In 2013 we lost several beloved denizens of Noir City and last night was a tribute to one of our all time favorites; Dark City Dame Audrey Totter.
She played a lot of bad girls in her day, but there’s no question that her character in last night’s first feature TENSION is the baddest of the bad. A total, irredeemable bitch. Of course, we absolutely love her for it.
A meek, pussywhipped pharmacist (Richard Basehart) is trying to keep his no-good two-timing wife (Audrey Totter) happy, but she prefers steak dinners and diamonds in Malibu to hamburgers and drugstore perfume in a suburban subdivision.
She runs off with a rich lover who can give her all those things and more, leaving hubby simmering on a slow boil and obsessively plotting his revenge. Using the exciting new cutting edge technology of contact lenses, he takes on a new secret identity. (Because people look completely different without their glasses, right? Just ask Clark Kent.) He plans to have his new alter ego murder his rich rival so he can get his wife back, only it’s Noir City, and things never go according to plan. He gets mixed up with his lovely young neighbor Cyd Charisse and tracked down by detective and rubber band fetishist Barry Sullivan. I’m not giving away any spoilers when I tell you the no-good two-timing blonde gets what’s coming to her.
This film is a must see. It’s Audrey Totter’s best and most memorable role. At least, it’s my personal favorite, for obvious reasons. I’m a sucker for a great bad girl. I also really like the underrated Barry Sullivan as the dick in this, even if his corny rubber band speech at the beginning reminded me of the MST3K short “Are You Ready For Marriage?” Also, I can’t help but think of Richard Basehart’s name in Gypsy’s voice, but never mind all that. Mistress Christa says go watch this one right now. I’ll wait…
Our second Audrey Totter film was ALIAS NICK BEAL.
An ambitious politician gets a leg up from a mysterious and sinister stranger who only wants him to sign one little contract. Stop me if you heard this one already.
Confession time. I don’t really like this movie. There’s absolutely nothing overtly wrong with it in that it’s got a crackerjack cast and all those gorgeous foggy wharf scenes. Audrey Totter even has a barroom catfight! It’s just that I’m not really a fan of this kind of supernatural, overly Christian morality story. A Faustian tale, to use the unfortunate literary vernacular. Hey look, it’s not my fault that some guy used my last name as the title for the most famous sell-your-soul-to-the-devil yarns of all time. That kind of story just doesn’t do it for me. Especially when it’s so heavy handed and literal. Your milage my vary.
Personal prejudice aside, there are lots of things to love about this film for any fan of the genre. Ray Milland is wonderfully over-the-top as the devil who hates to be touched and of course there’s lovely Audrey as a down and out dame who gets scooped out of the gutter and shanghaied into playing the role of a tempting and sympathetic campaign manager. There’s a snappy script by hardboiled pulp writer Jonathan Latimer and a great score by Franz Waxman. I’m also fascinated by the slightly weird and off-kilter decor in the fancy penthouse set. So yeah, I guess I recommend this one, provided you’re more tolerant of the goofy magic bible routine than I am.
All in all this was a fitting tribute to a hell of a woman.
I get a few days off from my ringside reportage, but then on Wednesday we head into the final stretch with a rare single feature. This time it’s Italian Noir with OSSESSIONE, an unlicensed version of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE.