Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Girl in Black Stockings (1957, USA)

In the first edition of her biography Playing the Field, Mamie van Doren gives this movie all of three sentences, which is understandable. Billed third behind Lex Barker and Anne Bancroft but plastered across the posters, Van Doren has less screen time than almost every other minor character in the movie, and the little time she has on screen is hardly memorable. Nor, for that matter, is the film. The Girl in Black Stockings is definitely not some forgotten, low budget film noir classic like The Burglar (with Jayne Mansfield and likewise directed by a hack the year previous), despite the former's much more interesting cast.
Director Howard W. Koch eventually went on to success as a producer of a variety of interesting movies like Voodoo Island (1957), The Manchurian Candidate (1962), The President’s Analyst (1967) and numerous Rat Pack movies, but as director he never made it beyond laughably bad, low budget films like Frankenstein 1970 (1958), Bop Girl Goes Calypso (1957), Untamed Youth (1957) and Andy Hardy Comes Home (1958). The Girl in Black Stockings is definitely no better than any of the other films he made and very much shares the hack sensibility evident in all his directorial efforts.
The movie is based on the story Wanton Murder by Peter Godfrey, a crime author famous in his home land of South Africa who had published more than a 1000 short stories by his death in 1992. For the film, the location of the story was changed from a South African resort to that of a ritzy resort in Utah. (We know the place is ritzy because of all the gold digging hot babes staying there, but in truth the place looks more to be a cheap motel than anything else.) Considering his success as an author, one can only assume that the short story must be better than the script for the movie, which was supplied by Richard Landau, the scriptwriter of Marijuana, The Devil’s Weed (1949). Still, the cast is definitely interesting. Lex Barker, a direct descendent from Roger Williams (the founder of Rhode Island), is best remembered in the U.S.A. for his five Tarzan films, but in Europe he is best known as Old Shatterhand from the Winnetou westerns made in the mid-1960’s. (Trash aficionados remember him more from such films as The Blood Demon (1967) or the Dr. Mabuse films he was in.) Married to Lana Turner at the time he made The Girl in Black Stockings, he was definitely good looking and had a great body, but that probably didn't interest Lana's 13 year daughter, whom he regularly molested throughout his four year marriage to Turner.
Anne Bancroft, a good ten years before The Graduate (1967), was still a Hollywood contract player at the time, stuck in such non-classics as this movie or Gorilla at Large (1954). This time around she got to be the psycho in the movie, rather less effectively than Marilyn Monroe in Bancroft's debut movie Don’t Bother to Knock (1952).
Also to be seen in The Girl in Black Stockings (as Julia) is Marie Windsor, a true B-movie favourite and former Miss Utah. Her unforgettable eyes have graced many a fondly remembered film both good and bad, including the classic thriller The Narrow Margin (1952), Swamp Woman (1955), Cat-Woman of the Moon (1955), Kubrick’s The Killing (1956) and The Chamber of Horrors (1966). In The Girl in Black Stockings, her paralysed and dislikeable brother Edmond is played by Ron Randell, who unbelievably enough played the title role in both Bull Dog Drummond and Lone Wolf movies before being relegated to stuff like The She-Creature (1956) and this flick.
Blink quickly and you'll miss the brief appearance of Bonanza's Hoss (Dan Blocker) as a thieving bartender. But the faces and Mamie Van Doren's mammaries aside, The Girl in Black Stockings is still a crappy, uninteresting and almost unprofessional looking movie. Badly acted and dully directed, the story is all talk, the characterisation one-dimensional and the plot development often laughable. Worst of all, there are numerous sequences in which some character or other has long stretches of dialogue in which they explain all sorts of inane things as if they were either professionals in the subject or reading from a textbook (or film script). The Girl in Black Stockings is truly a tranquilliser of a film.
Lex Barker is David Hewson, an L.A prosecutor who has taken a much needed break from his stressful job in the city. A bachelor, he has the hots for Beth Dixon (Anne Bancroft), a mouse of a woman working at Julia's and Edmund's ritzy motel, and actually proposes to her despite the fact that she (for most of the film) is too frigged to even kiss him, let alone fuck. Edmund hates all women since he was left at the alter by some hussy, the psychological shock of which was so strong that he became permanently paralysed; Julia, his loving sister, is at his constant beck and call. When Davis and Beth find some gold digger all sliced and diced, the Sheriff (John Dehner) has a hotel full of suspects and is at a loss at who the murderer might be. Soon after, a mysterious man shows up, but before he can do much more than drink whiskey and take a phone call, he winds up drowned in the swimming pool. (Talk about a laughable murder! He basically looks into the camera, opens his eyes wide and then jumps into the pool. Best of all, however, is when they take his body away, a scene good for a true belly laugh. The dead body, covered but for its feet, it is put into the back of a station wagon which then drives off through the town with its back hatch up and open.) Harriet (Mamie) dies soon after she makes a drunken fool of herself, and somewhere along the way the Sheriff actually causes the death of man he knows to be innocent. And thus the film meanders slowly onwards until it finally—thank god—ends.
What harms The Girl in Black Stockings the most is not that it is bad, but that it is not bad enough. There is no way that the people making the movie couldn't realise themselves that they were making a trash, so it is almost unforgivable that they didn't make it even trashier and try to push the whole thing over into camp. But then, perhaps that would have needed more talent and insight than the director and his stars had—or a lot less.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...