Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated Thrillers - Nitrate Diva ""

Friday, November 14, 2014

Underrated Thrillers - Nitrate Diva

The Nitrate Diva writes and obsesses about all things related to old film, from campy to classyCheck out her blog, find her on Twitter (@NitrateDiva), or browse at her film GIFs on Tumblr.
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Thirteen Women (George Archainbaud, 1932)
One of my favorite pre-Code films, this witches’ brew of repressed anxieties, racial tension, and catty aggression is like a women’s melodrama gone very, very wrong.Harnessing the power of suggestion, mixed-race temptress Ursula Georgi (a hypnotic Myrna Loy, in her exotic vamp mode) exacts retribution against the privileged women who excluded her from their clique at school and uses her victims’ own minds against them.

As Ursula destroys her enemies, sending them to various gruesome ends, she sets out a blueprint for every revenge thriller to follow. (I also did an extended review of this one, which you can read here, if you’re interested.)

Gaslight (British versionThorold Dickinson, 1940)
Although the romanticized MGM remake tends to garner most of the attention, I prefer the British original for its lean plot, devoid of a redeeming love interest, and its less glossy, more oppressive Victorian atmosphere. Seductively saturnine Anton Walbrook digs into the role of the husband from hell, driving wife Diana Wynyard to the brink of madness in his search for some hidden jewels. Not that I don’t love what Charles Boyer did with the part, butWalbrook was never better—or worse?—than he is inGaslight. His vile, sadistic performance stands out as one of the most frightening, hissable villains ever to put a damsel in distress. Whereas the American version makes you a little paranoid, the British version just might send you to bed with a knife under your pillow.

Experiment Perilous (Jacques Tourneur, 1944)
Yes, it’s another menaced bride thriller, this time helmed byJacques Tourneur, whose brooding, nocturnal vision madeCat People and Out of the Past so memorable. HedyLamarr delivers an intelligent, strong performance as the wife in peril, demonstrating that her screen presence extended beyond her startling beauty. Although its plot clearly echoes Gaslight (the American version was released the same year), Experiment Perilous comes across as a more modern film—costume noir rather than costume melodrama. And the wintry, ominous look and feel of the often-overlooked thriller seem particularly appropriate this time of year.

Dark Waters (AndrĂ© de Toth, 1944)
Rescued from a shipwreck and traumatized by the death of her parentsLeslie Calvin (Merle Oberon) can fortunately rely on the kindness of her aunt and uncle. But no sooner does Leslie arrive at their decaying mansion than she begins to suspect her relatives of plotting against her. Is shelosing her mind? Or is something evil afoot?

A fantastic cast, including Franchot Tone, Elisha Cook Jr., Fay Bainter, and Thomas Mitchell, supports Oberon’s mesmerizing, haunted performance. And the Southern Gothic ambiance gives this otherwise standard woman-in-peril yarn a deliciously spooky edge.

Secret Beyond the Door (Fritz Lang, 1947)
After a whirlwind romance, an impressionable American girl impulsively marries a mysterious man she meets on vacation. Settling into his creaky manor, she discovers his unusual hobby—he recreates rooms where notorious crimes took place. Now that’s a bit of a red flag. Didn’t she read10 Signs Your Husband May Be an Oedipal Murderer?

If Hitchcock’s Rebecca and Spellbound had a baby, it would probably be a lot like The Secret Behind the Door. When Fritz Lang took a crack at the fashionable psychoanalytic thriller subgenre of the 1940s, he produced a strange variation on the Bluebeard myth that’s equal measures fascinating dysfunction and ridiculous hokum. I personally find it immensely entertaining. Call it silly. Call it uneven. I’m enjoying Joan Bennett and the cinematography too much to care.

Mr. Arkadin (Orson Welles, 1955)
Imposing tycoon Gregory Arkadin hires Guy van Stratton, a seedy grifter, to probe into his past, claiming that he can’t remember his true identity. However, the deeper van Stratton delves, the more precarious his position becomes. Knowing too much about Mr. Arkadin can prove fatal.

This far-fetched, globe-trotting thrill ride doesn’t garner much love, at least not compared to more prestigious entries in Welles’s filmography. That said, I’ve probably watched it at least 2 dozen times. Don’t think too hard about the plot. Just feast your eyes on the flamboyantly canted angles and chew on Arkadin’s eminently quotable fables.

1 comment:

KC said...

Amazing list! I agree with you about the Brit Gaslight, much more satisfying.