Monday, January 3, 2011

R.I.P.: Anne Francis & Jill Haworth

A shared page of final respect to two babes of the past who in all likelihood never even knew each other and really have almost nothing in common, other than that the early promise of their careers never fully paid out and they died within a day of each other. And they both made films that we at A Wasted Life have watched and enjoyed. Those films, and their former status as cute nubiles, have earned them our respects.

Anne Francis

16 September 1930 (Ossining, NY) – 2 January 2011 (Santa Barbara, CA)

Of the two, Anne Francis is undoubtedly the better known. Once upon a time, she was a hot tamale with (according to Celebrity Sleuth) the measurements of 34-22-35 in 1953, when she was 23, and 36-24-35 ½ from 1965-66, when she was 35 and starring in the legendary TV series Honey West. She was well into her 81st year when she died of pancreatic cancer on January 3rd.
Ms. Francis first entered the film business at the age of 17 in 1947, but she had been modeling since the age of 5 and acting (on stage) since she was 11. Starting off well in films featuring the likes of the young Judy Garland, Anne went on to co-headline a couple of noteworthy classics, but if any of her films are remembered for her being in them, the one that comes to mind first is the classic if very loose Sci-Fi interpretation of Shakespeare's The Tempest: Forbidden Planet (1956).

Despite the memorable films she made, like so many a cute and talented young thing, her career on the big screen proved limited: by the early-60s, despite the occasional part in a feature-length film, Anne Francis was basically a television personality – which is what she remained all the way up to her last appearance on the small screen in 2004 in an episode of Without A Trace entitled Shadows.

Anne Francis – gone but not forgotten.

So Young So Bad (1950)
Who knows if this juvenile delinquent film is any good, but it gets listed here 'cause everyone loves a bad girl flick and its poster is so groovy. Anne Francis, kitten with claws…

Rogue Cop (1954)
A run-of-the-mill film noir, but another great poster. And her name was already getting a lot more prominent...

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

The classic John Sturges thriller – and what a lineup of classic stars. Well worth watching the next time it shows up on late night TV.

Blackboard Jungle (1955)
All right! The granddaddy to a good dozen exploitation flicks, most famously the classic 1982 exploiter The Class of 1984 (trailer) and, tangentially, The Class of 1999 (1990 / trailer) and Class of 1999 II: The Substitute (1994 / trailer). Based on a novel by the former teacher named Evan Hunter, born Salvatore Albert Lombino, better known by his later pen name Ed McBain, the film launched a little ditty titled Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley and the Comets, which well helped dictate the future of popular music. One of the first films of Sidney Poitier (28 at the time), who played the good juvenile delinquent vis-a-vis Vic Morrow (26) in his film debut as the bad juvi. (Jamie Farr also made his debut in the film as a bad boy.) Anne Francis has the co-starring role as Glen Ford's terrified and troubled wife….

Forbidden Planet (1956)
As is the case with Leslie Nielsen, this film alone would make us pay our respects to Anne Francis. A truly great science fiction film from the Golden Age of Sci Fi Film, this film is a classic that never bores and can be watched again and again and again… isn't it about time you finally saw it, too?

The Crowded Sky (1960)
Anne Francis never really made bad films in the sense of exploitation or skid row productions; any bad films she did were more of the Hollywood miscalculation kind, films that surely sounded good on paper and have all the right ingredients but then turn out to be stinkers (think last year's The Tourist [trailer] as an excellent contemporary example). This film is probably her first of that type of cinematic failure. To simply quote the website DVD Talk: "A main contender in the too-silly-to-be-true aerial jeopardy race is 1960's The Crowded Sky, a hugely enjoyable Bad Movie that piles one embarrassingly trite dramatic scene atop another. The film's fateful mid-air collision is so thoroughly telegraphed that every character seems to be saying to themselves, 'Do I have enough time for an extra flashback to my troubled personal life, or are we about to be hit by another plane?'" Trash pure.

The Satan Bug (1965)
Ah, yes: The Satan Bug. This film was supposed to be the career maker of George Maharis, seen here to the left in a photo from a pictorial he did for Playgirl in 1973, eight years after this film. "George, who?" you ask. Maharis was, like Rock Hudson and George Nader, what they used to call a "confirmed bachelor" who became a teenage heartthrob in the early 60s due to the TV series Route 66, which he left to try his luck on the silver screen. He took part in a lot of Hollywood big budget projects, including this incredibly dry and star-studded espionage thriller adapted from an Alistair MacLean novel of the same name, but he never made the crossover to big name stardom. (For that, however, he actually starred in a lot more real and memorable trash than Anne Francis ever did before he finally retired in 1993.) Anne Francis plays his pretty wife in the movie, a rather secondary role that really does nothing other than help underscore just how wooden Maharis was as an actor.

Brainstorm (1965)
Author Jack Stevenson placed Brainstorm on his list of top ten films ever made for Sight and Sound in 2002, and according to the film website Noir of the Week, Brainstorm is "one of noir's bleakest installments - neo, or classic." A forgotten B&W that truly deserves rediscovery. Anne Francis as the women in need following a double agenda.

Killer Cain / More Dead Than Alive (1969)
OK, in this film Anne Francis has a relatively unimportant role, but its length and importance merely echoes where her career was at the time. But Vincent Price is wonderfully conniving, and the film as a whole is a lot better than its reputation.

The Love God? (1969)
A Don Knotts film, and one of his odder ones at that: He plays Mr. Peacock – is that a joke? – a mild-mannered birdwatcher who gets transformed into a Hugh Hefner type stud. The film is actually rather funny, in a dated kind of way, not just as a Don Knotts film but as a satire of its time. Groovy trailer, too.

Pancho Villa (1972)
Telly Savalas as Pancho Villa?!?

Detour to Terror (1980)
TV movie with Anne Francis as a cancer survivor wearing a wig stuffed with cash, Detour to Terror also features O.J. Simpson as the bus driver hero, Arte Johnson as the tour guide, Lorenzo Lamas as a busjacker – and, in an uncredited part as one of the passengers, Nicole Brown Simpson.

Jill Haworth

15 August 1945 (Sussex, England) – 3 January 2011 (New York City, NY)

What? You never heard of her? Well, that ain't surprising, actually – she hadn't made a film since 2001, and even before then her presence on the silver screen was less than constant or truly noticeable. Like Anne Francis (who was "discovered" by Darryl F. Zanuck), Haworth had the luck of being discovered at a young age (15) by a powerful name: Otto Preminger. She was featured in three films by him as well as an odd selection of foreign projects, but by 1963 it was obvious that her name would never headline awnings – at least not of movie houses. She did pretty well on Broadway, where she was Sally Bowles in the hit in the Broadway musical Cabaret (1966-69), but she got passed over for the film version, thus ensuring that her film career would never be a big one. To buy groceries, she took part in a small but fine selection of true exploitation projects and trash classics – in all respects. One wishes that she had made even more such films.

Exodus (1960)
Her debut film, which is the only reason it's being listed here on A Wasted Life. Jill Haworth even gets mentioned in the trailer. Big budget, star-studded serious ham, to say the least…

It! (1966)
Written and directed by Herbert J. Leder, the man behind the extremely disturbing short film The Child Molester (1964 / full film) – which, produced as a public safety message film, was quickly pulled after a very brief release – and the cheesy B&W horror flick The Frozen Dead (1967 / trailer), which was shown as part of a double feature with It! in the USA. It! is a fun, rather cheesy horror film with a Hammer-look featuring Roddy McDowell as an unstable young museum worker named Arthur Pimm who lives with his dead, mummified mommy. He gains control of a Golem and uses it to rid the world of those in his way and to get the girl of his dreams, Ellen Grove, played by Jill. The cheesecake shot of Jill seen above comes from the dream scene of Pimm...

The Haunted House of Horror (1969)
Tagline: "Behind its forbidden doors an evil secret hides!" Directed by no less than Michael Armstrong, who went on the next year to do the classic Mark of the Devil (1970 / trailer), The Haunted House of Horror features Jill and the then almost 30-year-old Frankie Avalon as two of a group of young adults out for some fun by spending the night in a deserted country mansion, which results in the mysterious knifing of one of them. The rest hush-up the event, but as to be expected in this proto-slasher, more deaths follow...

Home for the Holidays (1972)
A TV slasher from before modern slashers even really began filling the screen – Halloween came in 1978 – which is why the film owes more in look and feel to a (bloodless) giallo thriller, which weren't exactly rare drive-in fodder at the time. Great cast: Walter Brennan as the dying man who invites his four daughters back to the family house to kill his wife (Julie Harris of The Haunting [1963 / trailer]), who he thinks is poisoning him. The daughters are played by Sally Field (!), Eleanor Parker, Jessica Walter (the psycho from the Clint Eastwood's overrated directorial debut, Play Misty for Me [1971 / trailer]), and Jill Haworth. In this Christmas-set thriller, which has rather a cult following, Jill is one of the pitchforked victims. There doesn't seem to be a trailer of it anywhere online, so here’s the first 7 minutes instead:

Tower of Evil (1972)
Leonarr Martin, that famed film pundit for Middle America with a Tea-Party brain, gives this film a bomb rating in his Movie Guide, but less-mundanely minded individuals have begun to reassess the film as being much better than its less-than-stellar reputation implies, citing it as an interesting and moody mixture of Gothic and slasher elements. A group of archaeologists go to an island in search of an ancient treasure and start dying nasty deaths…

One of the sleaziest exploitation films of the 70s to come out of England, Jill deserves mention on A Wasted Life alone for participating in this ocular atrocity. A film that is truly unforgettable, even if her participation on screen is, since she's around for such a short time. Click the title above to go the full review...


Unknown said...

Jill Haworth was also in an Outer Limits episode from 1963 entitled "The Sixth Finger". It also starred David McCallum in a pre-Man From U.N.C.L.E role, and is one of the best episodes from this groundbreaking series. Watching it today, it is just as fresh as when it was first run.

jfmax2000 said...

Yessir...And She Looked Absolutely Beautiful in That

Paul J Toussaint said...

I was close friends with Jill up until her death. I wish you all knew her

Anonymous said...

I trust her personality was as lovely as her appearance. Last time I looked her up she was still alive. I remember her from EXODUS and IN HARM'S WAY. I did not realize she was the same actress in both films until about 10 years ago.

Anonymous said...

She (Haworth) has a small but lovely role in Michel Deville's movie "Because, Because of a Woman" from 1962, which I'm watching right now. Which also features Marie Laforêt and Mylène Demongeot.

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