha! Come on... who else could provide just that level of devotion to the moment? (Dunaway maybe?)

    Thank you for profiling this hoot and for accurately pointing out its banalities as well as its attributes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies

    1. Hi Poseidon
      ”(Crawford) just has a presence that makes everything else seem like a near waste of time.” I so agree. And the worse the film, the more apparent that fact.
      Most likely due to my fondness for 60s beach party/rock & roll films, the girls in ISWYD never bother me much. In fact, I wish Castle had given them better material, they’re very likeable for me. But Joan really is the major reason I like this film and why it’s so much fun. It would be somewhat intolerable without her.

      Yes, that name “Amy” just sounds so weird (like with that older character actress Hope Summers who appeared in a lot of William Castle movies and played Aunt Bee’s frenemy on “Andy Griffith”…the name seems too young for the individual).
      Speaking of age, I’m old enough to remember when huge, chandelier like earrings and big, breastplate-like necklaces of fake gems was a thing- especially among the older, Virginia Graham types.
      And I can’t think of a soul but Dunaway who could handle that car confrontation scene with so much intensity. Crawford/Dunaway have really melded into one, haven’t they?
      Thank you, Poseidon!

      Delete
  3. Ken, I was drinking a cup of coffee when I started reading this post. It was so funny that I spit coffee out twice laughing while reading this! Your timing couldn't have been better as I just watched Torch Song, another Joan opus, last night on TCM.

    This movie is a particular favorite of my sisters and I. We saw it one summer back in the 79s. My mom had decided she didn't like the wallpaper (remember that?) In the living room and dining room. It became the job of my two sisters and I to remove it. A slow tedious process when we found three more layers of old wallpaper underneath. To help us pass the time, my dad set up the TV betweethe two rooms so we could watch while we scraped. This is when we first saw I Saw What You Did.

    Even as teens/adolescents we knew camp when we saw it. And, of course, whenever we saw Joan we immediately reference Carol Burnett's incarnation in the memorable Mildred Fierce and Torchy Song spoofs. (Still funny by the way.)

    We had only one phone in the house so we didn't have the opportunity to make crank calls. But I do remember my Mom admonishing us to not "get any ideas" from the movie.

    Your dead-on summation of the film's wonders and woes is hilarious. In my memory, I recalled Joan's role as the lead, maybe that's just because at that stage of her career a little Joan went a long way.

    Now, with perspective of time - and age - I do admire Joan and pity her at the same time. You have to respect her for her professionalism even in drek, her absolute Star quality and command of the screen, and for her sheer courage in trying to keep her career afloat. I feel sorry
    For the desperation she must have felt to remain a "star" and the hideous mannequin she had become as her looks morphed from beauty to mannish caricature.

    For quite sometime my sisters and I would use the phrase "I saw what you did and I know who you are" to tease and amuse each other. I know today, 40+ years later, if I said "I saw what you did..." To either of my sisters, they would respond "...and I know who you are!"

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

    PS I can't believe Poseidon didn't mention Joan's hair in his comment!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Roberta
      I should be thanking YOU for sharing that great memory of the first time you and your sisters saw ISWYD. It’s such a dated, sitcom depiction teenage life I can well imagine how funny the film must have seemed.
      This post following all that Joan Crawford on TCM lately must have made you feel somewhat inundated, but your sympathetic take on what it must have been like for her to have to bring her prodigious talents to material like this feels very much like the subtext that accompanies viewing all Crawford’s latter efforts.

      My sisters and I share similar pop-culture bonds – phrases we can say or references we can allude to – that last to this day. It’s charming to think of such a thing happening with you and your sisters and the line “I saw what you did.”
      Nostalgia-filled comments like yours always reinforces why I love movies so much. They so often capture specific moments, isolated interactions, and inspire long-lasting memories both of the film and of our lives at the time we saw them.
      I’m very pleased you found my post amusing, and I say thanks again for sharing such a cute memory (and I’m glad your mom stopped you girls from “getting any ideas” about misusing the phone!)

      Oh…and you’re right – given Poseidon’s fondness for big hair in movies, I can only assume his not referencing Crawford’s towering crown of falls is because he probably already did somewhere on his blog!

      Delete
    2. You know me too well, Ken! I did include Joan's hair on a post years ago called "Hairway to Heaven!" I like her hair here, but my favorite of hers was in (the, for her, uncompleted "Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte.") Not content, I also did a post all about movie necklaces and highlighted Joan's considerable one in that! http://neptsdepths.blogspot.com/2015/01/wringing-some-necklaces.html Thanks!!

      Delete
  4. Replies
    1. I know...such a promotional stretch for Castle! it certainly had ME running to the dictionary.Reminds me of the heyday of TV commercials for products that threw words at us like "Retsyn!" or "Chlorinol 3!"

      Delete
  5. This used to be on TV all the time back when I was a kid. I lost count how many times I've seen it. I remember many of the scenes but forgot about the wretched cartoon-like music. My brother and I loved this movie mostly because we were prank phone call artists. We did all sorts of things from calling the animal control people to rescue non-existent cats from trees or complain about a rotting animal carcass (I opted fro odd exotic animals like a kinkajou, my brother went the absurd route with elephants and ostriches) in the middle of a busy road to creating fake contests and asking silly questions just like you did. I've been wanting to read the book for a long time now. Ursula Curtiss was a superb suspense writer (it ran in the family as her mother Helen Reilly and sister Mary McCarthy were also mystery novelists) and I know that the book has got to better than the movie. I'm very curious if the shower murder complete with shattering glass door is in the book. BTW, Curtiss' other claim to cinematic fame is that she wrote the book The Forbidden Garden which later became Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice? with a fabulously demented performance from Geraldine Page as an avaricious killer of spinster senior citizens.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey John!
      I’m sensing the phone pranking thing was a part of people’s youth in direct proportion to how much alone time parents afforded their kids. This is the first time I’ve ever heard of the ol’ animal control gambit, though. Strangely enough, I’ve never been on the receiving end of a prank call.
      Although I was aware of Ursula Curtiss having written “The Forbidden Garden” (mainly because Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice? Is one of my favorites. Page is SO good in that), but I didn’t know she came from a writing family. I tend to stay away from the temptations of Ebay these days, but one day I too would like to read Out of the Dark, just to see how closely it hews to Castle’s film. I’d be especially surprised if the shower murder is in it, chiefly because Psycho was such an obsession with Castle (I think he felt Hitchcock ripped HIM off) I imagine he had been wanting to do a shower murder in a movie since Homicidal.
      Good to hear from you again, John. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

      Delete
  6. I remember watching this on TV. The only fun parts are when Joan is on view. I always remembered that huge necklace. I thought who dresses like that in burbs? No one I knew. Even a rabid gorgon has more delicacy than Joan in some of those later menopausal melodramas she did.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Michael
      Indeed, if it's true Castle paid Crawford $50,000 for four days work, it was money very well spent, for she is the best and most memorable element of the film.

      Even though she's supposed to be playing an immensely wealthy widow ("We can go anywhere in the world!") her outfit can't help but elicit giggles. Unless we're to believe she's just returned from a swank cocktail party. A detail which would certainly go a long way toward explaining her slurry speech and sometimes unsure footing.

      Delete
  7. Ken--You've got the Castle Canon covered now, don't you?

    Funny comparing Joan in "Queen Bee" and a decade later in "I Saw." From camp to kabuki! Here, Joan's gem-normous necklace looks like it's from the Wilma Flintstone collection! And how many falls do you think JC is sporting to achieve that bouffant?

    That scene where Joan catches the girls and reads them the riot act is like watching "Sybil" meets "Mommie Dearest"--first she's slurring/screaming "Geddaouddahere!" Then she gives that sour milk pout: "Honey, yer juss too young." Then JC lunges into the camera,"Now, get outta here!!!" The first time I saw this I recoiled in horror and then laughter!

    And Joan's scenes with Ireland, stumbling around the living room, I was hoping she had a LifeCall monitor under that necklace ; )

    This movie is so bizarre in its mashup of genres (Castle trying to appeal to all audiences?) that it becomes, once again, a hilariously entertaining bad William Castle production.

    Off-topic but interesting is that Joan had a big ole fling with John Ireland's big ole thing while making "Queen Bee." He was under the impression he and Joan were dating, until he read in the papers that Mommie married Mr. Pepsi. Wonder what they chatted about while making this epic?

    Cheers, I think I'm going to re-watch "I Saw What You Drank" and wash it down with a spiked Pepsi!

    Rick

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Rick
      Very perceptive! Yes, I think I’ve covered all the William Castle films I genuinely enjoy. Joan Crawford was the best thing that ever happened to him (not counting Robert Evans and Roman Polanski).
      Tiny little Joan really looks to be overpowered by both her hair and that necklace in this movie. Wondering how she balances all that in those tiny high heels is the real source of suspense in ISWYD.

      It’s actually funny (both in this comments section and everywhere I researched the film online) how much attention that huge necklace garners. Your description of what turns out to be the film’s genuine setpiece (the car encounter) is hilariously on-point. Especially the “Sybil” reference apropos Joan’s whiplash mood swings within that short scene.

      Also your comment about Castle trying to make his film everything to everybody is a point well-taken. Personally, I’ve always thought Castle’s eagerness to please was the reason his movies were so entertaining, but also why they seemed to lack any individuality or creative point of view.

      I’d heard that Ireland and Crawford had a fling during the making of “Queen Bee,” but I didn’t know the stuff about his finding out about her marriage. Speaking of which (Pepsi husband, wise) unless I missed it, how did this movie get by without a Pepsi product placement? She had to shoehorn those bottles in in other films, but a movie about teenagers was a natural.
      Thanks for your entertaining comment, Rick!

      Delete
  8. I have a feeling your post will bring in the prank-call reminiscences in the comments; but I do remember my brothers and I having beer and pizza delivered to unsuspecting neighbors (one time erupting into a nasty argument between the ex-Marine who lived across the street and an innocent delivery man), and also doing the old standby of pretending to be the electric-and-gas company checking on power outages and asking if the refrigerator is running ("It is? Then catch it!"). What I remember best in this film are Crawford's scenes with Ireland (one of my LEAST favorite actors) because of the tension that really seemed to exist between them (no surprise discovering that they were ex-lovers). Crawford did not look good in this movie (maybe she should have sued Castle's cinematographer; she looked much better in her later film Berserk), and I found that giant necklace she wore actually distracting while I watched; you keep wondering just WHERE did this dowdy suburban lady pick it up from (a relic from the court of Versailles, perhaps?). A great post; I love how you nail Castle's shortcomings as a director but can appreciate how much schlocky fun his films are.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi GOM
      Your recounting of the phone pranks you and your brothers played calls attention to the “flaw” behind the ol’ pizza gambit my sisters and I played: we always chose the addresses of strangers so we never got to see how our games played out. It never occurred to us to choose an address where we could see the non-transaction take place,
      Or if we did, perhaps we suspected all eyes would turn to the bratty kids’ house and we’d be implicated.
      We also never tried the “gag” call like your refrigerator joke (nor the Prince Albert in the can one or asking someone to page Mike Hunt).

      One of these days you have to elaborate on why John Ireland is one of your least favorite actors (maybe you’ve mentioned it why your blog). He never did much for me, but I’ve always liked that he had eyes like a lizard.
      I laughed aloud at your reaction to the way Joan was photographed and your being distracted by that impossible-to-not-remark-upon necklace of hers. Cinematographer Joseph Biroc had plenty of experience filming teens on phones, having shot Bye Bye Birdie, but he also shot a great many other Ann-Margret movies, so you’d think he know a few glamour lighting tricks…even for a high-contrast thriller like this.

      Sometimes reading comments like yours and those above is like watching the movie with friends. I think we all would make a helluva commentary track on a DVD! Thanks!

      Delete
  9. Ken--you truly do cover everything: classics, obscure gems, and campy favorites like this. And you treat all the subjects with respect and, where appropriate, reverence and, where appropriate, gleefully raucous appreciation. For so many reasons, I keep your site bookmarked.

    Does anyone else remember Joan's early-1970s muscular dystrophy PSAs? There was one where she said "in dreams he runs, in dreams he runs, but only in dreams." I couldn't find it on YouTube, but there was this one. Joan's careful MGM enunciation on full display: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=gAEI0GXz-xg

    By the way, I mean no disparagement of muscular dystrophy victims or research, I was just curious if anyone else remembered Joan's PSAs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Deb, what an awfully kind and flattering comment about the blog. Thank you!
      I seem to have a memory of that PSA you speak of, but for the life of me I can't think where I might have seen it. I thought perhaps it was an extra on one of my Crawford DVDs but no such luck. I'm only aware that I saw it as an adult, not when they originally aired.

      Joan had a reputation for charity generosity and there's a YouTube clip of her on a Jerry Lewis Telethon (with Christina, not letting the poor young woman have even a second of screen time to herself) and that MGM enunciation you mention is in full effect. Along with those false, meaningful pauses indicating sincerity. Independent of what might be sincerely in her heart, it's not exactly one of her more convincing performances.
      Flattered to be bookmarked by you, Deb. Thanks!

      Delete
    2. Joan occasionally liked to "perform" poetry on talk or variety shows in the '60s. You can see her recite Desiderata on The David Frost Show in 1970. Here's a clip of her reading a poem about children on The Hollywood Palace. She's actually quite good, but also quite grand! And yes, she brought her falls with her!
      Bless you, as Joan liked to say ; ) Rick
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXQBZdyw71s

      Delete
    3. Boy...when Joan Crawford gives a "dramatic" reading, she means dramatic! But as you say, she is good.
      I can only imagine it's the Grand Lady aura she exudes in this clip that drove Yankee Dame Bette Davis to distraction.
      Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Rick!

      Delete
  10. I don't think I've seen this one since TV. It seemed for a while that Saturday afternoon (not night) horror shows on WOR intentionally booked "kids in danger" flicks like this, Castle's Let's Kill Uncle, and The Nanny with Bette Davis.

    Except for Strait Jacket, Castle lost it after that great run from Macabre through Mr. Sardonicus. And maybe Hollywood didn't need a horror schlockmeister in the mid-60s. Even Corman and AIP had moved on to beach parties and bikers. Horror was coming from overseas (Universal retreads from Hammer, Japanese Kaiju for the kiddies, sexed-up European horror for older audiences) and low-rent indies. But apart from hag horror, not much from the studios.

    Maybe Castle didn't lose it, but his audience moved on. Buying Rosemary's Baby showed he still had the instincts, but if he'd directed it, I don't think it would've connected with the audience like it did.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi MDG
      You're so right in noting that this tame horror film (excluding that tonally off murder scene) feels like Saturday matinee fodder.
      Even after reading William Castle's memoir it's difficult to get any sense of his being aware that by the mid-60s, times had moved on and that even the B-movies were upping their game (your reference to the British horror invasion of Hammer Films) while he still delivered films that looked and felt like they came out of the 50s.
      Castle wanted to be Hitchcock, but he wasn't even an Aldrich or Corman. And my hearts stops imagining what "Rosemary's Baby" would have turned out to be in his less than capable hands.

      Delete
  11. Oy this sequence of Joan movies are both an endlessly series of joys and sorrows for a Crawford fan. In one aspect it shows the indomitability of Joanie to never give up nor let down her personal professional standard no matter the surrounding mire but on the other it's like slowing down on the highway to sneak a peek at a major pile-up that you don't really want to see.

    Since her contribution to this one is brief it's a small capsule of all the things that made up this last phase of her career. Immense hair, check. Important jewelry, check. Dragon lady persona, check. Pushing everyone else out of the frame with the power of her star quality, double check.

    It's been years since I've seen this but I've never forgotten that almost living thing she wears around her neck. It's like a small planet!!

    Wonderful write-up as always Ken of a programmer that would be utterly forgotten if not for the presence of MISS Crawford in the cast.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Joel
      Your description of what it's like being a Crawford fan and being faced with the spoils of her "No part is beneath me!" attitude is on the mark.
      It's like when Faye Dunaway started appearing in weird things like "Dunston Checks In" or some of those odd TV movies; part of you is glad to see her working, another wishes she retired on a high note, leaving folks to remember Chinatown and and Network.
      Joan (and her necklace) certainly dominate here, but the sad thing of course is that with this material and cast, it really didn't take much to upstage.
      Reminds me of that line in "Funny Lady" where James Caan compliments Streisand's star power when she enters his nightclub saying "Miss Brice, you really know how to part the waters" and she responds "Kid, it ain't difficult to part the water in a bathtub."
      Thanks, Joel

      Delete
  12. Wonderful piece, Ken.
    I saw and loved all of the William Castle pictures when I was growing up in the 1960s - now I find it hard to believe that even my pre-teen self didn't register the ineptness of nearly all of his films. (Maybe the first sign that I was growing up came when I thought 'Zotz' & '13 Ghosts' were rip-offs.)
    Castle was truly a brand name for kids of that period and we didn't dream of missing anything he did.
    I remain eternally grateful to Robert Evans for refusing to allow Castle to direct 'Rosemary's Baby' even though Castle held the rights to the Ira Levin novel. Can you imagine what that movie would have been like with Castle in charge?
    For me now, the producer/director's real claim to fame is his exchange with Julie Christie in 'Shampoo.'
    Ah, nostalgia!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Joe
      You're awfully kind, thank you! You're right in saying that the kids knew William Castle's name, and he supplied "something" that the drive-in/matinee crowd wanted (perhaps frights that were fun, not unsettling). Still, it does surprise me how craft seemed to elude him his entire career.
      I think a wonderful film school thesis project would be to make "Rosemary's Baby" as William Castle might have done it were he allowed. I just KNOW he would have showed the baby, and it would have been a waxy, fake-looking thing. I'm not a big fan of Robert Evans, but I am grateful he saw the writing on the wall with that wonderful book and Castle's limitations.
      Your reference to his scene with Julie Christie in "Shampoo" genuinely made me smile. I sometimes forget that wonderful exchange. Thanks, Joe!

      Delete