“There oughta be a law against dames with claws.”
Straight out of Poverty Row, what Detour (1945) lacks in budget, it makes up for in style. Written by Martin Goldsmith (The Twilight Zone) and starring Tom Neal and the inimitable Ann Savage, Detour is to film noir what The Public Enemy (1931) is to the gangster flick: it isn’t the first in its genre but it’s certainly one of the most definitive and influential. In A Pictorial History of Crime Films (1975), author Ian Cameron calls Detour “well in the running to being the cheapest really good talkie to come out of Hollywood.”
There’s no Public Enemy-style grapefruit in Detour but if there was, it would undoubtedly be Ann Savage smashing the breakfast fruit into Tom Neal’s face and not the other way around. As Vera, the unhinged hitchhiker whom our wide-eyed protagonist Al Roberts (Neal) has the misfortune of picking up, Savage is the most dangerous of all film noir dames: the femme who puts the “fatal” in femme fatale.
Continue reading “A Savage Detour into Hell: Review of Detour (1945), the (Tough) Mama of Film Noir.”
“We are the weirdos, mister.”
After Nancy (Fairuza Balk) uttered the infamous line in The Craft (1996), the audience at last night’s Revue Cinema screening burst into fervent applause. Many in attendance were in their thirties and forties and probably, like me, nostalgia-tripping former teenage outcasts.
As a lonely, imaginative girl, I loved was obsessed with The Craft and its story of four teenage witches, played by Balk, Neve Campbell, Rachel True and Robin Tunney, who use their powers to wreak havoc on the dumb jocks and the mean girls at their Catholic high school. In 1996, there were very few spaces where teenage girls could feel powerful. We were told (by society, television and YM magazine) that the only way to obtain any sort of power was through our physical appearance and our relationships with boys: two things that were beyond our control since you can’t really dictate how someone else sees or reacts to you. And any “power” based on physical beauty is precarious when we live in a society that equates being beautiful with being young. If beauty is power and youth is beauty, than that power is ephemeral. I knew that when I was 16 and I know that now. One of the very few media outlets in the 1990s where teenage girls did have a voice was the fiercely fun and feminist Sassy Magazine, which sadly folded in 1996. The Craft filled a void. The vicarious power-fantasy fulfillment was enough to (almost) forgive and forget its disappointingly anti-feminist ending.
The witches in The Craft are direct descendants of Theda Bara (pictured), the silver screen’s first “bad girl” and the woman who made the word “vamp” both a noun and a verb. In A Fool There Was (1915), the film that catapulted her to fame, Bara chews up scenery (and men) as a liquor pushing, sexually aggressive vampire. This vamp doesn’t drink blood though: rather Bara slowly drains the will to live from her male victims by eating away at their dignity. “Kiss me, my fool!” she famously purrs but beware: her kiss renders “respectable” men destitute and depraved. Buried alive under the rubble of their broken lives, still her victims beg her for more. Bara’s appetite for destruction is never satiated and, unlike Nancy in The Craft, she never loses her power.
– Heather Babcock
Saratoga (1937) is most notable for being Jean Harlow’s last film: she died of kidney failure during filming and a stand-in was used for her remaining scenes. The film was released on July 23rd, 1937, only a little over six weeks after her death. In Saratoga, Harlow (who really should be remembered as much for her impeccable comic timing as for being a sex goddess) stars alongside a “who’s who” of 1930’s Hollywood talent including Clark Gable, Hattie McDaniel, Lionel Barrymore and Una Merkel. For the most part, the film is a delightful romantic comedy buoyed by the chemistry of its cast. A dark cloud hovers over the film’s final 15 or 20 minutes though when Harlow suddenly disappears and a skinny imposter, face hidden and voice dubbed, takes her place, like the Grim Reaper in a sun bonnet. The most lively, vivacious woman in Hollywood vanishes right before our eyes.
Heather Babcock, 2019